I honestly don’t remember what day in the hospital it was, but somewhere around Day of Life 4, as the doctors call it, things started to crumble quickly for me.
My baby was continuing in the NICU because she had what is called “apnea of prematurity.” Basically, she would randomly stop breathing, mostly while in a deep sleep, and would have to be picked up and patted awake, after which she was fine again.
Even after I started nursing my daughter, she got one bottle with vitamins in it each day. This was to make sure she drank it.
I was giving her this bottle when suddenly, she went limp in my arms. The NICU nurse with me grabbed her and flipped her over and patted her back until she started breathing again. While I was feeding her, she forgot to suck, swallow, breathe.
Sometimes, though, I’m not sure I’ve ever started breathing again from that moment.
Simultaneously with this, my milk came in. At each pumping and each feeding, I started to feel like I was having a panic attack with each let down. I know now that this is actually a “thing,” called dysphoric milk ejection reflex. However, as I was exhausted, and guilty, and overall in a bad space, I didn’t mention it to anyone.
Besides, breast is best, right? How could something so “natural” do this?
I kept on trucking, and after ten days in the NICU, we were sent home.
Once home, anxiety started to take over all my days and nights. I started having panic attacks multiple times per day, and combined with the bad feelings I got with each milk letdown, I was afraid to be alone with my baby. One of the few non-negotiables of breastfeeding is that you have to eat and drink to make milk. I was so anxious I could barely eat, and my supply was not that great. My baby was constantly nursing for hours at a time, day and night.
Finally, after a day where I slept for 20 minutes in 24 hours, I broke down and finally started the process of getting help. That is another story for another time, but that resulted in my needing medication, first to sleep, then to get the panic attacks under control, and finally, long term to treat the anxiety. I had post-partum depression and anxiety, along with PTSD from my premature birth and my baby stopping breathing in my arms. I was not in good shape.
No doctor I met with could inform me about medication transmission in my breast milk. I was exhausted and scared. And so, when my baby was three weeks old, I stopped breastfeeding her.
The guilt that I felt at what I perceived to be yet another way I was failing as a mom was incredible. Looking back, it was the best decision I could have made with the supports and information I had available at the time.
But it didn’t feel that way.