Today I found myself ironing a few button down shirts. Pretty ordinary stuff. After a few minutes of work, I realized why I’d purchased them: button down shirts would be easy for breastfeeding.

I bought them in the days after Ben’s birth, not having had time to prepare a post-pregnancy wardrobe. I went on a mad scramble for nursing bras, shirts and tanks that could convert easily, and various and sundry breast pumping accessories (I really do recommend the bandeau tops for holding the flanges to your breasts, as well as Pumpin’ Pals flanges); it was my angelic sister who brought me the first bandeau top and helped me into it to pump the first time while I was in recovery.

I had this idea in my head, this beautiful picture. You know, the one they show on TV all the time? A blissfully smiling mother holding her child to her breast, the little one nuzzled close and latched on perfectly (but you don’t see that part, just a cute fuzzy head blocking the view of a *gasp* nipple), maybe a tiny hand gently curled up and laying softly over the mother’s heart.

I didn’t get that.

I got pumping and pumping and pumping so they could feed my child via gavage tube – a tiny tube running down his nose and into his stomach. I could hold him and place his lips on my breast, but he was too small to suckle. Once he grew a bit bigger, we still had to bottle feed because my own breastmilk (that I was still pumping pumping pumping) didn’t carry enough calories.

While in the NICU it seemed like he was a natural at breastfeeding (using a nipple shield anyway, since he was still so small), but once we got home he fought both bottle and breast.

Then the worst happened. I had my first inpatient psychiatric placement and returned with a(n incorrect and biased) diagnosis of bipolar disorder [this happens frequently to mothers with PPMD; be wary of a diagnosis like this], and a prescription of depakote. I could no longer breastfeed, or pump and bottle feed. We didn’t know the risks of the medication in my milk; we didn’t know what would happen to Ben.

And it didn’t really seem like much of a loss. He was starting to master the bottle, and that needed to be his primary source of nourishment anyway, as we continued to supplement milk with formula to add calories. My own depression and anxiety had made breastfeeding agony; I would cry hysterically when he wouldn’t latch or the stupid nipple shield went tumbling to the floor, requiring another wash and sterilization.

It all seemed for the best just to switch to formula.

So we did, and it’s been successful so far. His reflux has resolved, he’s gaining weight like a champ, and others can even take the dreaded 3am feeding. It was a good decision, good for Ben, good for me.

Most of the time.

I was sad as I ironed that shirt. I would never again unbutton it to feed my child from my own body. I was proud, a little. I had to make a hard decision in the middle of chaos, and I did it. It was the right decision. And as a lactation specialist I grew close to reminded me, I’d given Ben mother’s milk in the first few months of his life – right when he needed it the most. From now on it was up to science.

I still get to cuddle him close, feeding him formula from a bottle, both of us gazing at each other in a moment of serene connection. I still get a little hand resting over my heart, and a little duckling-fuzzy head tucked into my arm. And I don’t even have to unbutton my shirt.

Button-down shirts.

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