[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is by Hilary Covil. She tells a story many moms feel familiar with; one of how her postpartum anxiety began with a difficult breastfeeding relationship. We know she’s not alone in this, and neither are you. -Jenna]
I was on the couch when it happened, and the baby was screaming.
This helpless girl didn’t know that her Mommy could not breathe. I found out later that I had had a panic attack, and it began my journey to figure out why.
I think it started with my boobs, and an a abrupt couple of hospital nurses who tried to make breastfeeding work for me.
I found out the first reason of why I had the worst possible equipment for breastfeeding: flat nipples that are notoriously hard for babies to latch to. But many nurses tried. One told me I was not patient enough, and in my exhausted, hormonally strung state, this made me feel terrible. Another told my husband that those who bottle fed were very lazy.
Breastfeeding is harder for me than labor, I told the humor-less pediatrician at my baby’s first doctor’s appointment. She shook her head, thought I was crazy, and said, “This isn’t how it should be.”
I went to see a lactation consultant and found out the second reason why breastfeeding was going to feel like the Battle of Gettysburg: I had mammary hypoplasia, or low milk supply. For a bit, I muddled through. Breastfeeding a bit, pumping a bit, giving her formula a bit. Omigoodness, it was too freaking time consuming for what I was getting. And I dealt with so much guilt that I wasn’t doing enough.
The worst thought ever: that I wasn’t a good enough Mom because I couldn’t move heaven and earth to get this to work for me. I decided to bottle-feed.
I got some judgment from others around me. I began to feel so ostracized for the first time in my life, something I hadn’t experienced before as a middle class female. It was a new experience for me.
I think the breastfeeding experience, coupled with my propensity towards being an emotional flower led me to the panic attack on the couch, which led to a couple of well-meaning EMS workers staring into my hollow face, offering to do my dishes for me.
We ended up in the ER because they wondered if there was something more wrong with this sleep deprived mama. They attached probes to me and a nurse asked me where things hurt. The doctor asked my husband if I usually had trouble answering long questions. We will try simple questions, she said. I remained safely trapped outside of this forlorn woman: a neverland region where I was safe from my body, my mind, my truth.
The truth? I wanted to detach myself from what had happened on that couch during my first week alone with my baby; that I thought I would meet my end on the cushions on a cold January day with my infant screaming in the pack and play.
But while it wasn’t the end, I was forced to facedown my Goliath: anxiety so strong that it had taken residence in synapses of my brain, causing me to think I was dying. Yes, dying.
Today, I am in therapy working on the task of understanding where the panic attack came from and why. It is a cold, lonely journey and terribly hard. And I feel woefully not up to the task. I am trying to be patient with myself as I remember that my life has recently changed by this eight pound baby girl.
I try to hold on to the advice one of the best nurses at the hospital had for us when she came with Similac bottles in tow to our room: Have peace that you are a good Mom. No judgment. Just telling me to breathe. Alright, now, breathe, Mama, breathe.