Once upon a time, I almost quit my job because of breastfeeding.
The year was 2010. I was an Ob/Gyn resident working 80 hours a week and struggling with how I was suddenly expected to show up 100% at work and… you know… raise a tiny human whose entire food supply was dependent on me. No biggie.
Having my first baby after spending decades focused only on becoming a doctor sent me into an identity crisis that almost ended my career. I never anticipated that my deep need to be a good mother would compete with my need to be a good doctor. But, let’s be real, was there ever really any competition? No. The moment that little blue line appeared on my pregnancy test was the moment I knew I would risk it all for my child.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the fact that prioritizing my role as a mother ultimately meant that everything else that once came first in my life automatically got demoted to second place. As a type-A, world-class people-pleaser, I honestly thought that I could be everything to everyone all at once. Anyone who knows me knows that I love a challenge and I was out to prove that I could be present for my job and my family, with a smile on my face to boot!
In my defense, we as a society are very skilled at hiding the ugly sides of motherhood. We celebrate pregnant people and shower them with gifts and parties. We can’t wait for that little bundle of joy to come out so that we can get all the sweet baby snuggles and selfies to share on social media. We ask the new parents if they are over the moon with joy (because how could they NOT be?!), not really waiting for an honest answer. We only want to hear the pleasant parts, thanks.
Like a good new parent, I knew I shouldn’t complain. Healthy mom and healthy baby, right? Who was I to feel sad? Didn’t I choose this? I used to cry every day in my call room, expressing milk in silence while someone else played with my daughter at home. I thought this was the new normal and that when I chose to breastfeed, I deserved all of the judgment that came with my choice. I was criticized by peers for trying desperately to keep my milk supply up while barely seeing my child. And then I criticized myself endlessly for choosing a career that prevented me from being the mother I wanted to be.
One day, it just got to be too much. I remember walking into the clinic, telling my supervisor that I would be right back, and then walking right back out. As I was headed to the door, never to return again, I ran into a mentor of mine and asked to chat with her. She pulled me into a storage closet and (still smiling through the tears so as not to make her uncomfortable), I admitted for the first time that I was not feeling like myself lately. Full of compassion, she told me that she thought I had postpartum depression.
I WAS SHOCKED.
That’s the funny thing about depression. Oftentimes you don’t know you have it until someone names it for you. Suddenly, I felt seen. Everything clicked into place. That was the day everything started turning around. I found a support group and I started healing. I forgave myself for the harsh self-criticism. And soon thereafter, I knew that the most meaningful way to move forward with my career was to use my unique experience as a doctor and mother to improve the postpartum care of anyone who chooses to feed with human milk.