Breastfeeding saved my life. I don’t know how else to put it. I know we as humans have fallen into the habit of saying things and people “saved my life” more frequently and metaphorically than we may realize (“this coffee saved my life.” “Thanks so-and-so, you really saved my life.”) but really, breastfeeding saved my life
Let me back up a little bit and give you some back story. I was fortunate enough to find the love of my life when I was only 18 years old. I was also unfortunate enough to find the love of my life when I was only 18 years old. I was too young to take anything seriously and needed a few more years of aimless adventures to shape me into the young woman who would be reasonable and responsible enough to be the marrying type. Honestly, I’m not sure I ever really reached that point in life, but here we are regardless. So there I was, young and wild. There he was, handsome, funny, and he owned Rock Band so, yeah, he was awesome.
I’m not the romantic type, but I think deep down I knew I loved him from the minute I saw him. I stayed very much in love with him while I wandered around the end of my teen years and into my early 20’s. I stayed very much in love with him when I found out he joined the United States Army. I stayed very much in love with him while we both wandered around the country. He went to various schools and duty stations. I wandered the West Coast, trying to figure myself out. I stayed very much in love with him when we finally decided to try to make a relationship work. I stayed very much in love with him while he went off to war. I stayed very much in love with him when he came home and we decided to get married. I stayed very much in love with him when we moved me across the country from California to North Carolina and began our life together.
I stayed very much in love with him up until the day I found out I was pregnant with our first child. Then? Then I found myself hating him. Hating him for joining the Army. Hating him for moving me out there. Hating him for the way he slurped his cereal and the way he brushed his teeth for an abnormally long amount of time. Everything way his fault, Everything was awful. I wish I had known then what was really going on. I wish I had known then that I had developed prenatal depression.
I grew more hateful and more depressed each and every day until June 15, 2014. That day I took a break from being hateful and had a baby instead. After 26 hours of labor and 30-45 minutes of pushing, out came this perfect little boy that absolutely terrified me. I didn’t have time to be hateful because I was too busy being scared. Here I was, on the opposite side of the country from all my friends and family, my marriage had deteriorated to an abomination of a relationship, and now there was a brand new life thrown into the mix. No matter what we tried, we couldn’t get him to stop crying. I don’t know how many people showed us different ways to swaddle him or hold him or burp him, which of course calmed him when they would do it, but our attempts were met with more tears. And then there was the nursing… I struggled for a long time to get my son to get a good latch, but he loved to nurse. Every time I would hold him close and get him in position to feed him, he would get so excited that he would snort and make these sort of panicked noises like he couldn’t wait another second longer. When he got a little older he would start frantically laughing right before he would latch.
As you may already know, untreated depression doesn’t just disappear, especially when you add a baby to it all. My prenatal depression transitioned into postpartum depression and rapidly became more and more severe. It lasted for the first six or seven months of my son’s life, until I was finally able to seek out help, but man, those months were rough. Breastfeeding was really my only solace throughout it all. Most days I could barely get up. Everything was too heavy. I was too heavy. Frequently I would find myself laying on the floor of our bathroom, sobbing and praying, begging God to end my life. Pleading the He just take me out of this world right then and there and end the suffering I was unable to endure any longer. By the end I didn’t even cry. I would just lay there on the cool linoleum and pray “God, just end me.” During all this, there was only one thing that could ever pull me back into reality-my child’s cry to be fed. As soon as I heard his little voice, whimpering and wavering in all it’s high-pitched glory, I would snap out of wherever I was, pull myself together in that moment, and go feed my baby.
We never were able to get him to take a bottle, and I was so dead-set on breastfeeding him, and if it weren’t for those two factors, I’m honestly not sure I would still be here today. I thought more often than I care to admit about ending my own life, since God seemed to be leaving me high and dry no matter how much I begged. I thought about taking too many pills. I thought about go for a drive into or off of something. I thought a lot of horrible things. And then I thought about my baby’s need to eat. And I thought about me taking away his only source of food. No matter how far down into that pit of despair I got, I could never let myself take that away from that innocent babe. I stayed in that constant cycle of falling to my lowest of lows and then rising up to meet the needs of my child. For half a year I did this. For half a year I barely hung on.
I was finally able to seek out help in the form of counseling. I was able to enjoy my child more and more every day. I was able to love my husband again. I was able to love myself again. I would like to pause to say that if you are reading this and feel that depression is something that you are struggling with please, please, PLEASE go get help. Find someone who will listen. Find someone who will help. Find someone who will tell you something other than “just go get on medication.”
The more healing that happened, the more I was able to enjoy motherhood. The one part of it all that I had clung to during the darkest of times, nursing my baby, became an even greater joy. The transformation once the depression was being banished from my life was incredible. There I was, married to this amazing man, mother to this incredible little soul. There was still a long road ahead of us, but I could finally stand up and begin walking down it. And then we got a curveball in the form of baby number two.
As you can imagine, I was terrified to find out that I was pregnant AGAIN, just nine months after having my first child. Just a few months after I had begun treatment for PPD. What if the depression came back? What if I couldn’t pull myself out this time? What if this? What if that? I was not prepared to go through it all again. One of the only times I was able to take my mind off of all of these “what if’s” was the quiet time I had with my firstborn while he nursed.
Two months into the pregnancy, when my son was 11 months old, breastfeeding became too painful to continue and I was forced to wean my baby. I spent a couple of very anxious months trying not to overthink anything and being ever so mindful of not letting the depression creep back in. I missed nursing my baby. I wished so desperately to have that part of motherhood back. And then it hit me-I was only a few months away from getting it back! I was so busy stressing and worrying about any and everything that it never even dawned on me that soon I would have another baby to nurse. My days as a breastfeeding mother weren’t over, they were just in a temporary pause. My fears immediately turned to hope, and I was able to finish the rest of my pregnancy in higher spirits than when I began, looking forward to so many of the things that were coming instead of worrying about things that had already happened and whether or not they would happen again. Depression is a horrible, powerful thing. But hope is wonderful, and even more powerful. Breastfeeding gave me hope in my darkest hours. Breastfeeding saved my life.
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