I sat down on the couch today, and I pumped milk.
It has been nearly a month since I started having stomach problems that required multiple trips to the er and many, many doses of pain medications as well as quite a few other medications that are not recommended while nursing. I have battled through the highs of pain meds, the fatigue of dehydration, and searing pain in my abdomen that brings me to my knees. I went in today for some tests that required ansesthesia. I came home with no new medications and advice that I would just need to pump and dump for 5 hours.
5 hours and then I can feed my baby again. 5 hours and I can start to increase my fastly dwindling supply. 5 hours until I need to start around the clock nursing while drinking Mother’s Milk tea, eating oatmeal, and baking lactation cookies. 5 hours until I can try to get this nursing relationship back on track.
I wasn’t always so devoted to breastfeeding. In fact for awhile, the fact that some people’s breasts produce milk was very difficult for me to deal with.
My oldest daughter was born five years ago. Although I was induced, everything during the delivery went perfectly. It was quick, complication-free, and as comfortable as those types of things can be. I was so proud. My body had worked. It gestated and then delivered her safely into the world. I was a superwoman. Except for one thing… I couldn’t produce milk.
I’m not sure if it was the epidural I had with my first birth, the hormonal problems that have plagued me for years, her tongue tie, my pregnancy-induced high blood sugar, or any other number of reasons. My guess is it was probably a combination of all three.
There’s not much I remember specifically from my postpartum hospital stay, but I vividly remember all of the nurses who would come in to get her latched on, and they simply could not get her to nurse. They told me she was a “trouble maker.” They meant it affectionately, but when you are a hormonal first time mom, trying to do what is best for this perfect little miracle that has been placed in your arms, “trouble maker” sounds mean and vicious and cruel, and it made me cry.
I remember the lactation consultants coming in and often leaving without getting her properly latched.
I remember the different advice. “Feed her formula right away so she doesn’t get dehydrated.” “Don’t feed her formula ever.” “She needs to eat eight times a day.” “She doesn’t really need to eat in the first few days.”
My head spun. I didn’t know who to listen to. Every mouth that opened was giving me different advice.
I remember the time a nurse with a kind smile and short hair came in to help get her latched on. I remember how rough she was with her little head as she pressed her on to me. I remember the screams from my precious new little baby as she refused to latch on and clamp down. I remember the terror that she would associate me with this trauma and grow to resent me. I remember the rejection I felt as my baby started shrieking whenever she came anywhere near my chest. And I remember the sting of the tears as I was certain the nurse was hurting my baby trying to get her on. I so desperately wanted to tell her to stop and yell at her that she was hurting my baby, but I would open my mouth and words wouldn’t come out. My head was spinning. Breastfeeding was not going how I had planned.
And finally I remember when the home health care nurse came and did her postpartum in-home check up. I remember her walking in, taking one look at the baby, and telling us that she was terribly dehydrated and that we needed to give her formula immediately.
I almost ran into the kitchen to get the formula sample we were sent home from the hospital with. I remember the relief that finally I would be giving my baby something to eat after three days of nothing. I remember the relief of having someone to trust — one person who would tell us what to do instead of twelve people telling us twelve different things.
We gave her formula that morning, and I continued to try to get her to latch on for weeks, and I continued to pump. I went into an outpatient visit with a lactation consultant and after quite a bit of time, she was finally able to get her latched on, but at home, I simply could not reproduce that. My head was drowning in information about body position and chin position and who needs to approach whom at which angle. It no longer felt like a natural thing to do. It felt like I really should have taken that physics class in high school because all of the technicalities of getting this little one latched on was more than I was able to grasp.
Reluctantly, I would feed her the bottle and then I would set her in her bouncy chair and try to pump milk. I remember the longing I felt to hold her. The sorrow I felt at being hooked up to a machine rather than spending time with my little one in my arms. I remember the guilt I felt watching her sitting all alone.
I remember the shame I felt at not being able to breastfeed her. I would take out a bottle in public and want to hide in the corner, imagining that everyone was looking at me in shame, thinking how I was not doing best by my daughter. I scoured internet discussion forums that went on and on about how breast milk is best, and I felt like I was giving the best part of me my second best.
And I remember the guilt when I finally stopped pumping.
My milk never really came in. Over six pumping sessions a day, I wouldn’t even get two ounces of milk. The toll it was taking on me was simply too large. All I wanted was to hold and nurture my baby, and I was starting to resent the whole process. I was getting depressed and anxious, and I had once again lost faith in my body.
Looking back on it five years later, I have no regrets. She was my first. We grew together. As I taught her how to survive in the world, she taught me how to survive as a mother.
But it’s five years later, and I am now nursing my third daughter after successfully nursing my second for a year.
And now I sit and pump and dump on the same couch that I pumped for my eldest five years ago. The situation is different. The feelings are different. I pray the outcome will be different. I want more than anything to be able to give my daughter the best nutritional start I can. I successfully and exclusively breastfed her for six months. We have had a rough four weeks. I want to re-establish my broken supply, and I want to see the next six months through.
Every now and then I will think how my second and third are getting the breast milk that my first never got. But then I look at my oldest, and I remember her first year. All we went through, all we became, all we survived. And I understand that we do the best we can with what we have.
My three girls and I have all had different feeding relationships, but with each, I have done my best. I have given my all. I have made my choices with both my head and my heart. And that’s the best any of us can do.
But these days when I am able to nurse little Mae to sleep, I don’t take it for granted. I know just how hard of a fight it can be to get where we are. I know how precarious the relationship can sometimes be, but I know that with patience, determination, and a lot of love, we will be able to see this thing through.
Amanda Knapp is a stay at home mom. She writes about finding meaning in day to day life on her blog, Indisposable Mama.