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.
>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.
>I want to give up.
But I won’t.
I’m almost halfway through my goal of one year. Halfway through the rollercoaster ride. Yeah, I’m talking about my boobs again. I was almost there. I had my production up. I’m back down to pumping less than 2 punces at a time. Again. A couple of busy days at work, and whoosh! There it goes. If milk production were solely based on effort, I would be able to feed the world. Damnit!
Right now, it is after 2 AM. I’m off work and my family is asleep, but I’m obviously not. Instead, I’m awake, fantasizing about throwing my pump out the window. If only it didn’t cost so much, I probably would have by now. But no. I’m a slave to the stupid thing. I am in the midst of “cluster pumping” right now, heading into round 3. What the hell is “cluster pumping”, you ask? Well, you pump every hour on the hour for 3 to 4 hours, twice a day. It has been proven to increase production. When I do this, I do it late at night/ in the wee hours of the morning, then I sleep for 4 hours and wake up to my normal pumping routine, only to do it again the following evening. I hate it but it has worked for me numerous times.
I hate this. I don’t understand why I have had such a hard time. I’m sleep deprived because I never sleep more than 3 hours at a time. I might as well not sleep at all on the bad days. This time of night is particularly bad when I’ve had an off day. I sit and tally in my head how much I have pumped and if it is lower than the previous day, I worry and fret that this is it. My supply’s drying up for good. So far, I have always bounced back, but each time could be the time. And so I do this to myself. Again.
I should note that today started as a good day. I slept in a little, only to have John wake me at 7AM because he was getting Evan ready for school and Zach had awakened and needed some attention in the form of a diaper change and, eventually, some form of breakfast. And so I changed him and made his bottle of my milk and waited a bit for cues that he was ready to eat, only to have him start nuzzling my chest and rooting. So I offered. And he nursed! The first time he had any interest in weeks. And he did again when it was time for his morning nap. I was so excited! And then the end of the day came.
I won’t quit. I’m too stubborn for that. I will not jump off of the rollercoaster mid-ride.
>So I’m currently at work in a very slow ER. Well, obviously very slow because I am blogging and binging on fun-size Snickers I pilfered from the stash of Halloween candy I bought on my day off. Actually, I’m embarrassed for a couple of reasons. First of all, for the Snickers. We live in a more suburban area compared to the most-definitely urban area we did last year. So I expect a lot more trick-or-treaters. In fact, I expect to be overrun with them. So I bought 8 enormous bags of candy, and I have been fighting Evan ever since. No, Evan, you cannot have Fun Dip/ Blow Pop/ Snickers/ M&Ms/ Twizzlers…..That candy is for Halloween. Hmmmm. But that was before Mommy was assigned to this crappy, boring shift. And I know from experience that this type of night calls for chocolate and there is no cafeteria. Yep, I’m roughing it! And so I have become a hypocrite. And raided the stash. And now I feel like I have to hurry and finish the entire bag while Ev is at school tomorrow, lest he discover that Mommy opened the Halloween candy that was off limits.
But that’s not all. An ER tech just walked by my desk and asked if I was okay because I am flushed. Nope. I’m dying….of embarrassment.
First of all, this is a freestanding ER, and there is no cushy lactation room. I told my supervisor when I returned from maternity leave that this may not be the best place for me until I wean Zach. But who was I to argue when she made special arrangements for me, finding me a room with a lock on the door and equipping it with a table and chair for me. She even ensured it had an outlet. So I can pump. Great. The only problem is that this room is within a large employee lounge that is equipped with a kitchen area, a dining area, lots of lockers, and staff restrooms. And any noise in the area echoes. And I am the only RT on for my 12 hours because it is just an ER. And while I can try to go at non-busy times when there are no patients waiting for my care and expertise, one does not always know from one second to the next when it is that I am going to be needed. Because the true emergencies that come through the door are the ones who need me (i.e. cardiopulmonary crisis) and are also the ones who cannot wait. Furthermore, this is a bad neighborhood and one of our therapists had her purse stolen here, so I get kind of skittish about bringing the pump. So instead, tonight I have opted to bring my little Freestyle. The only problem is that the Freestyle is a little noisier. And sounds, to be honest, a little like a duck. And had to be used in the room within the lounge where there is an echo. And other employees congregate. So what could make it just a little more embarrassing? Well, of course they need me to do a stat EKG as soon–and I mean as soon–as I get Daffy started up. They were nice about it. I heard a nurse (who was on her break) tell the secretary who came and got me that, “Hey, you can’t interrupt her!!!!”. And they told me not to worry, that they would cover it. And they did. But only after the entire ER staff knew what I was off doing.
I guess it could be worse. I could work amongst people who are not trained and credentialed healthcare providers. And primarily women. But still….
>So the breastfeeding plot thickened this week. It started out okay. I was still sore as could be from the debaucle last week when I headed into work Sunday night. No more and no less than before. I went to pump for the first time that night, and….OMG! There, on the side of Righty, was the blackest bruise I have ever seen. It was about the size of a golf ball and surrounded by an area of gray that was the size of a grapefruit, which was obviously more bruise waiting to come to the surface. By the next day, it had. I was going to try to post a tasteful picture, but it is now so large that I couldn’t do it justice without exposing my entire right boob on this blog. I ended up making a trip to labor and delivery in the middle of the night, and they were so concerned that they actually called the LC in the middle of the night. It turned out that it is bruised from within. Not from using the wrong breastshields, but from the suction of my pump being set too high when I was trying to fix the plugged duct. I had to follow up with lactation today to ensure it was getting better, which it is. Still there, but the pain has gone away. But today she and I talked about the state of affairs with Zach’s breastfeeding and she made me feel really, really good for once.
She basically found out that after all of this time, Zach is pretty much exclusively bottle-fed, but that I have managed to get it to where he is almost exclusively getting breastmilk. And she asked me, the woman who has produced as lttle as a half an ounce at a time, how in the hell I have done it. And I teared up as I told her. I pump every 2 hours while at home. I pump when I’m tired, when I’m too busy, when I would rather be doing anything else. Even when I have worked like a dog all night, I still wake up and pump. Even when I am so tired that my resolve is weakened and it takes John 3 or more attempts to wake me up. I pump. And I pump. And I pump. And I hate it. It is the most difficult thing I have ever done. Breastfeeding was easy compared to this. I got to bond and cuddle with my baby and not a machine. And she told me of all of the women who have tried and given up, and wanted to know how I pull myself up by the bootstraps and do it. Simple.
I told her about Evan as a baby. And then I told her about Zach. Zach is the most content baby I have ever known. He sleeps through the night. He is all smiles while awake. Perfect in every way. And there is nothing that can convince me that it does not have everything to do with what he eats. And so I can. I pump and pump and pump. But having her say this and marvel at my dedication made me feel really great, as if I have accomplished some major feat.