A Love Story

A brief warning…I’m about to talk about pumping. So if that’s a little TMI, scroll to the end for a picture of Rowenna. I’m sharing this story here because, frankly, I think there should be a lot more dialogue about this in our society and it would help moms like myself to have support while taking on exclusively pumping.

Today, I returned my pump to the hospital. I’ve rented it since Rowenna’s second day of life. I stopped pumping after 14 months and 26 days with enough milk to get her through the 15 month mark.

I had a love/hate relationship with that pump. Boxy and blue, it has been a constant companion. It represented, to me, the only concrete thing I could do to help my baby and I am beyond proud I pumped for so long. It also represented, multiple times a day, my complete failure in establishing a nursing relationship with my child.

My heart broke when a nurse brought that pump into my hospital room for the first time. Rowenna had just been packed up into a portable incubator, lines and leads coming off her, monitors blinking and beeping. They had rolled her away from me, down the elevator, into a waiting ambulance to transport her an hour away. I couldn’t go with her, I was a liability, and so I bounced around in my hospital room trying to pack up to follow her, trying to wrangle a turkey salad and a Pepsi out of the kitchen (that was telling me I couldn’t get it because Pepsi was not on their “gluten free” list), and trying to keep myself from completely breaking down so I could have the clarity of mind to face what was coming.

Until they took my girl, we had been working to establish a nursing relationship. She wanted to do it, and I credit those brief, beautiful 36 hours we had of full time nursing for establishing my amazing supply. The nurses knew how badly I wanted to breastfeed, so as I was running out the door a big blue box was shoved in my hands, my mom paid a deposit, and I was soon in the car driving to meet my baby.

That night, they sent hubby and I to sleep in a hotel and decided without our consent to give her an ng-tube. I taught myself how to pump at 2am in a Super 8 motel room, tears streaming down my cheeks, feeling like the world was crashing down around me. Using that pump was insult to injury – we had just gotten the likely Down syndrome diagnosis, we knew for sure she had an AV Canal, and now my dreams of nursing her were slipping away. I remember thinking, clearly, “what next?”

Nursing was pretty much the only thing I wanted to do for sure. That, and cloth diapers. Our plan had been to otherwise sort of go with the flow, see what kind of kid we got. I’d read the books about breastfeeding and I even have training in helping other mommas establish a breastfeeding relationship. And I had a doula who was also a lactation consultant. The idea of failure never crossed my mind. Such was my dedication to nursing that I almost preemptively quit the job I had because they were not being flexible about my need to pump while on shift after maternity leave.

Rowenna and I tried to establish a relationship. We tried so hard. I could list everything we tried and talk about why they all failed, but that wouldn’t change the outcome. My heart breaks still to think of what I missed by not nursing her.

Instead of nursing full time, I pumped. And pumped and pumped. Then pumped some more. I pumped in the car, I pumped while camping, I pumped in the doctor’s office, I pumped in the emergency room. Nothing would stop me. For the first 12 weeks I pumped every 3 hours on the dot. Then I bumped down to every 4 hours, then every 5.  I stayed around there until she turned a year. I didn’t sleep through the night (though Rowenna slept through the night starting day one) until she was almost a year. I pumped and pumped and was even able to donate over 300 extra ounces of milk to a milk bank. My girl had nothing but breast milk until she turned a year (except for the weeks we fortified with formula for extra calories) and I am fiercely proud of that fact. Even when she started cow milk she was still getting some momma milk.

But even so, every time I hauled that pump out, every time I sat in front of my glowing laptop screen, alone, away from my girl, while others got to feed her, I wanted to cry. Every single time since that first time I pumped. Sometimes I did cry, thinking of how I was so far removed from that beautiful bonding experience, listening to her little chatters and coos. Other times I was angry, other times I wanted to just give up. It was so lonely and so sad.

But I did it. I did it for Rowenna. I did it for me. I had to do something. In all the chaos of this first year, I had an overwhelming need to do something concrete to help her.

But last week I pumped for the last time. Then I cleaned the pump one final time and packed away to return this morning. I had to go back to the Birth Center where I delivered Rowenna and I was overwhelmed with anxiety as I walked through those doors. It hit me like a ton of bricks to be in this place where we had both the most joyful and most sorrowful hours of our lives. I sped through the process of returning the pump, quickly shared a few pictures of Rowenna with the nurses, and booked it out to my car where I cried almost the entire 45 minute drive home.

And I felt purged. My daily reminder of my nursing failure is gone. Rowenna is growing up and would have weaned by now, or in the near future, and I know it was time for me to move on. And we will. My girl is eating all sorts of table foods and working hard to make that final transition to a straw cup.

So here ends this love story, the crazy thing I did for love of a blue eyed, blond haired little girl. I’d do it again for her in a heartbeat, too.

And for making it to the end of this post, as a fitting conclusion to this story, here’s a shot of me and my girl:

Me and My Girl!

12 responses to this post.

  1. Your story is my story. Your tears, sorrow, commitment, mine, also. I am 7 months and 3 weeks in with a freezer full of stored milk, a surplus gained during his two surgeries. Thank you, thank you for sharing and Your Girl has such a Beautiful Mommy.


  2. yours is a beautiful story and well-written too. I hated pumping and have no such respect for you and other mothers who do such an amazing thing for their child. Thanks for sharing your story! I wrote up my nursing story recently too and I love learning how others nursed (and I feel EPing is a kind of nursing all the same!) http://navagating.blogspot.com/2011/07/no-one-told-me-i-couldnt-my-nursing.html


  3. What a wonderful accomplishment. You have done so well for her and it shows. It is very sad to give up that expectation and to resign to the pump, but it is impressive that you went so long. She is a lucky girl!


  4. Posted by Marita on August 30, 2011 at 5:08 am

    Pumping might have been the concrete thing, but I am in awe of how many things you do for your Miss Sunshine there, and how well you do them. Sorry I missed you online last night, we need to talk soon. I miss you. Sending you both my prayers. Love ya.


  5. I have never gotten to breast feed or pump for any of my babies. I have always felt like somewhat of a failure as a mom (still do) because I was never able to have that connection with my children. I was never able to give them my milk in order to help them grow. Was it better for me to deny them my milk and stay on all my “poisonous” medication to make my life more stable or did that just make me a greedy person? You are awesome to have sat and pumped for her so she could have your milk until she was 15 months old. It may have not been the bond that you wanted but it was a bond non-the-less. Dont put yourself down, dont make your self feel like a failure or less of a mom because you are an awesome mom and you are the best mom that Rowenna could ever have!!!


  6. Posted by viviannesmom on September 2, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    Nursing or pumping stories are all love stories. I’m so glad you shared yours. I have had three very different stories related to my milk – all three love stories, but all with different means to the end, and very different for me emotionally. My life with my pump all three times (pumped full time for #3, but traveled with the other two quite a bit and pumped for them on the road) was similar to the relationship a prisoner must have with a ball and chain. I hope you someday look back and realize that what you did for her was and is extraordinary, and the pain of what you fear you missed won’t be so difficult. My bond with all of my girls is strong – the ones who nursed at my breast and the one who didn’t. I spent about 18 months with someone on my breast and it was always, always uncomfortable for me – her latch was never quite right due to her being tongue tied. I was on edge almost the whole time. My nursing relationship with her rubbed off on my relationship with #3. It is very strange when I think about my emotions and those relationships. Every time you pumped, you hated it, but you did it one more time anyway, because of that beautiful girl…that is a wonderful, selfless act of love…you are awesome (a word in so many of these replies!)


  7. Thank you for sharing this Melissa. I too am now an exclusive pumper. I am happy to have had the brief nursing relationship that I did with Sam, but to think about it now it is sad that we will not have that again. This took the words out of my mouth–and even though I am not so enthused to keep up with pumping until April (end of cold and flu season, will be about 17 months) it is my goal. Stories of victory, such as yours, are a lot of what keeps me going.


  8. As one who pumped for only four months, and who craved the nursing relationship (with a different outcome) I could feel your agony and I know how hard you worked to pump that long. Your writing, the way you describe everything, is so powerful that I imagine every woman who reads it couldn’t help but experience a little bit of what you went through. Rowenna is lucky to have such a dedicated mom.


  9. It’s been 11 months of pumping for me … and I’m just beginning to think about cutting back. This process of weaning from the pump is very emotional – more than I thought it would be. I don’t have the words to say how glad I am I read this post at this time. Thank you for sharing.


  10. Thank you – thank you – thank you for sharing your story! So many others struggle as you did. I hope your story will give moms around you, online and off, strength to do what they need to do.


  11. Wow. In awe. My Charles could not nurse at all. It could have been his weak heart, or a million other things, so I pumped, too. I pumped until I was so exhausted by my third (total surprise) pregnancy and my hormones made it too big of a challenge. I’m glad he got something, I wish it could have been more. But, I am also glad for his little brother, who 15 years later, is his best friend.


  12. Good on ya….I had to pump/feed for a few months while my daughter was in heart failure & it is harder, forces more of a commitment & time consuming than I ever imagined…You deserve to be proud of yourself…well done!!!


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