Breastfeeding Through Mental illness – one mothers story.
“After not being able to breastfeed my first daughter, (through lack of knowledge, support and supply) and ending up with what they thought at the time was Post Natal Depression, avoiding any way of actively bonding with her was normality. I was determined to avoid this with my second daughter, Olivia, and the first step for me was to breastfeed.
I had a beautiful home birth with Olivia, nice and quick, nice and easy (as easy as a birth can be!) she didn’t latch straight away, however latched like a pro after a few hours and breastfed beautifully. The tears of relief and happiness turned into tears of despair within hours.
I found myself alone only hours after giving birth at home, being told to rest and relax. Olivia was beautifully behaved, but everyone was out doing errands at the time where I needed my supports around me the most. They thought they were doing me a favor of course.
I felt the depression come back on that day, what was meant to be one of the most amazing of my life. I hid this feeling, because I thought that it meant I had failed. It was that day where I realized that in all reality from the birth of Kaylee over 2 years before, the depression cycles hadn’t gone away at all, I had just become really good at masking them and carrying on.
My milk came in on day 3, an experience I never had with Kaylee, wow, I never knew they could get so tight, and that letdown feeling is one in a million! I was so proud, I actually had milk, I could actually feed my child the milk that was intended for her, made for her.
As the days went on and the milk leaked, so did my tears, I felt like every part of my body ached to feed my child, yet my mind was trying to push her away. At that stage I made the active decision to continue breastfeeding no matter what. I was not going to repeat the mistakes I made with Kaylee, I was going to force myself to have a bond with Olivia if it was the last thing I do. My husband was aware of this, and fully supported me as did my family and friends.
Breastfeeding Olivia meant I had to pick her up, it meant I had to hold her close to me, I had to feed her from my body, I had to comfort her, I was her all. Her comfort, her food, her life giver.
When I bottle fed Kaylee I hardly held her, I would let someone else feed her, I would put her on the floor with pillows to feed herself, I look back on my photos and videos of her and I hear no love or affection in my voice. It devastates me.
I went deeper and deeper into a depression, it spiraled very quickly and I was referred to Maternal Mental Health. I was suffering from severe depression, psychosis, paranoia. I hid in my house, I went nowhere, I did nothing. The house was a bombsite, I felt like I was being watched, I thought everyone was talking about me, judging me. Visits from the Crisis team were a regular, I became robotic in my actions, get up, get dressed, eat.
I kept breastfeeding. It became the only thing I looked forward to, the only thing that kept me going, Olivia, being the tiny thing she was, was my sanity.
At this stage none of the medications they were putting me on (safe for feeding) were working. The only thing I was strong about was that I was NOT going to stop breastfeeding, because I knew that even though I was in my own personal hell, I would give up if I had to stop feeding her, I would have no reason (in my mind) to carry on. I felt useless to the world, but I was not useless to Olivia, and I held onto that and I fought for that.
I started receiving 24 hour respite care, because I wasn’t sleeping, I was up all day and all night. The psychosis was getting worse, but then id have a day or 2 when I would be bouncing off the walls, id go to the shops, I would clean and tidy more than I ever had, and online shopping became a very good friend.
It was at this stage where all the professionals and doctors I was dealing with thought it was a bit more than Post Natal Depression. I was offered various drugs but would have had to stop breastfeeding Olivia to take them. I refused.
At my worst I would stay in bed all day and night, I was not ‘with it’ and had no idea what was going on around me, those close to me would bring Olivia in, latch her on for her feed, putting her body close to mine and continue to breastfeed.
I had 2 periods of major psychosis where I was taken to hospital via ambulance, neither of which I remember, both of which scared myself and everyone around me.
Then I had periods of wellness, where I was happy and bubbly and loved life.
Through whatever I was going through and however I was feeling I kept feeding, the amazement at my own body to supply my child her nutrience, the bond I felt with Olivia, the happiness that I felt when I fed her, I believe these feelings overcame everything else and I knew that the decision I was making to continue to feed was the best one for me.
I was discharged from Maternal Mental health when Olivia was 16 months old, I had by this stage enjoyed a few weeks of wellness and I was referred onto Adult Mental Health for my care, they were amazed that I was still breastfeeding and I was strong and adamant that I was NOT going to stop no matter what they said. They agreed that breastfeeding was extremely beneficial to my mental health and the bond I had with Olivia was amazing and incredibly special.
I felt at this time that I could start working on repairing my broken bond with Kaylee and I started spending lots of time with her doing fun ‘normal’ things that we had never done before.
I was well for maybe 2 months when I spiraled downhill again, and spiraled downhill fast. Eventually my marriage broke up, I lost a lot of friends, my family didn’t understand me or know what to do with me and even Mental Health were holding up their hands in desperation.
And yet I was still breastfeeding. Not only that but I now had 2 goals, I had the goal of breastfeeding Olivia until she self weaned, and I had the goal of repairing and maintaining the bond I was establishing with Kaylee.
To the outside world I was withdrawing again, to me, in my mind, I was concentrating on my children, noone else was more important to me and noone else deserved my time.
I had to crash again in order to start to get well, as one of my Mental Health workers told me once “the doing comes before the feeling” I had to start acting like I lived in normality, I had to take small steps, put one foot infront of the other, make and achieve small goals.
Eventually I felt in control of my life, possibly a little bit too much in control, I was now a solo mum, breastfeeding my now 2 year old, with an older preschooler, and I was supermum, I could do it all, I could see no wrong, and I became untouchable.
2 days before Christmas 08 I found out I was pregnant. I was at this stage breastfeeding Olivia mostly first thing in the morning and last thing at night, maybe once or twice during the night as well. I was snapped back into reality and unsure of where I was meant to turn next. I found that the quiet times I spent breastfeeding gave me time to reflect and think, get my head together as to the decisions I had to make.
I was now pregnant and breastfeeding.
Kaylee and Olivia went on a 2 week holiday with their Dad and his family, I missed them terribly and even though I enjoyed the break, I yearned to feed my child again. As soon as they came home Olivia asked for her boobie, she went on to feed until March 2009 aged 2 years 5 months as at 4 months pregnant my supply dried up. In one hand I was so proud of myself for breastfeeding so long, I have the most amazing bond with Olivia and a beautiful bond slowly growing with Kaylee. On the other hand I miss breastfeeding so much, and several times a day even now Olivia curls up on my knee in a breastfeeding position and just lays there and I hold my baby.
It was at this time where I was formally diagnosed with BiPolar Disorder, I take an Anti-Depressant and they have now put me on Lithium Carbonate to remain stable. Being on Lithium while pregnant is a major decision, however its keeping me stable and im staying strong, but as I get further on in my pregnancy the decision of breastfeeding comes up again. There is a high possibility that I may not be able to breastfeed my baby because im taking the lithium, and already im mourning this, however I know, that even though this may not be a possibility, I have been blessed to have one amazing breastfeeding relationship in my life, I have a beautiful bond with my daughter and I have the most amazing memories. But what I will treasure most is that I overcame every barrier in my way to breastfeed, I knew in my heart what would help me and I stuck to my guns, I fought to feed my child and I fed her for nearly 2 and a half years, surprising everyone that knew me and worked with me.
I have this to be proud of, I have this to treasure, and im so blessed to have had this gift in life, the gift to feed my child from my own breast.
So no matter what happens from now on in, I can hold this close to me, I can use what I have learnt through breastfeeding about bond, about comfort, about mothering and I can apply it in other ways now.
Breastfeeding is a gift, and its one worth holding on to, its one worth fighting for. And in the hardest time of my life, breastfeeding got me through. I firmly believe that if it wasn’t for the fact that I was breastfeeding my child, I would not be here today. Breastfeeding became my saviour. “
Note from Breastmates: we really want to thank the author of this story for sharing it with us, and being brave enough to speak out. We hope that another women in need will find this story and be encouraged also.