I’ve written about breastfeeding here before. My struggles. My pumping fails and successes. The pain. The exhaustion. The guilt. The pressure. Some societal. Some self-inflicted.
My baby turned one last week. On his birthday he got sent home from daycare with a 102 fever. Not exactly how I pictured “celebrating”. But we did have a really big and fun hip hop themed party for him this weekend (pictures below). It was bigger than we expected but when you miss 2 family showers and a work shower due to your baby arriving unexpectedly 6 weeks early, you celebrate the shit out of that 1 year! He wasn’t back to 100% but he was feeling better, luckily.
But every time he has been sick this year I automatically think of breastmilk. Everyone says it’s like a magical potion to boost the immune system. Every little drop helps they told me in the hospital as I was manually expressing tiny drops every 2 hours.
A friend of mine shared this article today and I felt compelled to share it as well: Pumping in the NICU: Liquid Gold or Liquid Guilt from Pregnant Chicken. SO MANY things in this article resonated with me that I found myself yelling YES at my computer screen. Sort of awkward in general, especially awkward at your desk at work.
In talking with my therapist about my emotions and moods post-birth, haven’t quite been diagnosed with PPD, but dealing with a lot of the symptoms, I related so much of it back to breastfeeding and pumping. I think, if I know myself, I would have felt a lot of guilt and pressure anyway. But, having a baby born pretty small and pretty early just upped the anty on that for me. It really had an effect on my experience as a mom of a newborn and I do feel like I missed out on some moments because of it.
On the one hand I felt like I was doing something special and meaningful for him. I was giving of my time and body to provide nutrients he needed. I was the only one who could do that and that felt good. When you have tons of people swarming around taking care of him all day and night, changing diapers better than you, bottle feeding him better than you, burping him better than you (they are experts but still), having one thing I knew I could only do for him was validating. You all may be professionals but I am still his mama damnit.
On the other hand, it was a fucking lot. I give credit to all mamas who nurse, pump, or nah. It takes a lot to decide and do any of those options because people are going to have comments, judgments and nonsense all around. This article says: “Two hours after my son was born, a lactation consultant knocked on my hospital room door. She peeked her head in and asked ‘Are you going to breastfeed?'” and my experience was almost identical.
I remember saying “that was my plan??” but then again this whole thing was NOT MY PLAN. Or anyone’s plan, so who knows. The hospital grade pump was already in my room when they wheeled me over from recovery. They told me the same things the author said, it will take a while to come in, but keep at it. I recall the consultant saying it is better not to do it on a timetable, your body produces more if it is more random. So she said “wake up-pump, have breakfast-pump, go see the baby-kangaroo then pump, visit family-pump, have lunch-pump, shower-pump” She said it so non-chalantly like it took no effort or time to maintain that kind of schedule. In the beginning especially I was told to pump for 20-30 minutes each time every 2-3 hours. It took me about 5-10 minutes to get set up, then manually express for 5-10 minutes, then pump, then bottle, label, send Kenny to delivery to nicu, then soak, wash sanitize, repeat. Don’t let the tubes touch the floor! Make sure to air dry all the parts, but they definitely won’t dry in time before your next pumping session in an hour. When you leave the hospital, it’s on you to rent a hospital grade pump. The one you got from insurance definitely won’t be heavy duty enough for you to get enough milk since your baby is too small to nurse enough from you. When you visit, make sure to pump at least every three hours in the dingy room with plastic curtains and no artwork (except motivational milk posters). Wash and sanitize your parts in the shared sink but don’t let them touch anything! And don’t miss the window to snuggle and kangaroo your baby and TRY to nurse with the lactation consultant, but only if they happen to be around when you’re there. The snuggling helps the pumping, but the pumping takes away from the snuggling. It’s a WHOLE LOT.
But it was such a conundrum. All I wanted to do was hold and snuggle the baby. But he was under the lights for his bilirubin levels often, and there were so many interruptions. I was so tired and so hungry. But, once the colostrum came and then the milk came I did feel a sense of accomplishment. Even though I was looking around and feeling like an underachiever compared to these other women with their full bottles. Like the article mentions, he wasn’t eating a lot in the beginning so I was gathering a stash. The nurses kept giving me praise for being “so dedicated” and “such a good mom”, it felt good. But was also in my head when I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. If I stopped would I no longer be dedicated or a good mom? Definitely a double-edged sword for someone with an achievement-oriented mindset.
The feeling of a body failing on multiple levels was a theme. I couldn’t get pregnant. I couldn’t maintain a pregnancy. I couldn’t keep the baby to term. I couldn’t breastfeed. I couldn’t pump enough milk. When I felt like I was pumping a lot it felt good, like the bod was finally doing the thing it was supposed to do. The power pumps were draining (LOL literally) but also relieving. I ate my weight in lactation cookies and wondered why I wasn’t losing all this baby weight while pumping. I had more than 4 lactation appointments trying to get the hang of breastfeeding once we got back from the NICU to no avail. But I couldn’t let go. He was having his milk fortified with formula for more calories and was doing fine, but I still couldn’t let go. Even when he started to sleep for 6-7 hour stretches, I was waking up twice to pump because I was afraid my supply would go down. It felt like the only thing I COULD do. The only thing I was good at. It was a bitch.
In my head, before the fertility drama, before the preemie drama, I thought “I will try to make it 6 months, and then see. But I would love to do it for a year.” I thought I would be mostly nursing and just pumping when I went back to work. Not PUMPING IT UP 10 times a day at home and work. I pumped in bathrooms, in cars, in airports, on planes, in random people’s offices, in concert parking lots. I did it for 9.5 months and then I waived the white flag. Enough. I said. I had clogged ducts for days, I had infections, I needed prescription ointment. I bought a deep freezer. I will be “cutting glass” for the rest of my days. Enough.
And the funny thing is, LJL didn’t give two shits. When we moved him over to formula exclusively, he had no changes. None. He didn’t get sick more. He didn’t sleep more either. Everything was fine, except my inner guilt and failure complex. So, when he does get sick I think “what if I made it the full year?” or if he is gassy or has an upset stomach “maybe it’s the formula”. It isn’t. He’s a baby. He’s gross most of the time.
I saw my OBGYN last week for my regular exam. She is the shit. Highly recommend finding a doctor you really like, although I know that is a privilege only afforded to some. We talked about “trying” again, which is a whole other 9 page long post to come. She asked about my moods and emotions and how therapy was going. We talked about breastfeeding and about how that on top of all the drama it took for us to get there was what really caused me to struggle. And she said “and now you know that and you know he is fine and you know what you DON’T have to do to yourself next time.”
I let out this huge sigh of relief. That one statement from a medical professional just let me off the hook. If I am blessed with another miracle baby, I may try to breastfeed again, I may not. But I sure as shit won’t make myself feel all the feelings described above. Formula is expensive, but not more expensive than my sanity.
I share my inner mom-o-logue about this to say: it’s fine. Whatever you’re doing is fine. You’ve been through a lot. Give yourself a freaking break. If you want to nurse, cool. If it works, cool. If you don’t, cool. If you want to stop, cool. Be proud of pushing yourself because you wanted to see what you could do. Or proud of yourself for knowing you needed to move on before reaching the brink. Of course breastmilk is great and has great benefits. But it isn’t the only thing that is great. You being a functioning human being without bloody nipples that hurt in the shower is also great.