I was having this conversation with a friend the other day, but thought I would blog about it too, and probably elaborate more than I even did with my friend.
I guess I'll start at the beginning... That seems like a logical place to start, right?! In 2006, I had what I can only describe as a full-on emotional breakdown. I had suffered from depression off an on since I was a child. I had done dance therapy, dietary changes, vitamins, various antidepressants, met with a therapist regularly, but yet getting a proper diagnosis and treatment that actually worked eluded me. I was under tremendous stress from my sister's worsening addictions, but things were harmonious within the walls of my own home. There was no real reason I fell apart, but I still did. I still broke down. But somewhere within the depths of all that despair, depression, and confusion, I found the strength to get help. I called a psychiatrist and met with him, and within the first session had a diagnosis...or at least it was narrowed down to few enough that we could proceed with a particular medication.
I was told up front that it was not safe to take during pregnancy. A year later, I found out I was pregnant with my 3rd child. I called the psychiatrist in a bit of a panic, and scheduled an appointment. At that appointment, he told me he had just returned from a seminar about my particular medication and pregnancy, and that, lucky for me, it was deemed safe to take while pregnant. I was still given the option to wean off of it, but I decided that if it was safe to take during pregnancy, and was helping me with my depression, then I would continue on it. I let out a sigh of relief and carried on with my pregnancy uneventfully.
Three months later, when my next appointment rolled around, I went in and again we discussed my pregnancy and the medication. He asked me if I planned to breastfeed, and I answered emphatically that I did. I had breastfed my older two children for 13 months and 15 months, respectively, and felt it was the best thing for all of us. He then pulled up the drug manufacturer's website, and the FDA's site, which both advised me not to. My heart sank. No, it more than sank. I asked why, and he told me that there wasn't enough known about breastfeeding while taking that particular medication, but if the drug manufacturers and the FDA both said no, then that was the answer. To me, that wasn't really an answer. It told me not to, and who said not to, but not why they were saying it. So I continued to press him. I asked him point blank, "Well, what will happen if I do?" He then opened the thickest medication journal I have ever seen in my life, looked at the reactions in adults, and made his own conjecture. There is a very rare reaction that adults can have to the medication where they get a rash, and as the rash worsens, without immediate treatment organs can begin shutting down. He told me that a reaction like that in an infant could cause death to my child. The news hit me like a ton of bricks. I was devastated. I choked back my tears, but as soon as I shut the door to his office on my way out, I fell apart. I cried all the way down the elevator, the entire walk to the car, and the entire 35 minute drive home. I called my mom on my cell phone from my driveway, and I was crying so hard she could barely understand what I was saying. But somehow she eventually got me calmed down.
The next day I talked to a few other moms I am close to, and none of them could understand why it was such a big deal to me. I am not anti-formula in general, but I am anti-formula for me and my kids. And I felt like I was being asked to give up something that was so meaningful to me with my older kids, and I felt like I was selling my third child short of the same experience her siblings had. I wanted that same experience with my new baby. Nursing a child is just an indescribable feeling to me. To some others, its not a big deal. But to me, it was a huge deal. One of the biggest parts of mothering this child was being threatened to be taken away from me. And nobody seemed all that concerned or could understand why I was so upset about it. I didn't want to risk my child's life, but if I didn't breastfeed and later found out I could have, I would have struggled with that guilt. I just hated that powerless feeling. I had all these hopes and dreams for the birth of this child, and it got thrown a big monkey wrench. Why couldn't anyone understand that?
Then I remembered, this man didn't give me facts, he gave me conjecture. I decided then and there that I would research until I found something conclusive one way or the other. If I was going to give up breastfeeding my child, I needed to have conclusive reasons why. If I had to give it up, I needed to make peace with it, and without answers, that was never going to happen. And I was holding out hope that maybe I would find something that said it was okay. All things considered, I found very little on the specific medication and breastfeeding, but I poured over my computer for 3 whole days (we're talking, 8 or 9 hours a day!), and I read forum after forum, study after study, anecdote after anecdote... Some hits, mostly misses. Fortunately though, I found nothing that confirmed that I could kill my child. And no mention of the rash, organ failure, or death. Various drug company and doctors' websites said that it could "potentially" cause cognitive delays, but they all said that further testing was needed to deem it safe. I finally found a case study of 90 women, and only one reported their baby displaying anything out of the ordinary. It was a small study, but at least it was something that looked promising. Then the same afernoon, I found a forum of mothers discussing breastfeeding on this medication. Some women did cite that they were told it could cause cognitive delays, but every last one of them said that their child was unaffected and thriving!
I decided that with that information, and the blessing of my midwife and family nurse practitioner (who used to be a midwife), I would do it. Was it a scary prospect? Yeah. Was I taking a risk? Yeah. And would I feel like a fool if it backfired? Oh yeah. But with exception of the psychiatrist, my medical team was on board, so I was going for it and not looking back.
My daughter was born and was perfect! She was a great nurser, and we nursed til she self-weaned two days before her second birthday. I can't lie, every time she had a rash I would get a little freaked out. At every milestone, I did obsess more than I should have. But my daughter, like those of the moms on the forums, has been completely unaffected by it!
At 2 1/2, she can count to 10 without help (although sometimes she does forget that the number six is in there), knows all her colors, can orally spell a few words, is active, bright, perceptive, sneaky (VERY sneaky...she's always into something!) and hilariously funny.
And you know what's strange? I almost look at this whole ordeal as a blessing. I find myself savoring every little milestone more than I think I did with her older siblings. "By the books," she wasn't supposed to be this smart. "By the books," she is supposed to be delayed. "By the books," she was supposed to have an adverse reaction and end up in the hospital with her life hanging in the balance. But she's not! I listened to my own reasoning and made my own choices with the information I had, and I made the right choice! That feels good, and so empowering!
Reading all this, I am sure there are still some out there who would have followed "medical advice" and not taken the chance I took. And that's fine. But I feel so validated each time I remember that whole ordeal and then look at my daughter and realize that we beat the odds. I took a chance, and it paid off. Maybe we just got lucky, who knows? But I think its because I didn't accept no as an answer, dug deeper, drew my own conclusions, and made my own choices regarding my child.
I daydream sometimes about walking my daughter into his office and parading her in front of him, telling him that I breastfed her on Lamictal and she's fine. No, better than fine - she's amazing! I know its wrong, but I wish I could rub his nose in it - for all the tears he caused for nothing, for all the empty threats that I would kill my child. But that wouldn't change anything. It wouldn't change the fact that my daughter is healthy, smart, developmentally right on track, and totally amazing. It wouldn't change the fact that I loved her enough to get all the facts and make the choice for myself. It wouldn't change the fact that even before she came into this world I fought for her, and I fought hard. It wouldn't change the fact that I am her mother, she is my daughter, and I love her more than life itself.