Breastfeeding is really, really hard in the best of circumstances.

Madeline never fed from my breast. I had to pump when she was in the NICU, and since I couldn’t be there around the clock, she drank my milk from the bottle. When she came home it was so important that we accounted for every drop she ingested, so I continued to pump and bottle feed until my supply ran dry. It was great – I not only got to snuggle her when I fed her, but Mike had the opportunity to as well.

I was excited about the idea of breastfeeding Annabel. I hoped that if she avoided the NICU we’d be able to establish a  routine. We did, sort of. After 45 minutes of crying, latching, unlatching, latching, etc, she would finally calm enough to eat…only to start the whole thing again an hour later. My nipples were a disaster. I can’t even describe how awful they were. And the pain, omg. I literally would bite down on a washcloth when Annie latched on.

I went to a certified lactation consultant. She looked at my nipples and gasped at their horrible condition. She said she couldn’t believe I was still feeding Annabel with them. She watched Annabel eat, and had me try a bunch of different positions and holds to improve her latch. Finally, the LC told me that Annie chewed when she nursed. She instructed me to pump until my destroyed nipples healed.

So I pumped, and it was great. I snuggled Annie, and I didn’t dread meal times. Mike also got to feed her, and bond with her.

(I firmly believe that I bonded with both of my daughters the same as if they had been fed from the breast. I held them the same way, we looked into each other’s eyes with love. They just got my milk from a bottle.)

In the meantime, my mental health was precarious. I started a very low dose of anxiety medication after Annabel was born, but it didn’t improve things at all. My psychiatrist and therapist begged me every week to up my dosage, but I was reluctant. I didn’t want to take anything that would affect Annabel. As time went on, the begging became insisting. Mike started to chime in. So did Dr. Looove. I agreed and let my doctors slowly raise my dosage.

Then the panic attacks started, and my doctors fretted over me more. An additional prescription was written at a low dose. It wasn’t enough. I resisted raising it to a level that would help me. I did tons of research. I didn’t want anything to impact Annabel, and this definitely would. I couldn’t be alone, because I was so scared I’d have a panic attack that I’d HAVE a panic attack. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t stop. It was a horrible way to live.

Someone made me realize I was holding myself hostage. I was so focused on the drugs affecting Annabel that I didn’t take my state of mind into consideration at all. I was preventing myself from being a good mom. Something had to give, and the something was breastfeeding.

It wasn’t easy. I’d told everyone that I wouldn’t make myself crazy if breastfeeding didn’t work out, but then when this situation arose I made myself feel horribly guilty. I felt like I was putting myself first, and that I was a terrible mother. Even when the rational part of my brain would tell me it wasn’t true, I wouldn’t let myself believe it. I was certain everyone would judge me, so I told hardly anyone. If someone mentioned breastfeeding, I sidestepped it. I swore I’d never write about it.

Some time has passed, and I have much more…I don’t know, clarity, about the whole thing. I am going to try to not feel guilty about choosing my mental health in this situation, because it impacts everyone around me – especially Annabel. The other day I told a friend with a low milk supply that there is no shame in not being able to breastfeed. I realized that I need to stop saying there isn’t and acting like there is. So I am writing about it, because I am not ashamed. No one should be.

Breastfeeding is really, really hard in the best of circumstances. The circumstances were out of my control, but I am making do. My daughter is fed, happy, and healthy. I am working on being happy and healthy, too.