Every motherhood journey is unique and beautiful. No matter how many children you have, no pregnancy is ever the same.
One part of motherhood I was most looking forward to was – breastfeeding. Despite all of the mixed views and crazy things you hear on the subject, I am 100% for breastfeeding (BF). It had always been my plan to at least give it my best shot with Scarlett. Obviously, nothing about my pregnancy went as I had hoped for or planned; and many things had to be altered to fit our situation – breastfeeding included. After a few hours of rest on the day Scarlett was born, a lactation consultant (LC) from the hospital came into my room and began to teach me how to use a breast-pump.
Just like that, my dream of breast feeding quickly turned into my pumping adventure.
Prior to having Scarlett (during all of that free time I had while on bed rest) I had done a lot of research on the subject. Being a first-time mom, I had no clue how BF/pumping worked. Thankfully, I found a woman on YouTube (Momma Alia) who has a ton of videos full of helpful tips & tricks for a BF Mom. Her videos are amazing and so informative, I highly recommend any new mom watch her videos if they are needing help with their own journey. It was because of her videos, advice I from my MIL, and a few other close friends who breast fed/pumped, that I found pumping to be a little easier. (By that I mean, I took their advice into account and did what worked for me.)
In the beginning, I had to work really hard to help my milk supply come in. I think, because Scarlett was born so early, my body needed time to adjust and realize that she was out in the world. It was time to get those gears a’workin’ and start making milk! My MILK FACTORY was officially opening for business!
As with every BF/pumping mama, my colostrum was the very first thing to come. This was a good sign & really important because Scarlett needed all of the help I could offer her. With colostrum being full of antibodies to help make her stronger we didn’t hesitate to give her every bit I could produce. At the time, she couldn’t exactly “drink” it though. Due to being on a High Frequency ventilator, and her body recovering from the shock of having tubes/foreign objects coming out of her every which way, my colostrum was instead given to her during “oral care”. We did oral care during touch times, by using a small q-tip that had been dipped in my colostrum and swirled in around in her mouth. (I remember her tongue being so tiny that the end of the q-tip was about the same size.)
It took about a week or so for my body to finally begin producing milk. I remember once, during a pumping session, a nurse of Scarlett’s told me that holding something with her scent on it could help increase my production. I’ll never forget my sister holding Scarlett’s small crochet hat to my nose in hopes of helping me produce more milk. (She really is the best Tia and just wanted what was best for her niece.) During each pumping session I was given small syringes to hold and freeze my milk in. I’ll never forget how proud I was to have multiple 10mL syringes of milk to store in one session.
Micro- Preemies GI tracts are very sensitive and not always mature enough to handle the work it takes to break down and absorb the nutrients in milk, like most full-term babies can. Instead, they are given TPN, which is a liquid full of supplemental vitamins and nutrients that can be modified to meet a patients exact needs and balance out their levels. You could think of it as their very own “protein shake” only instead of a delicious strawberry one, it’s a weird yellow/green color and is never actually processed through the GI tract (& I bet it taste awful). Scarlett was no exception to this; in fact, she was on a TPN diet for quite a while until her body was strong and mature enough to handle my milk. What I produced was frozen in small amounts and stored in a freezer at the hospital for us to use during oral care.
Some people think that just because Scarlett was born prematurely, I didn’t get the full “newborn” experience. But if you ask me, I’ll tell you not only did I get that experience, but SO MUCH MORE. I was an exclusively pumping mama. I didn’t have a baby with me to feed when my breasts were full & aching. My baby wasn’t with me 24/7 to help set a feeding schedule and help my body regulate how much milk it needed to produce. (Which by the way, amazes me that our bodies have the ability to do that.) I pumped EVERY 3 hours, around the clock. I might not have had a crying baby waking me up and pulling me from my sleep every night/day; but I had a very strict pumping schedule which I followed diligently. Not having Scarlett with me, and her inability to have my milk right away, didn’t change the fact that one day she would. I may not have been able to do very much for her, but making milk, that I could do.
Progression of my milk supply coming in.
I must say that exclusively pumping can be very demanding. Whether you decide to breast feed and/or exclusively pump, it is NOT for the faint of heart. I commend every Mama out there who chooses that path in motherhood. It takes serious commitment and dedication, and you learn things about your body that you never thought you would. Experiencing pumping life, before and after Scarlett came home, gave me a newfound respect for women who have to pump while working/caring for multiple children or adjusting to life with a newborn in general. Trying to pump after Scarlett came home was extremely challenging and not to forget to mention, exhausting.
I was extremely fortunate to have such a great support system/lactation team while Scarlett was hospitalized. Not only did my insurance provide me with a free breast pump, but the hospital had several in the unit for mother’s to use while visiting their baby’s too. Anytime I needed to pump I would let Scarlett’s nurse know and he/she would close the door/curtain and hang a sign outside to let other staff members/visitors know that I needed privacy. During each session I tried to pump for at least 30 minutes (45 at the most). Depending on how long it had been since my last session, determined how long I would need to pump before I was able to feel some relief. (Boobs can get heavy y’all.) They also provided me with storage bottles, so that I didn’t have to go out and buy them myself. Every few days or so an LC (or a nurse) would check-in with me to see if I needed more bottles or labels, and would ask how I was doing. If I had any questions or issues (such as a clogged milk duct) they would help and provide me with the information I needed.
I’ve mentioned before, that while Scarlett was in the hospital, I lived across the parking lot in the Ronald McDonald House. (More to come on this later.) Not only did they also provide a breast pump in our rooms but we were also give a “Lock-Box” to store in the community refrigerators which are specifically designated to store breast milk. They came in handy, especially during times when the hospital had limited space and/or Scarlett couldn’t drink as fast as I was producing.
When she was stable enough and had graduated to a nasal cannula, they began to teach her how to drink from a bottle. When I realized that she and I wouldn’t get try breastfeeding, I’ll admit that I was little heartbroken. I had been set on at least trying to do it. Sadly though, because her lungs had been through so much trauma (and not being fully developed when she entered this world) it was decided that bottle feeding was the best way to go. It was easier for us to control and keep track of how much she was taking at every feeding.The first few times she took her entire bottle with no issues. She was a rockstar! It was as if she had been waiting for us to give her the opportunity to show us what she could do and she did it!
Eventually though, she grew tired of showing off and began to struggle. It was during that time that another issue presented itself. One day during touch times, while changing Scarlett’s diaper, we noticed that she had begun to have bloody stools. After labs were drawn and scans of her stomach and intestines came back clear, showing no signs of a perforated bowl or infection, it was determined that she had developed a protein allergy. To the doctors this was a simple fix. All it meant was that she could no longer have my breastmilk, instead she had to be given a hypoallergenic formula.
This really broke my heart.
After all this time, countless hours spent pumping every ounce of breastmilk I could for her – she couldn’t have it anymore. I felt defeated. It felt like everything I had done to try to help her, did the exact opposite. Call me dramatic and say what you want but, I was devastated. People tried to comfort me; told me not to beat myself up about it. (Because I did.) They’d say things like, “look on the bright side – your milk has gotten her this far.” Or, “Look at how much she has grown – you did that.” They were right. They were 100% right. I had helped get her that far and all of that milk I had been saving had given her the nutrients she needed to grow each day. But it was exactly for that reason that this had been so heartbreaking for me. Knowing that I could no longer provide for her and use my most natural, God given ability to feed her, really stung.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m fully aware that there are mothers out there who can’t or have problems with breastfeeding. Every story has its own highs and lows; its own set of difficulties and triumphs. I know this wasn’t the worst thing that could’ve happened but, this was our low. Our loss.
I felt cheated yet AGAIN. I had already felt inadequate, for being unable to carry her full term. I had just been faced with the fact that breasting was never going to be an option for us. Creating and sharing that special bond that breast feeding moms talk about ,was something I had so looked forward to with Scarlett. After all we’d been through this was a huge disappointment for me.
You might be wondering if I had considered donating at that point. Well, I’m here to tell you that I had, and I would have. But I couldn’t.
I have an autoimmune disorder called Grave’s disease & hyperthyroidism. Because of that – well more importantly because of the medication I’m on for that – I was unable to donate my breast milk. With Scarlett it was fine because I was taking those same medications while pregnant with her. (Here’s an interesting fact, that caused her to have low thyroid problems a.k.a., hypothyroidism, for the first few days of her life. She also had to take medication for THAT for a few days before it corrected itself.) So, even though I would have, without hesitation, donating was out of the question.
The only options I had left were to either pump and dump. Which if you’ve ever pumped you know it’s NOT something you want to do. That stuff is liquid gold. Or, I could continue pumping and build up my storage in hopes that Scarlett would outgrow her protein allergy, (which was a possibility). At that point however, my supply was really good because I was so consistent with pumping and she wasn’t drinking large amounts at a time yet.
In the end, I had no choice but to pump & dump. Once Scarlett was finally home and we moved out of the RMH most of my supply had to be thrown out due to lack of storage space. (Seriously! I’m pretty sure I still have milk stored at a couple of friend’s houses. Even now. To. This. Day!) This brought an end to my pumping journey. Although it was something I never thought I would undertake, I am very happy that I did. Thanks to Scarlett, it is a part of my motherhood history that I will remember cherish forever.