Where to start?
I remember when I started to get into the throes of my pregnancy with Zachary, and John and I started to make lists of the things we needed. And we got to feeding supplies, and we started to discuss whether we were going to go with breastfeeding. I wanted to with Evan, but his prematurity got in the way and neither of us ended up interested at all. Did I want to try it again? Not really, because I was kind of afraid to get myself invested in the idea. I had breastfed Ben for a couple of months, and when it didn’t work out, I remember crying the first time I gave him a bottle of formula. And with Evan, I just felt guilty that we didn’t give it more of an effort. But knowing how breastmilk is the best for the baby, and seriously thinking Zach was to be my last chance to do so successfully, I decided to give it a go. One more try.
You start off with the idea of breastfeeding as being this remarkably bonding experience. With a mind full of rosy images of a tiny baby nuzzling at a mother’s chest. Of cuddling and warmth and a bond that can only be shared between mother and child. A bond that cannot be broken. And I think after the pregnancy horrors I faced, I really needed that. And then Zach was born.
It was never supposed to go like it has. I was not supposed to be separated from my baby immediately after his birth after only having a small glimpse of him over a surgical drape. And I remember John bringing pictures of him from the NICU for me to see while we were still separated, and it was so bizarre and surreal. I had endured so much for him and this is what I got? Some blurry images on a digital camera that John barely knew how to use? Was this little person really my son? How could I be sure when I couldn’t hold him and touch him and smell his newborn scent? They said he was mine. And I could see a family resemblance, so it had to be true. He was beautiful, that was for sure. But really? I begged and begged for them to bring him to me. Everyone said he was doing great and had just needed a little longer to adjust to the outside world. So if he was fine, then he belonged with me. If he is mine, he belongs with me.
And just like that, he was with me. I kicked everyone but John out of the room as I stripped away layers of flannel blanket to look him over. So perfect. So so perfect. And then and there, we nursed. And all was right with the world. Suddenly it all was okay- the pregnancy, the time in the NICU. Suddenly, it was just Zach and I. I loved it. And I hated when the lactation consultant came in and told me he had to have formula and asked me what type I wanted them to give him. I hadn’t planned on that. And so my love/hate relationship with the pump began.
I hated that I had to pump at all. I hated that he got formula. I wanted to cry each time he took a tiny sip of it. 20 mL at a time at first. I gave him every bit of breastmilk I could. I wished they would have told me it was okay to stop the formula when my milk came in, but they didn’t until it was too late. And the supply issues started. I did everything I could and got most of it back. And then the latch issues happened, most likely a result of the bottle feeding he had received. Phrases like “nipple confusion” and “flow preference” entered my vocabulary. Still, I did everything. Always trying trying trying to get him off of the tiny amount of formula he was getting a day. And then when he wouldn’t nurse at all anymore and I learned what it meant to exclusively pump. And my reality became the breastpump, 15 minutes at a time, 8-10 times per day. I’ve kept that up since Zach was 4 months old. I hated it, but Zach was getting breastmilk. That was all that mattered. I still felt a deeper connection to him because of the months we spent together, nursing. That is how I spent the weeks of my maternity leave. And when I first returned to work, I would come home and Zach would nurse with me in the bed as I drifted off to sleep. Zach and Mommy. That’s all there was.
It has been such a difficult road. Difficult but rewarding. Worth it. I honestly can look at the differences in personalities between Evan and Zachary and I think the breastfeeding has something, if not everything, to do with it. Zach seems more content. More secure. I cannot help but think that this is because he had more of a connection to me.
So why am I writing this now? Because this afternoon, John helped me to gather up all of the supplies I have needed to exclusively pump. All of that equipment. And I cried as I made sure all of it was organized and packed away. This week and next, Zach will get what is left of my milk from the refrigerator and freezer, and that will be the end. When I initially started out, I said one year was my goal. In a perfect world, free from latch issues and prematurity, from supply issues and tongue-tie, I would have done one full year. I am pretty proud of myself that I made it this far in the face of all of the difficulties. By the time it is over, Zach will be 10 months old. He is to the point where he is getting more and more food from sources other than a bottle, and I feel like it is time to focus on enjoying the rest of his first year free from the stress of measuring every little ounce, from setting alarms to remind me to pump every 2 hours around the clock. I can spend time enjoying my baby boy and getting some well-deserved rest knowing that I gave him the best for 10 whole months.
So here is a picture for you. This is what thousands of dollars’ worth of breastpumps and equipment looks like. All of my work fits into this tote. Amazing. And the picture wouldn’t be complete without including in it the reason for it all.