Saturday, May 8, 2010

Me, myself and the pump.

For some this might be included in the 'too much information' section, but I feel that I most talk about something that I have devoted so much time to in the past year. For me it is something, that I had absolutely no idea about when I was pregnant. I remember I had it on a 'to-do-list', research breast pumps, or some such item I could cross off the list.

When I was pregnant, I had a few things that I knew I wanted to happen. I knew I wanted to have an epidural. I also knew I wanted to breast feed. In fact of all the crazy things that ran through my hormonal haze during those brief pregnant months breast feeding was something that just really struck a cord with me. I know now that I had an over romantic view of breastfeeding. I held tight to a vision of holding my baby close and providing for her everything she needed.

When I was helicoptered into the level III hospital confusion and fear as well as the magnesium drip made everything feel somewhat surreal. I could not understand the magnitude of the situation we were in. I was listening to everybody, but it felt as if I was underwater watching them on the shore. It probably was a defense mechanism but, I did not think that I was about to deliver my baby. I was 23 weeks pregnant, barely over 1/2 way through my pregnancy. I thought that maybe I had a urinary tract infection when we went to the first emergency room.

So, when I was placed in a labor and delivery room with an incubator my confusion was starting to be replaced by panic. Then in typical hospital style, a nurse came in to ask me standard questions about how I wanted my birth experience and baby treated. Somehow I was able to answer the questions, about whether I wanted my baby to be vaccinated and whether I wanted an epidural. I didn't even fully realize that my baby would have died if she was born then. I was holding it together pretty well, and then they asked me if I planned to breast feed.

I remember it was that question, that suddenly made me realize what was really going on. My vision of a picturesque mother and daughter breast feeding, was not going to happen. Christ we might not even have a baby. I started to sob, and sob hard. My husband asked her to leave and offered to sign anything else.

I'll save what happened during the ten days that followed my first day in the hospital for another blog, or maybe just keep it to myself. But, with a small miracle a great medical staff my labor was held off for 10 more days. We reached the glorious 25 week mark, where viability of survival was greatly improved. Then, at 25 weeks and one day just after dinner I started to bleed and the fetal monitors started to ring. Nurses and doctors started moving very fast, and within three hours later I delivered my daughter at 8:01 pm. And, I did get my epidural after all.

When you have a baby that is 1 lb 12 oz, you are lucky if you even catch a glance of it in the delivery room. There is a large staff around them, and they are instantly placed in huge incubator that honestly seems like something that could take off into outer space. My husband went with the NICU staff, and I stayed in a recovery for the next two hours. I was given a pumping kit, with parts and access to a hospital grade pump. I cried and started pumping within two hours of her birth. I pumped before I actually got to see my daughter.

The beginning was the hardest. To get your milk to come in when you body thinks you should still be pregnant, you need to pump religiously every 2 to 3 hours for about 30 minutes. And so I did, round the clock. I was discharged from the hospital the day after our daughters birth, the only problem being that we had been traveling when I went into labor and so my husband and I didn't have anywhere to go.

There we were. Our daughter as fragile as a piece of tissue paper. No home, no friends or family. And me hooking myself up where-ever I could find a little bit of privacy to a machine that felt a bit like breast torture machine. And during that whole first month while I waited on a list to get into the Ronald McDonald House, I hauled around this big hospital grade pump and equipment. Working hard to produce milk for a daughter I had never held. She wouldn't even be able to take in any of my milk oral for 5 weeks. I just kept doing it though.

Things got better. I finally got my own room to sleep in so I had some routine to my day at the hospital. I had a place to store my 10 lb pump as well. After 6 weeks, I was able to hold her and she was getting my milk via a nasogastric tube. She started to grow, and I felt that I was a big part of that. The NICU was great trying to help us breast feed as well with the lactation consultant helping everyday.

One of the big keys to getting out of the NICU is being able to take all feedings by mouth. I had been away from home for 3 months. My husband drove back and forth each weekend. The summer was coming to an end. My dreams of breast feeding were pushed to the back burner, I pushed Kate to learn how to take a bottle so we could all go home. I figured we could learn breast feeding when we got home. I continued to pump every 3 hours 24 hours a day.

We got home! Now I really had an infant to take care of all the time. I also had weekly doctor visits to make sure she was gaining weight. I didn't have the nurses, or the lactation consultant. In fact I was going back to work part time in just a few weeks. I tried for the next several weeks. I contacted the La Leche League, they sent me to the hospital. I went to the local hospital. They had never worked with such a small baby before. I worried constantly that if I let her breast feed she wouldn't get enough and wouldn't gain as much as was needed. Maybe she would even go back to the hospital.

Needless to say, I gave up breast feeding. I just couldn't keep going, I would nurse her then feed her a bottle and then pump. The whole thing could take up to two hours, and then we would start it over in hour or so. Plus once I started back to work we had even less time time to practice.

I let go of the dream.

Or did I?

I just kept pumping, every three hours 24 hours a day. I learned how to do everything while I pumped. I can get ready for work. I can feed, play and watch Kate while I pump. I can drive and pump. I even trained myself to sleep and pump, though I have to be sitting up.

I also tried to breast feed every once and awhile. I was pinched, bitten and pushed away with screams. I learned how to act like it didn't bother me to pump, I even could joke about it from time to time. I trained myself to be able to pump with people walking in and out of my office, or asking me questions. I worked on not flinching when people would make comments about how I didn't 'actually breast feed', or when I'd have to repeatedly tell people that she receives breast milk. Yes, breast milk from a bottle.

I thought about quitting, many times. There have been lots of tears while attached to the pump. But, I have just kept doing it. I would always say just one more month. Then I finally couldn't get up in the middle of the night anymore, as Kate was starting to sleep longer and I was at 9 months of every 3 hours. So I started spreading it out a bit, maybe 4 or 6 hours at night.

Now I am just a little short of a year of pumping. By my calculations, I have spent 53 days (full 24 hour days) pumping in the last year. Roughly 70-80 gallons of milk. We have two freezer full of milk. So why do I feel so bad about stopping? Why do I cry as I watch my daily supply dwindle down? Why am I not rejoicing that I have made it to a year?

Because it is not about pumping. Its about something much more than that to me. It is about a dream that I never really mourned. Its about a connection and link to my baby that kept me going for months during our NICU stay. It has been a real and imaginary safety net of immunity around my daughter. Its something that not even I understand completely because I just can't.

Daily now though, I am forcing myself to not be connected to the pump. I have to not worry about not producing enough today or the next day. Because it is time. It is time to stop, and move on.


  1. You are such a strong woman!! Thank you for sharing this!!!

  2. Pumping while reading this. Crying. Hugs to you Beth.

  3. Awww, this made me really teary. You have done an AMAZING job. And to those fools who said you didn't really breastfed, well, I have a place they can go. Kate is doing so fantastic and so unbelievably beautiful and yep, you and your breastmilk played a huge part in that!

  4. Great post. I'm still working on my relationship with the pump...I don't know it as you do...thankfully. I'm glad to hear Kate is growing like a weed. We're still waiting for Eliza to put on some weight- I'm sure she'll be huge before we know it. Take care of yourself and I hope to see you all soon.