An era is defined as being a significant period of time, and that’s exactly what the last 31 months have been for me. They’ve been some of the most turbulent, emotional, traumatic and significant months of my life. I’ve sobbed until I thought my heart might split in two, I’ve been mentally fragile and at times unstable, I’ve been physically traumatised and forever altered as a person.
I very much expected my life to change with the arrival of a baby. I anticipated some level of sleep deprivation, a small amount of physical pain and a shift in my outlook on life. What I got was so much more.
It never crossed my mind that I would spend more than two and a half years attached to a breast pump. I’d naively assumed that determination and positivity would be enough to successfully breast feed. I thought that formula was the plan B if it didn’t work out, and that I’d be ok with that. In reality, I couldn’t feed my new baby daughter, and in my desperation to avoid artificial milk and provide her with my own, I stumbled upon exclusively pumping.
The weeks, months and years that followed were swept up in the routine of pumping, feeding, cleaning. The counting of ounces and experimenting to increase supply. I was caught up in a blur of sadness, grief, stubbornness, ill mental health and, eventually, blogging. The breast pump became a fifth limb, breastfeeding websites became my temporary bible, strangers on the Internet became my family.
I’ll always hold sadness that the experience wasn’t the one that I’d hoped for. Perhaps a reason for the struggling will one day become clear. Am I sad that Moo no longer drinks my breast milk? Yes. I would have liked to have provided it for her for as long as she wanted milk before bed. Am I upset that I’m no longer pumping? Hell no. As wonderful as my Medela Freestyle was, I was sick of the sight of it. Connecting it all, washing it all, taking it away with me, the repetitive noise. Ugh.
I’ve suffered a loss. I’ve been broken at times, unsure of what to do or how to function. I’ve cried more tears than I thought it was physically possible to produce. But, I’ve gained too. I’ve got more determination than I ever knew I had. I’ve much more empathy for and understanding of mothers who can’t or don’t breast feed. I’ve acquired some scientific knowledge. I’ve completed a peer supporters course. I’ve met some wonderful, uplifting women. All of these things are gifts given to me from my suffering. Gifts that I’m immensely grateful for.
I shall take these gifts and use them well, as I move into this new, pump free era.
The total pumped today is barely three quarters of an ounce. 0.75oz. That’s it. I’ve been two days without Domperidone and reduced my pump to 10 minutes. It’s a negligible amount to many, but it’s enough for me to save. It’s stored in the fridge, ready to be topped up with cows milk for tonight.
I’d wanted to continue pumping until Moo no longer wanted milk to drink at bedtime, but after several failed attempts, this isn’t happening any time soon. I’ve had enough of pumping. It sucks. It’s not a good way to start the day.
I’m very concerned that I’ll regret stopping when I look back at this in a few weeks time, particularly when I’m in a stronger place mentally. But a person can only do what feels right at the time. The community mental health team doctor has recommended this and in a way it feels like I’ve been given permission to stop.
There’s one bag of milk left in the freezer. I’m tempted to leave it there forever as a momento. But why waste a bag of the good stuff for the sake of sentimentality? I’ll defrost it later, and use it up tomorrow.
Only four days to go and this chapter will be closed.
As of the 20th of this month I’ve been breastfeeding for 30 months. Moo is two and a half and has had my expressed breast milk her whole life. Sure, we used a little formula along the way, and she now has cows milk too, but she’s had plenty of the good stuff.
I can tell the end is in sight. I think about stopping pumping more and more often. I’m less religious about counting ounces and although my freezer stash is almost gone, it no longer upsets me. Quitting won’t be emotionally easy, but I won’t feel I’ll have failed Moo by calling it a day anytime soon.
The dream of breastfeeding her will die with it, and that will be hard. My life will no longer revolve around breast milk and the pump. You never know, my nipples might go back to normal too. I don’t think my passion for breastfeeding and supporting pumping mamas will ever go away. While I didn’t get the experience I dreamed of, pumping for this long has certainly had its own rewards.
Letting go of the ‘habit’ will be a toughie. Even as I’m writing this, I can feel the pumping gremlin telling me that I may as well do another six months. We shall see.
I’m so sad. It’s just hit me, just then, in the last few minutes. I’ve had a great day until now, and one photo of a baby nursing has set me off.
I needed someone there, pushing me on to keep trying with the breastfeeding. I didn’t need people telling me I’d tried hard enough, or that it was ok to quit or that bottle feeding was good too. I needed someone to slap me across the face, tell me to get it together. I needed someone to tell me that it was ok to stop trying for 24 hours, to compose myself, take some deep breaths and to try again tomorrow.
I needed someone there after Moos tongue tie snip. I needed someone that new a damn thing about exclusively pumping. I needed cool suggestions, like using a bottle teat as a nipple shield. I needed someone to help me with the SNS when it was fucking me off. I needed someone to tell me that it was never too late to keep trying.
Health visitors? Midwives? Lactation consultants? Doctors? I don’t know who that person should have been, but where the fuck were they?
Apologies for the random pity post.
I have days when it gets to me, as I’m sure it does other exclusive pumpers and mothers who tried so hard to breast feed. I see photos of babies smiling, with a mouthful of boob, and I so wish that was my Moo. It hits me like a sudden wave, absolute grief. It’s almost physical painful, my heart is hurting. I could curl tightly into a ball and sob.
I’m reading a book at the moment, that’s helping me understand why breastfeeding didn’t work. I get it. I know what could have been done differently. If I was to ever try again (which is unlikely), I’d know who to call and where to turn. But I don’t know what to do to get over the heartache of losing something that I never had.
Answers on a post card.
It’s World Milk Sharing Week, so I thought I’d share a little something about my limited donor experiences.
My supply was so low at the beginning that I had to supplement with formula. I had no idea that donor milk was so widely available. I knew nothing of milk sharing schemes and milk banks. All I knew about donor milk was that it was given to premature babies. I didn’t even really consider where it came from, as ridiculous as it sounds.
I don’t even know if I’d have gone down that route if it was available to me. I was cut to pieces that I couldn’t feed Moo. Giving her breast milk from a woman that had a plentiful supply might have been a kick in the teeth. But perhaps my absolute love affair with breast milk might have over ridden that.
I didn’t have any milk to freeze until Moo was four months old. I’d fill the available bottles and then freeze any over. The occasional bag here and there. We bought a chest freezer, the idea was it’d be used for storing fruit from the garden, but it soon became rammed with bags of milk. I needed to do something with it. I’d dropped some pumps, but still had ounces to store. I preferred to use fresh milk, so much of it had been frozen for at least 6 months.
I could not formally donate, as I’d had a blood transfusion after Moo was born. Then a friend was wrongly advised to stop breastfeeding due to a medication she was taking. By the time she’d been made aware of the mistake, her supply had gone. I lent her my breast pump, but juggling an active baby, a university degree, a job and the amount of pumping to relactate just wasn’t doable.
So, I gave up my stash. Well, a large chunk of it. I worked out at the time that it had taken me at least 11 hours to pump. Totally worth every minute. It meant that her daughter had mostly breast milk until she turned one, and not one drop of my pumping efforts had been wasted.
Big love to all the milk donor mamas. To those pumping right now, for NICU babies, for friends and family, for low supply mamas, for two dad families and adopted babies. It’s the worlds most incredible gift.
I immerse myself in breastfeeding culture, I love everything about breastfeeding. It’s beautiful, natural, miraculous. I love breastfeeding art and pictures, viewing them fills me with joy. My newsfeed is always full of photos of birth and breastfeeding posted by breastfeeding celebration pages and photographers. I’m a huge advocate of normalising breastfeeding through the sharing of such images. But you never see photos of expressing. The only ones I ever see on Google search results or Pinterest are cartoon images, or shots taken to advertise breast pumps or bras. There’s more to pumping than looking like clip art or selling equipment.
I’m sad that the only breastfeeding photographs I have are ones of the first few days. Moo wasn’t latched right, I’m very ill, I barely remember. I’ll never have the stunning photoshoot, the arty black and white shots, the poses with gorgeous nature as the back drop. But there’s no reason I can’t have expressing photos. It’s such a huge part of my life that it seems ridiculous not to have images documenting it.
You dreamed of breastfeeding. You hoped to nourish your baby with your body, to watch them gently suckling at your breast. I understand that desire. I too wanted that experience more than many will ever understand. I’m not sure why I wanted it so much myself. It was instinct, natural, one of the strongest, most intense needs I’ve ever had.
Things change, life doesn’t go to plan. Challenges arrive to test us and for reasons we’ll never fully know, the dream escapes us. Our wish wasn’t granted. The thing that our babies were ‘born to do’ and our bodies were designed for doesn’t come easily. Sometimes it doesn’t come at all. You can try every technique, explore every avenue, have all the support and information available to you at that time. It’s not for lack of trying. It just doesn’t happen.
But your baby can have breast milk. It may be by alternative means, the warm milk delivered in an artificial teat rather than hot off the breast. There may even be some formula thrown in there along the way (and thank goodness for it, it’s a safety net in times of need).
It’ll be damn hard work. The difficulties of breastfeeding (sore nipples, fatigue, mastitis, supply issues) with the negatives of bottle feeding (washing, storage, preparation) thrown in. It’ll require a schedule and routine that only a crazy person would willingly undertake. (But hey, we’re all a little loopy, aren’t we?) There will be lots of tears, there’ll be grief. There’ll be a period of adjustment as the dream of one lifestyle makes way for the reality of another. It does get a little easier, but I won’t lie, you’ll never forget about the life that you wanted, the experience that you were denied. It’ll haunt you, you’ll dream about it.
But your baby is drinking breast milk. Amazing, healing, tailor made liquid perfection. Pain stakingly provided, its the best gift you can give your baby. Whether you manage a single drop in a syringe, a couple of weeks of the good stuff, an ounce a day or manage to pump more than your baby will ever need, you’ve done it. You’ve breast fed your baby. You did good. And if it doesn’t work out? Then comfort yourself knowing that you tried damn hard. It just wasn’t the journey for you. Your path has been mapped out differently. There may seem to be no reason for your suffering now, but there will be, you’ll see it eventually.
Embrace this new journey. Try to let go of the things you cannot change. Don’t let the baggage of the past weigh you down. There’ll be bad days, when its raw and painful and tears come easily. But hang in there, there’ll be a better day. The sun always rises. Put on your brave face, get that breast pump ready, and know that you’re not alone on this journey, I’m on it too.
I’ve recently come across photos of this Spanish toy ‘El Sacaleches De Bebe Gloton’. It’s a breast pump to go with the breast feeding doll.
Many breast feeders don’t see the purpose of this and bottles have no place in their homes. I however, love it! Bottles are a huge part of my life. it’s not how I planned it, but there you go. Moo sees me pump daily, and often tries to use it. I’m always reluctant about this, as my pump and accessories cost over £250. This would be a great way for Moo to ‘pump’ and give her milk to her baby, which she also breast feeds.
Moo has begun waking in the night again the last few days, she asks for milk. Of course, I oblige. I’m often peckish when she wakes me too. (I often find myself with a finger in a jar of biscuit spread…)
Now she’s started wanting the bottles back at bedtime too, its all that will settle her. The sippy cup and flask have gone out the window. She wants to drink her delicious bedtime milkies laid down on the soft pillow, with her snugly quilt enveloping her, gently suckling. How can I deny her that?
If I were nursing her at the breast, she would be cuddled in, drinking from a soft teat, drifting off to sleep. But I can’t give her that, so the bottle seems the next best thing.
I’m sure health care professionals would pitch a fit. But I’m doing what I can to make bedtimes a wonderful, peaceful, loving, calming, as-close-to-breastfeeding-as-I-can-get experience. So, the bottles are back.