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.
>…like Andrea pissed.
Seriously. (I think I may say “seriously” entirely too much. Kind of like the word “like” when I was a kid. Oh well. Roll with it because I am really pissed off.
Zach usually takes a bottle of evil formula at night before bed. One little 6-ounce bottle. Now, let me remind you that my boobs have been through sheer hell in the past (almost) nine months. I seriously cannot believe I have kept this shit up this long. (Oh, yeah, forgot to mention that you should expect profanity in this post because, once again, I am pissed.) Like the days where I found random black bruises on me. Or the plugged ducts. And how could I forget the days where I got as little as 2 ounces in 24 fricken HOURS. I didn’t do this crap for fun. And it sure as hell has not gone as planned. I didn’t want to take herbal supplements to keep the milk coming. I certainly didn’t want to buy a hospital-grade pump. And I really, really had no intention of getting nice and intimate with a piece of equipment every two @#$%&* hours a day for at least a year. Okay, now with that being said…
You may or may not remember the early days when I returned from work a mere 5 weeks post c-section and all was sunshine and roses. We have the lactation rooms with the hospital grade pumps and leather recliners, etc. And if you have to pump, you have to pump. No questions asked. Period.
I have not pumped a single time at work in the past 4 days. And I am still doing the 12-hour shifts. In the wee hours of the morning when my boobs seem to be the most productive. So if I can’t pump at work, it is a serious issue. And that issue has been my way of life for 4 days now. So while this time last week, Zach was taking one bottle of formula before bedtime, yesterday he only got one 5 ounce bottle of breastmilk all day. Because just one day of missed pumps is enough to do that to me. Now it is all but gone and I am back to killing myself practically in order to get my supply back up. One of my fave ER docs is working tonight and I am on the verge of asking him for another course of Reglan. It is that bad.
It went like this: I have had the ER, despite the fact that I told my boss that the ER, because of its lack of predictability, its distance from the lactation rooms, and the acuity of the patient population, is really difficult for me to cover while still breastfeeding. And she told me to have my coworkers help me and if anything came up, to let her know. I’m sure she doesn’t really want me to do that. I would be in her office daily. Long ago, I stopped having someone cover my cell while I go to pump, which is really what I am supposed to do. It’s just easier that way because I don’t have to deal with the rolled eyes of my coworkers or have to explain why it is that I need this time to them. But the downside of that is that, when I get a call in the middle of a pumping session, I have to call my coworkers to get the patient seen. And the people I have worked with for the past 4 nights are not the type of people to help. For example, I was so busy in the ER last night that I didn’t even get to attempt to pump until almost 7 hours into my shift (8 hrs. since the last pumping session). And when I finally got up there, as soon as I took my stuff out of my bag to get ready to do the deed, my phone rings. And it is a nurse who wants a PRN treatment for her patient because he is short of breath. I call the first coworker, who says she got called to a patient in the ICU. I have no reason to not believe her at this point, and so I call someone else. This someone else just happens to be the first girl’s BFF. So the second one syas she is “up in the tower” ( a region of the hospital), not specifying which floor she is on, what she is doing, or anything else. I tell her what I need and her response was, “That doesn’t sound urgent.” And she hangs up. While it is entirely possible that she was correct in her assumption, we have no way of knowing this until someone lays eyes on the patient and does some sort of pulmonary assessment. And so I try to call a third coworker whose phone is saying he is “out of the zone”, which means he is in an area of the hospital where his phone has lost signal. So I call the nurse back and let her know what is going on, and could she please give me specifics on the patient’s status. She does and tells me he can probably wait until I am finished. So I start to pump. And literally 2 minutes into it, the phone rings again. 2 minutes. So of course the same therapists who were busy with the first call are still busy. And I have no choice. I stop pumping, throw my parts in my cooler without even washing/wiping them, and I go to the patient. Except on the way, I pass the first two girls, giggling and walking down the hallway. On the complete opposite side of the hospital from where I had assigned them at the beginning of their shifts. Together.It was all of 10 minutes after I had spoken with them and they were too busy to help me see one lousy patient. And so I was very pissed. And after that, I was just too busy to even leave the ER and never had another opportunity.
So tonight I report to work. For the first time all week, I am not in charge and so I do not make out the assignments. I told the one girl I can’t do the ER tonight. Not after the issues that have gone on for the past 3 days. If I do, I will probably have no more milk for Zach. That’s it. All of that work brought to an end like that. And she ignored me and put me there anyway. And in the morning I don’t know what I’m going to do. Raise a stink? Go to HR? Post a printed copy of Kentucky breastfeeding laws on her locker? It’s all enough to make me want to put in my notice, but my status as the breadwinner means that I need something else lined up first. Incidentally, my hospital was one of the first to recieve the Unicef designation as Baby-Friendly, meaning it makes extraordinary strides to foster breastfeeding. Pretty rich, isn’t it?
>So I wrote my last post from a very gloom-and-doom place. My supply was down again and I really did think it was all over. I only pumped enough milk to give Zach one bottle that day and I was sad abut it and assumed it was the end. Well, it wasn’t, and I learned some things in the process.
1.) When I said I was taking Blessed Thistle before, it actually was Milk Thistle. I was told to take Blessed Thistle by our LLL leader, and so I went to the GNC where I buy my fenugreek and Mother’s Milk Tea, and they had Milk Thistle in the same area, so I got confused and was told by the guy working that evening that they were the same. But when I went to this health foods store that has an herbs section, the guy working said nope, that I was duped. I’m actually on Blessed Thistle now and in just 2 doses, it has already made a difference.
2.) The same guy knew immediately what I was doing when I picked up Fenugreek also, and he added some Red Raspberry Leaf tea to the mix. He said it enhances the effects of the Blessed Thistle. We’ll see.
3.) Yep, Parsley really is evil. I had gone from pumping 4 oz. at a time (really not a lot to begin with) to a pitiful, tear-inducing 0.5 oz. or less. I thought it was because I had some busy days where I only pumped 6 or 7 times, all in a row. And that still may be a part of it, but I had also started this diet with all of these healthy foods I don’t eat normally. Among them? Fresh sage and parsley, both considered galactofuges that reduce milk production. The parsley had been in this pesto I had made and was eating at pretty regular intervals. Once I stopped, I immediately went up to 3 ounces at a time after one day of pumping my standard 8 times a day.
I’m back at it. Herbal supplements and pumping. And since Zach is now 8 months old, my goal of breastfeeding for one year is right around the corner. No, we didn’t actually breastfeed beyond the 4th month, but I don’t consider it a failure since he has continued to get breastmilk from me. Actually I’m kind of glad because I am a wuss. I should explain that! I have read up on extended breastfeeding and agree with it, but I have always felt weird about the idea of a walkie-talkie kid coming up and lifting my shirt to nurse. Well, since we don’t physically breastfeed, I can continue to give Zach breastmilk without ridicule and discomfort. So now my new goal is 18 months. I don’t know if I’ll make it. This whole exclusive pumping thing is pretty labor intensive, but I’m going to try. My hope is that Zach will get at least some breastmilk beyond his first birthday.
So anyway, theconcludes this episode of the Boob Chronicles. For now.
>I have given breastfeeding my all. Through latch issues. Through prematurity. Through low-supply issues. I kept it up because, though it never went as planned, that was the little bit of myself I could give Zach each and every day. When the physical nursing stopped and the exclusive pumping began, it became tedious and miserable, and I kept at it. Zach will be 8 months old next week, and he has been at least partially fed breastmilk all along.
I did some math in my head. I have pumped on average of every 3 hours. Sometimes more, up to every hour when I was trying desperately to boost supply, and sometimes less, like on those really busy nights at work. Every 3 hours is again just an average. And I pump for no less than 15 minutes at a time. 8 times a day. So about 2 hours a day, total. If you figure Zach has been on this earth for about 240 days, I have pumped 480 hours of my life away. 20 days.
I am saying all of this because I have a feeling it is winding up to a close. My supply is at a low point again, and while I am once again going to try to get it back up, I know I am honestly getting a little tired of the monotony. It becomes harder and harder to do. I want to spend my time playing with my baby as more and more of his fun personality emerges. I want to sleep for more than 2 to 3 hours at a time, and could do so with my baby who sleeps like a dream, if only I weren’t forcing myself to wake so often to pump. I want to go to do things with my family without worrying about pump battery life or where I am going to go to do it. And I am drained from stressing about every teensy drop of milk I produce for Zach.
I remember the warmth and closeness I felt the first time he nursed. I remember the special first weeks when it was just the two of us. We would lay together, with him nursing, as we both dozed. My beautiful baby boy. And the first time I pumped more than he could take at a feeding! That pride as, even when he stopped nursing, I was still able to give him my milk. I would do it all again.
I have thought about giving up, and I am sure I don’t want to do that. I will continue to give him all I can. But if the process is coming to a close naturally, I think I can find peace with that now. I couldn’t say that before. I think, with the horrible pregnancy and birth, I just wanted that little piece. That teensy chance to do something that was the way nature intended. With the troubles that I have had, I didn’t think we would make it past my maternity leave. I never dreamed we would get 8 months under our belts. And it has paid off. One look at my chunky preemie can tell you that. My preemie who hasn’t had so much as a tiny cold since his birth.
I hope it isn’t the end. But we will be okay now if it is. I did all I could. I was stronger than I ever thought I could be. It has been quite the journey.
>Once again, I am awake on my night off while the rest of the world sleeps. I have worked night shift for years without having this problem, but ever since I returned to work from bedrest and recovery. I have been unable to sleep at night. I thik this is because before, I would have my premed classes demanding me to keep a normal schedule as often as possible.
Several days ago, after getting the sinking feeling that my supply was starting to drop, I reverted to keeping a log of my pumping sessions and milk production, and it turned out that I was correct. So after puming like crazy again, with no effect, I went on another course of Reglan. This time, instead of going to the Breastfeeding medicine doc, I just cornered my family doc in the halls at work and picked up the called-in script the next day. Only this time, instead of gradually increasing my dose over the span of a week, I just started the full dose from the word “go”. The results have been much different this time. During the first course, I didn’t see or feel any results or side effects until about 4 days after reaching the full dose. Not so this time. I have been taking it for 2.5 days and as of yesterday morning, I noticed a big difference. It started with me not really pumping any more than before, but about every 2 to 3 hours, I would feel like I was completely engorged, which I have not felt since Zach was a newborn. I would think the milk fairy had left me the motherload only to pump about 3.5 to 4 ounces. Usually that is the amount I get every 4 hours or so, and when I pump more frequently, I get lower amounts. Well, yesterday, I got that every 2 to 3 hours. (Keep in mind I haven’t really been to bed yet, and my yesterday is really 2 days ago!) So today, after a busy night at work and limiting chances to pump, followed by the need to stop at the grocery store on the way home after a damned-near blizzard outside, I was pretty uncomfortable and so when I finally sat down to pump, I got over 6 ounces. I haven’t done that since day 1! (I know it isn’t exactly record-breaking, but this is a big deal for me!)
So today, I was off, and I have been feeling engorged every 2 hours. Again. And this is just the beginning. The start of day 3 of the Reglan. I probably won’t reach peak until I’ve been on it for a week or so. Holy Milk, Batman!