***TRIGGER WARNING – SUICIDE***
The tragic death of Charlotte Bevan and her newborn daughter this month affected me deeply. I’ve thought about her every day since the news came in that she was missing. I don’t know Charlotte’s story so I won’t try to tell it, but I do know mine, and I can say with no small amount of guilt that without the right support and a strong element of luck I could’ve found myself making the same horrific decision when Little T was tiny. I thought about and planned my death every day, living in constant fear that I’d be ‘found out’ and what little I had to live for would be snatched away by the relevant services. I wanted both to be a mother and not to be, but not being a mother meant I couldn’t exist any more because my baby was my everything; without him I’d be nothing. It makes no sense, but it was real. Every day was a new bargain with life and my son to simply keep going. Forget being happy and doing things well, those first few months were about survival in the truest sense.
But I did survive, and I’m lucky beyond all measure to be here. I have my little boy to thank for getting me here – him, and the pills I took every day for six months. Which leads me to an issue that the media has completely bastardised, and my reason for writing this post:
As I said, I can’t tell Charlotte Bevan’s story, but apparently the mainstream media feels they can. There has been speculation that CB suffered from schizophrenia and depression but had chosen not to take her meds so that she could breastfeed her daughter. Whether this is true or not is beside the point; what the papers are reporting and how they’re doing it is negligent and dangerous:
This, from the Daily Mail – “New mother stopped taking her medication so she could breastfeed.” WHAT. The Guardian were more measured with, “…she may have made changes to medication she was taking so she could breastfeed her baby.” These two statements are different, but potentially incredibly damaging.
What the Daily Mail in this instance is saying, most likely unintentionally, is that women can’t breastfeed while taking anti-depressants. No, it’s not explicitly stated because the tragic loss of life is in the foreground of the story (as it should be), but lingering in the background like the cleverest of advertising billboards is the message that no mothers, any mothers, can nurse their babies while taking psych meds. It’s either/or. The end. So if it all goes horribly wrong it’s no one’s fault but your own. Just so you know.
And many new mums, mums-to-be and potential parents the country over have taken in this journalistic subliminal advertising without even realising it.
Except it’s utter bollocks. Morally reprehensible and factually inaccurate bullcrap.
SSRIs are regularly prescribed to breastfeeding women, safely. Research done on most types of drugs have concluded that the effects on babies from medication passed through mothers’ milk is minimal, and the benefits far outweigh any perceived risks. These drugs are saving the lives of women every day – women like me – and their children are enjoying healthy, positive and healing feeding relationships with their mothers.
I didn’t breastfeed Little T while I took venlafaxine, and I stand by that decision. I made a choice, one that I now feel empowered by. The NHS doesn’t recommend its use during pregnancy or while nursing. I could’ve taken sertraline (again) and hoped it would work, or paroxetine, or I could’ve had faith and nursed anyway, but I didn’t have the strength or confidence to go against ‘official’ medical advice even though I now know I could have. Had I never tried those drugs before I would’ve snapped them up in a heartbeat, and if they’d worked I’d probably still be feeding my son today.
But I took venla because I didn’t want to die; it’s as simple as that. I knew it worked for me and I chose to stop breastfeeding so I could get better. I made a choice. A choice that saved my life and kept my family together. And all new mothers have a choice too, and it’s not just a coin toss between sanity and breastfeeding.
Perhaps mine is a mixed message and I’m the wrong person to write this post. I took anti-depressants and I ended up bottle feeding. But one thing I’m certain of is that if mothers continue to be denied their freedom to choose and the knowledge with which to make that choice there will be very dangerous consequences. My job before I became a parent was in the publishing sector so I know how to research in order to write a decent, informative and valuable piece. In the media there should be no excuse for ignorance. We should know the weight of our words and use them responsibly. The journalism surrounding the deaths of Charlotte Bevan and her daughter was appalling, both in terms of facts and sensitivity, and the British media should be ashamed.
I hope Charlotte is at peace.
My heart aches for her and her family.
And for her sweet baby girl.
And for any mothers out there who’re feeling torn and scared, you are not alone. There is help. And probably more choice than you think.