Thoughts on Control and Feeding my Baby

My mom and I had an intimate conversation recently about how motherhood changes over time. Perspectives broaden, little things really don’t matter as much, and things that you once couldn’t stand become things you crave.

I breastfed my firstborn until he was thirteen months old. I hated every second of it. I breastfed my second child for four months. Really hated it too, but was resigned to it. I had a lot of conversations with my mom and sister about wanting to love it, but really just doing it as a service to the kids. My mom shared how her perspective had changed through a series of events, both good and bad. She started off hating it for kid one and two, and by kid five, it was her favorite thing! My sister started off hating it at kid one, and ended hating it at kid four. I figured I’d be more like my sister, because I could NOT see myself ever enjoying it, unless something drastic happened.

Something drastic did happen. At four months postpartum, my milk started waning. I couldn’t make enough. I have come to realize that my depression was causing it to decline. It dropped off quickly, and the less milk I made, the less my daughter wanted it! Eventually, she outright refused it, screamed constantly, and we switched to bottle feeding. We tossed around the idea of seeking help for the matter, but the pros of bottle feeding really appealed to me. The stress of finding a consultant, making time to correct the problem and pumping more did NOT appeal to me. My daughter was becoming a great sleeper, loved the bottle, it made it easier for me to be away from her, and I didn’t have to endure sticky milk all over me, sore breasts, being on a timer, and feeling like a cow… So my milk pretty much dried up. I went on my way for a while… I didn’t mind the bottle feeding so much. I was really preoccupied with life. At four months, coinciding with my milk drying up, I began having steady panic attacks. My anxiety got so much worse.

I still didn’t really mind switching. It was inconsequential to me. What I wanted was to enjoy my life again. That meant I needed to control it. I needed her to take bottles so I didn’t have to spend as much time feeding her, so that I could have more time to myself to get everything under control. I needed to be able to be away from her whenever my needs arose. To enjoy my life, I just knew I needed to control it. Breastfeeding my baby wasn’t enjoyable to me. How could I enjoy something that made me feel so without control? I wasn’t going to live with the anxiety, so I needed to control my life, get the anxiety out, and then I could get back to living. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I basically ALLOWED the anxiety to control me. I wasn’t in control like I thought… I thought I quit breastfeeding because I was in control. But in reality, I quit breastfeeding because the anxiety was in control. It dictated my choices. I had this mentality that I needed to stop life for a bit to regroup. Life doesn’t work that way…

You don’t get to stop life. Instead, you fall away from your life and it goes on without you. All of the sudden, my daughter is ten months. She is as independent as they come. She’s no worse for wear even though she was bottle fed! She’s smart, fierce, independent, healthy, and tries her hardest to keep up with the toddler. Bottle feeding/breastfeeding—your child is getting fed. THAT is what matters.

But for me, bottle feeding became a symbol of my control. I wasn’t going to allow anything I didn’t want to happen to me or my life. I didn’t like breastfeeding, oh well, guess I will just bottle feed instead of taking the hard road to build up my supply again. I didn’t like the anxiety in my day to day, so I was going to ignore its presence and get my life together BY MYSELF, instead of taking the hard road of working THROUGH the challenges. By the way, trying to work through my anxiety alone basically looked like avoidance, spontaneity and a lack of maturity. It didn’t help.

Now, I really have changed my perspective. I really crave breastfeeding. I really embrace the lack of control, because I never could control it anyway. I’ve learned a reliance on God’s care of me. Breastfeeding could have actually helped my anxiety too. If I had stopped trying to control my life, who knows where I would be right now. I know I have a control problem though… And I have a hard time giving myself over to God, my kids, and my husband. I want to do better in the future. And you know what, if I am ever blessed with another child, I can feel the desire in my heart to sit, rock, nurse and bask in the goodness of God.

(I say none of this to start the ridiculous breastfeeding/bottle-feeding war, so if you’re on the hunt to fight on the internet, there are much better places to look.)

Pick Up Your Cross

eliotlake

I have gone back and forth on whether or not to post on this old blog for many months… I have always blogged as a means to really work out my thoughts, share what God is doing in my life, and chronicle those fleeting moments that vanish before we know it. I’ve also made some really good friends through blogging that I still keep up with to this day. The Catholic community that I have found has been such a huge blessing in my life. But to post on here any time in the recent past (last 9 months or so—no I’m not pregnant) would mean that I would need to SHARE. I mean, really share my heart, and share it all. My heart hasn’t been an easy place recently. In fact, it’s been a scary place. The shape of it is best described in the words of Ross, “I said SHARE, not SCARE.” (You’re laughing if you get that reference.)

I haven’t wanted to blast the scariness, the ugliness, and the heartache to the world wide web, because 1) fear of it turning myself into some kind of sideshow and 2) we have so much negativity on the internet already… However, I feel like God is calling me to share now. I don’t know why… Maybe someone will read it that really needs to know these stories. Maybe my post will help others feel less alone. Maybe it will be used as some kind of cautionary tale… I realize that what I have to share isn’t just negative, though. There are too many good fruits in my life right now for me to think that this is all pointless and stupid. This is a story of weakness. This is a story of power too. And this is a story of continuing conversion…the real reason for this entire blog.

Since Joan was born, I’ve been dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety. I really wasn’t prepared for it. I had baby blues with Eliot, and did with Joan too, but they never really went away with Joan… They just sort of morphed into PPD and intense panic. I can remember the exact beginning of the panic too. It started as anxiety two weeks before delivering Joan. There was a lot going on which was anxiety inducing which I won’t bore you with, but those things resolved, and the anxiety stayed.

Then, in a turning point, right smack in the middle of labor, I had a panic attack.

I didn’t really think much of it, because you know, birth, pushing a person out of your body, experiencing awful pain… it’s kind of cause for fear and anxiety in the first place. My amazing Catholic doctor talked me through it. I remember him wrapping up his pep talk by saying, “sometimes, I do have to get to a point to remind my patients that ‘despair’ is a sin!” That did the trick for me to give me the last push I needed (pun intended) to get through that panic attack (worse than the labor, by the way). So as I mentioned before, I really didn’t think much of it. Anxiety grew from day one. It was like a running tab causing the amount on the check I would have to write to be exponentially high. Months went by. Fall, sweet snuggles with my baby, awesome coffee drinks, pumpkins everywhere… Thanksgiving with my best friends. Cooking a real turkey. Camping with our firstborn for the first time. A beautiful Advent. Christmas. And then,

One day in early January, I couldn’t breathe. Again, I won’t bore you with the details of what panic looks like or feels like. A quick google search will provide you with all of the necessary facts if you are curious. But that panic attack came on swiftly and was enough to rattle Daniel.

After that second attack in January, it began happening frequently. And then it happened daily. And then multiple times a day. Until the basic description of my day turned into this: wake up, cry bitterly, shake, sweat, feel sick, eat little, change some diapers, make some bottles and peanut butter sandwiches, flip on Daniel Tiger or Mr. Rogers, and lay in bed crying and shaking (or with my feet up on the wall—this actually slows down a panic attack by the way) until bedtime. I saw my doctor, multiple times, to try to make some progress on it. Maybe a thyroid issue and PPD, maybe just PPD, maybe some hormone imbalance… All testing came back clear though.

I then went on some medication for my anxiety/depression. Not sedatives, but a common medication for postpartum women. It gave me terrible side effects which made me physically unable to do the minimal amount of living I was doing. I did nothing but try to sleep through it as I was told it needed to adjust in my body. I tried to hold out and did for a few weeks. But the side effects never went away.

One crisis mom visit later (you know what those are, right? When your mom comes to make everything better because all you want to do is crawl into your childhood bed and have your mom stroke your head?) and a long conversation with her about her own struggle with anxiety, and then an even longer phone conversation with my brother who experienced some crazy anxiety too, and I was finally ready to do some battle.

I came to a realization that my PPD, Panic, and Anxiety really has only been helped through prayer and God. Many people find relief through medication, therapy, and other methods. Most days, I wish I was that person. But I’m not. However, what I’ve discovered in this journey, I wouldn’t give up, even though it is such a painful cross.

I began going to Adoration, and for the first time since my actual conversion, really getting it. Adoration is that thing you can’t describe intellectually, no matter how much I had wished someone would. The more you try, the further you get from it. This was the first experience in my life that I truly began to understand, just a little bit, about mysticism. Typing that out is a little too weird for me on this old blog, so I’ll move on. Weekly Adoration. Monthly confession which turned into bi-weekly. Lots and lots of Mass. All of the sudden, I found myself at church way more than anywhere else. And when I was home, I actually opened the bible. I craved it.

This cross has saturated me in the Sacraments and in sacred scripture, and in prayer! I went to prayer ministries across the city, retreats, and even a concert by one of my favorite Catholic artists. In short, my relationship with Jesus is more intimate than it has ever been.

It’s still a daily struggle. So much has happened in the last nine months that deserve their own posts, but probably won’t get one. PPD doesn’t mean life stops. It doesn’t mean you stop loving. It doesn’t mean you are worthless. My life has very much been full to the brim of love, life, adventure and silliness. But it is a daily struggle to make it through. It is a daily struggle to not despair, as my doctor put it. It is a daily struggle to choose joy. But I’ve finally begun to understand what true hope means, and why we are to have it.

If you ever experience any of these struggles…if you ever feel alone or like you aren’t enough… If you find it hard to stop crying and feeling bitter sadness… I am so sorry and I grieve with you.

If any of this is your story too, please remember, you aren’t just a face across the internet. You’re a child of God. That truth will set you free from the sadness. Maybe not in the exact moment that you want, and it may not stay gone forever. But Jesus will take your hand and walk with you if you will pursue Him through it. He will make the burden lighter. He told us to pick up our cross and to follow Him. Will you do that with me?

“And you will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free.” John 8:32