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: