Before passing judgment, take a walk in my non-breastfeeding shoes.
I brought home a beautiful healthy baby boy. He had latched on quickly, allowing my body to nourish his body. We were connected in the most intimate of ways. Natural. Magnificent. I was a mother caring for her child the only way I knew how.
Shortly thereafter, the anxiety started to settle in. Quickly followed by depression. I didn’t know who I was anymore, the person I had become over my 34 years was lost, stripped away. I felt compartmentalized. I was Jaime, the mother, and nothing else. I started to fall apart.
I’ve had a lifelong battle with an eating disorder. An old comforting behavior, a lifelong friend I could rely on to get me through those times I could not face alone, it would be the insurgence of my eating disorder that ultimately prohibited me from continuing to breastfeed. It was a connection I wanted more than anything to bond me with my child. But three weeks into motherhood, I needed to acknowledge my mental health was deteriorating, and that I had succumbed to the anorexia.
Watching my baby lying there, lethargic, grey, I knew that the little nutrients I was offering were inadequate to his survival. Him nursing left me depleted, as there was nothing left for my body. The process ultimately made me sick, and the little amount I could offer to him was simply not enough. It came time to accept that I would need to rely on the aid of medication to help get me through the postpartum period. And that was the day my son become a formula-fed baby.
Within minutes of his first formula bottle, his skin started to change back to that beautiful shade of pink. He perked up. His light was ignited. Eyes opened. He was ready to face the world. I knew, without question, I had made the right decision. His response would only further validate my decision with each day.
This decision came with a lot of shame. It came with a husband up in arms, fighting the battle on behalf of his baby. It came with a tremendous amount of personal judgments that I had for the formula industry. But at the end of the day, none of that mattered.
And yet, the day of his final bottle couldn’t come fast enough. It still pains me to know that I will never have the breastfeeding experience with my son ever again. When he lays close, I still yearn for that connection, even 17 months later. But the gratitude that I was able to nurse him for those first three weeks overcomes the longing. He has grown into a magnificent, strong, intelligent little boy. And me? I have found my roots, bid farewell to the medication, and rediscovered my recovery.
There are times where I have felt resentment that I wasn’t able to honor my body the way I needed to in order to be there for him the way I intended. That perhaps I am not a great mother as I wasn’t able to “put him first.” But that is met with relief that I was able to make a heartbreaking decision in order to do what was best for us. That if I wasn’t a great mother, I wouldn’t have been able to let go of my values in order to get better. That if I wasn’t a great mother, I wouldn’t have gotten out of my own way -- immediately -- in order to get us healthy.
There’s a lot of judgement around breastfeeding, but it’s hard to know someone’s personal circumstances. That other mother over there with the bottle? She doesn’t need to feel ashamed. She needs to feel supported. Just like I did. I hope those mothers who are facing a similar experience to mine -- or an entirely different one -- know they are not alone. And I hope that those who place their own views on the heads of others know most of these decisions were not made lightly. So please, before passing judgment, take a walk in someone else’s non-breastfeeding shoes. And instead of criticizing and judging the actions of other mothers, offer nothing but unconditional love and support as we all walk through this thing called motherhood, together.
Photography by Jonica Moore for Well Rounded NY.