"Here's What's Wrong with National Breastfeeding Month"- on Facebook and it created quite a dialogue. Not so surprising, since I am learning Breastfeeding or Not tends to elicit quite a passionate response. This has prompted me to write a more detailed post for the blog to share my personal experience with this debate.
Now if you are thinking this is odd topic for a girl who has had a double mastectomy - then I couldn't agree more.
But I have been stunned by the number of people who still what to discuss breastfeeding with me, despite the fact that I have no breasts. Literally.
I have found myself feeling shocked as I try to patiently explain the realities of my circumstances.
But realistically the fact is, I shouldn't have to.
There is no doubt breast is best. And I admire the women who are able to do it - it is a beautiful thing. For the record I actually enjoyed all the Breastfeeding Posts that have been filling up my instagram feed for the last month.
But for a lot of women breastfeeding isn't an option. Some because they share similar circumstances to myself. Others because the demands of work means it's not possible to maintain the necessary schedule. Other still because they simply struggle to produce enough milk or to get their babies to latch. And some simply because for their own sanity, formula is a better option. Whatever the reason - consider this your PSA that it ALL Okay.
Unfortunately with motherhood comes a lot of judgment. So today I am sharing my reality, in hopes that it may help provide a new perspective. Give you some food for thought and change the conversation.
I realize to look at me, it may appear like I have a normal chest, I assure you I do not. The breasts that were once there were removed (nipples and all). The surgeons left enough skin to cover my chest muscles and close the incision leaving two 4 inch scars that run across the middle of my chest. I have 2 implants underneath the muscle that gives me the illusion of a normal breasts - but that is all it is - an illusion. (for more information about the procedure click here) Everything that makes a breast a breast is gone.
I made the decision to have a double mastectomy at 26 before I had children consciously. If you carry the BRCA gene pregnancy actually increases your risk of developing cancer, unlike the rest of population. The huge spikes in hormones you experience over those 9 months can encourage abnormal cell growth and many BRCA+ women find out they have cancer while pregnant or soon after.
This wasn't something I wanted. My 20s were a shit storm. And I wanted to be able to freely enjoy motherhood.
Early on in my diagnosis and screening process I remember walking past the chemo therapy section in the breast ward at Princess Margaret. Right next door was a daycare/nursery and my decision became even clearer. I would act preventatively and that would not be my experience.
And looking back now, knowing what recovery truly looked like for me. I continue to be grateful for the option to act early.
I do not often speak about the recovery process, and I have never written about it in its entirety since it was an on-going experience. But now I can say that I spent 12 full weeks recovering and in a lot of pain. I couldn't lie down for 10 weeks. The pressure of gravity was too much. I slept in the living room sitting up on the couch for almost 3 months. And I struggled to do even the most basic of tasks - walking the dog, washing dishes, driving. And then I spent the next two years dealing with subsequent complications of this surgery in conjunction with my pacemaker/defibrillator. In less than 3 years I have had 4 surgeries. And I am just now in a place when I am regaining strength in my upper body and healing properly.
Imagine having a baby throughout all of that. Imagine not being able to lift your child. Imagine not being able to do the things a mother does every single day for her child.
It was an incredibly difficult experience, and one that would have only been that much more stressful if I was also trying to parent at the same time.
So I made my decision, and I am grateful for it.
Early on in my decision making process I asked about Breast Milk Banks. Would I have an option to provide breast milk to my child? At this point, there are no regulated options in Ontario.
I have heard of Mommy Groups who will provide milk for mothers need it. Some people have sent emails chains to friends/their community with a call to action and have experienced great success. But none of these options are regulated, so there is no guarantee about the quality of milk you are provided. And it is not something I am personally comfortable with (unless it becomes necessary for medical reasons re: allergies).
I have chosen formula.
It's not a decision I made lightly. I have explored other alternatives. But formula is what I feel works best for me and my baby.
My point is simply that everyone's circumstances are different. Everyone has their own struggle and their own story. Different things work for different people. Every mother is doing the best they can with what they have. Let's support each other. Simply being a women in this world is hard enough, so as a community our goal should always be to encourage one another. We should cheer each other on, because after all as women - We Get It.
Instead of beginning with judgment, let's come from a place of compassion.
The goal should always be Happy Healthy Mamas creating Happy Healthy Babies - whatever that ends up looking like. For some that will be breastfeeding for 17 months. For others it will be formula from the start. For others still it will be mix and match of both. At the end of the day we are all just doing the best we can!
So high-five to all your amazing women out there! I think we are all pretty awesome!
Love Your Favourite Darwinian Fail,