Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My Breastfeeding Journey

A lovely gift from my sister in law. It brought me to tears. 

1 year, 4 months, 11 days. I pumped for a total of 498 days. Boy that seems long when I put in that way. Today I did my last pumping session and surprisingly I wasn't all that emotional. The end was coming for a long time and I had a hard time letting go. I grew attached to my little Medela Freestyle double pump. It and I were honestly BFFs. In the beginning days, it felt like I spent more time bonding with it than with my newborn baby. My good friend, Leslie, told me that she wrote a letter to her son when she weaned him. What a fabulous idea. So I pulled out the journal that I'm writing to Charlotte in and the tears started to fall. I feel like I'll remember every last bit of this journal to share with Charlotte when she's older, but I wanted to share my story here as well. A bit of my story anyways. 

In my past work life, I helped new moms after they came home from the hospital. It was my job to help moms latch their baby and feed. I did that for 5 years. Yah I was pretty rocky at the beginning and looking back, I feel bad that those moms got very textbook ideas/instructions. By year 4 and 5 though, I had attended quite a number of breastfeeding conferences, I've shadowed lactation consultants, and I've successful helped countless numbers of moms with their breastfeeding challenges. I felt quite prepared to handle whatever latch problems would come my way. I did after all, supposedly know all the tricks and strategies. What I wasn't prepared for was a lack of supply. Breast hypoplasia, meet me. Me, meet breast hypoplasia. I had some classic symptoms of it, but talked myself out of them because that's what I did for many many moms. Reassured them that their body is designed and programmed to produce milk for their baby. Just trust their bodies. 

So I didn't have any breast changes during pregnancy. That's okay. Not everyone does. 
So I have small breasts. That's okay. Breast size doesn't dictate whether or not you can produce enough breastmilk. 
So I didn't have any leaking colostrum towards the end of pregnancy. That's okay because, again, not everyone does. 
So I was only engorged for like 1 hour when my milk came in. That's okay because... well I didn't realize that this was anything bad. One of the many things I learned on my journey. 

I should've known things were not going well when I nursed my girl for a solid 20 minutes, active sucks and swallows, and when we went to do a post-feeding weight check, we thought the scale was broken. It wasn't. My poor girl just wasted 20 minutes of what little energy she had, only to get not 1 ml of milk. Not ONE!!! I remember the first night we came home to sleep a couple hours while Charlotte was still in the NICU. I had my friend's electric pump that she lent me and was so thankful that she did. We had gotten home close to midnight and I made Jamie go digging for the pump. I got so little and in my attempts to get every last drop into the bottle, in my lack of sleep zombie state, I manage to spill out a good portion. I was devastated. Thank goodness there was still some left that I could bring back. Then on another occasion, I managed to drop the bloody bottle while setting it down. I was so angry over spilled milk and all I could do was cry. And cry. And cry some more. 

As the days went on, I saw lactation consultants. I scoured the web for more "unapproved" methods of increasing milk supply. I pumped 8 times a day. I set my alarm to wake me up to pump. I was on over 30 pills a day including motilium, fenugreek and blessed thistle. I was eating oatmeal every day. I made sure to drink enough water, skin to skin, think about baby, watch baby videos, be with baby, drink nursing tea, acupuncture twice a week. You name it, I've tried it. I got loads of unsolicited suggestions. Maybe you're too tense. Babies can sense when you're upset and it inhibits letdown. Are you drinking enough water? Have you tried this? What about that? I was starting to question all my own actions. Maybe I'm not drinking enough water... Maybe I am too tense... Maybe I need to watch more videos of Charlotte while I'm pumping. No. I was doing everything I possibly could and nothing was working. 

On top of my lack of supply, I had a baby who (likely because I had no milk!) absolutely refused to latch after the first day. It quickly progressed to only latching with a nipple shield. Then it was only when I would syringe milk into her mouth. Then it was only when I would syringe milk into the shield. Then we tried a supplemental nursing system that our wonderful birth photographer lent us (because nowhere carries them and it has to be ordered in!!!) and we were able to latch a couple times. It was so stressful and truthfully, painful trying to latch her. I got very frustrated, as did Jamie. What saved that grief was the fact that Charlotte ended up getting her swallowing assessed and had to be on thickened fluids. I kept telling myself that the thickened fluids likely wouldn't flow through the SnS tubes, but I never did try. That was my out for not fighting my poor girl to feed. Every. Single. Feed. She hated it. I wanted it but hated it. She wasn't going to increase my supply by nursing directly on the breast. There was no win in this for me if I kept fighting her. 

My visions of breastfeeding my child, while sipping coffee with my girlfriends and their babies, never came to fruition. I had to lug around hot water, cold water, bottles, formula powder, thickener. I hated feeding Charlotte in public. I often did all that I could to plan my day so that I could feed her at home. Part of the challenge was the amount of guilt and shame I felt. I just didn't feel good feeding her in public. Around all my friends who nursed. Everyone was always very supportive, but the inner demon won and it won often. 

Out of the 3 lactation consultants I saw, the last one was the most supportive. She had no techniques for me. Nothing new to try. No encouraging words. Just told me what I already knew. I wasn't going to produce more. No matter what. Period. It's unfortunate, but the reality. I grieved for a very long time and I'm still grieving. I think I'm finally at the acceptance stage and that's good. I need to move on. Hopefully with my next pregnancy, my breasts smarten the heck up and grow some more glandular tissue. Because apparently there's only 2 occasions where a woman can develop more glandular breast tissue. 1. Puberty 2. Pregnancy

Some ask me how I did it. The worst part for many is the washing of pump parts. Sterilizing. It's a pain in the arse. Imagine pumping 8x a day, 20 minutes each time, taking another 6-8 minutes to clean all your equipment. So essentially 30 minutes x 8. 240 minutes. 4 hours a day. It was brutal. Especially if I slept for any length of time at night, I had to squeeze in all the pumping in an even shorter time period. I still remember Jamie always saying, "What? You have to pump again? But you just pumped." Most of the time he was right. I did just pump. Like barely 2 hours ago. I know some of you are thinking, well that's how often babies feed! It's not the same. I can't articulate it for you here, but trust me. It's not the same. Then this one blog post I read, from a mom who also pumped full time, offered me a saving grace piece of advice. Why wash all the pump parts every single time? Breastmilk is good for up to 7 days in the fridge. Why not just pump, store it in the fridge, and pump with the equipment again? She washed and sterilized everything once a day. I followed suit. That saved off over an hour a day of just washing crap! I can honestly say, it is one of the reasons I was able to pump for as long as I did. 

So fast forward 400+ days. I weaned off all my medications and cut my pumping from 8 to 7 to 6, 5, 4, 3, and finally 2 times a day. I've been waking up early to pump before work. Going to bed later so I can pump right before bed. I travelled 3 times on vacation while pumping. Pumped in airports and on airplanes. It really has been quite the journey. Now Charlotte doesn't even really enjoy my breastmilk. You read that right. Not enjoying. So why even continue? I'm pretty sure my milk had a higher amount of lactase and since I had such small quantities of milk, it often took several sessions to get enough for a half or full feed. In the last few months, with an ever decreasing supply, it took even longer to build up a decent amount to feed her. She actually preferred formula. That broke my heart. Truly. We often have to coax her into drinking it or trick her by mixing it with some formula. And when she doesn't finish, the wasting of liquid gold just rubs salt into my ever aching wounds. So it's time. It's time that my journey with breastfeeding come to an end. In the whole 498 days, I only ever managed to say out loud that I was nursing my child once. It was to an oral surgeon when he asked about a bone scan for my jaw. "I'm breastfeeding." It was surreal to say and I remember being taken aback. I never did say it again. I hope that for my next baby, if I'm lucky enough to be blessed with one, I will be able to have a different journey. And even if the path looks the same, at least I know where some of the shortcuts are. 

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