Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Nursing My Son (or how I couldn't)

I had many ideas of what motherhood would look like.  One of those ideas is that I would nurse my son.  I remember going to the birthing classes at the local hospital and having them talk about nursing. I paid attention to all the information about nursing but brushed aside the discussion of pumping and freezing/thawing milk, After all, I was going to be a stay-at-home mom and just nurse my baby.  Friends even recommended getting a few bottles in case I wanted to go out and have Matthew watch the baby.  I didn't take it seriously but bought a few anyway.

Besides, how hard could it be? It was natural right? Babies came out suckling and with skin-to-skin time I was sure everything would be fine.

Then I had an emergency cesarean.  There was no skin-to-skin time. There was no bassinet in my room.  There was a brief glance. A kiss to his sweet head. A few pictures. And then he was whisked away to the NICU.  I wouldn't get to see him for hours.  Even then I was draped in an extra hospital gown to keep germs from my baby.

I was given a hospital pump.  And I pumped. Every three hours for fifteen minutes I pumped.  No milk. Only blood from my raw skin.

I told the NICU to give my son formula.  I wasn't going to deny him food simply because I couldn't supply him with milk.  I kept trying to pump.  Around the clock. Every three hours.  Nothing.

Finally I was allowed to try and nurse my sweet Edmund.  He couldn't latch on, or I didn't know how to latch him on.  The nurse said I needed a nursing shield to help him latch because of how my body was formed.

That day my milk came in. Still, it was barely anything.

So we bought a nursing shield and I was able to nurse him on both sides for a few minutes.  I have no idea if he got anything but I felt joy at being able to nurse him.

I continued to pump.  My last pumping sessions before we were discharged from the NICU and hospital were the most profitable.  I even had my husband take a picture to remember that I actually had milk!


So we went home, with formula and a Medela Double electric pump.  For the first week home I pumped, nursed, and did a bottle with breastmilk if I had enough and formula if I didn't.  Still, I was confident that soon I would excursively breastfeed.

From about the second week to the second month I fell into a routine where I would nurse and then pump extra so that someone else could take a feeding and let me sleep extra at least once a day.  Around two months my son began to refuse to nurse. I would position him to nurse, and he would arch back from me and cry.

If you have never experienced this, you simply cannot understand how hard that was.  I cried with him.  I couldn't figure out why he wouldn't nurse. I talked to my pediatrician and various lactation consultants.  I talked to other mother friends and researched on the internet.  I tried their suggestions.  But he refused.  So I began a new pattern.  I would try to nurse him at each feeding.  If he nursed at all, great, if not--I tried my best not to feel depressed or anxious and would give him pumped milk from the previous feeding.  Then when he was full I would pump to have enough for the next meal.

I was so discouraged.  I hated to leave the house because it was so complicated to feed him.  I had to keep the breast milk cool and then heat it.  If I was out in town I had to bring cooler bags and a bottle heater I had bought and plug it into the car. Yet, I was determined that if I couldn't nurse I would absolutely give my son breast milk.  I wanted to give him that.

I began to feel that I should even give up trying to nurse him each time.  It was exhausting emotionally to try each time and fail.

Then we went up to visit family in Pennsylvania.  I decided that I would just pump and feed Edmund while we were up there because I didn't want to be stressed about it all when I was with family. I just wanted to enjoy the time.  But I was still very discouraged about not being able to nurse.  It was supposed to be natural and bonding and I was missing out on that.  I felt like a failure.

I began to realize that I was going to be freezing a lot of breast milk.  I already had a bunch frozen at home and now that I was just pumping I ended up with 10-14 extra ounces each day.  Just about the time I realized this God placed a thought in my head.

A friend had recently adopted a baby.  Would it be weird to offer this mother my extra breast milk?  Did people even do that? But I felt impressed to offer.  So I did.

"I am pumping my breast milk because Edmund and I can't seem to get it to work. But that means I am pumping 10-14 extra ounces a day. I have been freezing it. I heard that some people like to have breast milk for their baby even if it is from someone else. I realize it is kind of a weird thing, but if you wanted my extra breast milk I would be happy to give it to you. ..... Again, I realize it sounds weird, but I just wanted you to have it-- if you wanted it."

 Can you see how I felt awkward offering?  Yet, God (who know all things) knew I was supposed to offer.

She replied, "God bless you! I have tears in my eyes reading your message. I have been searching online to find people willing to donate breast milk...."

I had no idea that she was even looking for people to donate breast milk.  God did.  All of a sudden I wasn't discouraged or depressed about pumping.  I felt as if I had been given a double gift.  I could feed my son breast milk and give it to another little precious baby!  A double blessing.  One I would not have been able to give if I had been able to solely breastfeed.

It wasn't even a week later that I tried to nurse Edmund again for the first time.  And he nursed.  Only one side but he nursed and was full.  The first feeding each morning I could nurse him.  Still I was able to pump extra to give.

We went home and I continued to freeze the extra milk so that I could ship it.  And...little by little I began trying to introduce one feeding back at a time.

And he nursed.  Not like I had imagined.  One side, 3-5 minutes and he was done.  But he was full.  He was nursing.  Soon he was nursing at every feeding and would just take a bottle during the last feeding when he would cluster feed.

Months passed like this.  But I still pumped in the morning after he nursed.  Soon I had over 900 oz to ship.

My pumping was not in vain.  My anxiety and depression over not being able to nurse was not in vain.  I was able to have a double blessing to give.  And, it seemed that I was being given back the blessing of being able to nurse.  Almost as if God allowed me to not be able to nurse so that I would pump and be able to donate my breast milk and once I was donating, to allow Edmund to nurse again.  There was no rhyme or reason why he nursed again.  He just did.  Just like there was no rhyme or reason why he stopped.

The day Edmund turned seven months old he nursed the whole day without needing the bottle.  I could have wept tears of joy.

But I decided that I would not give up pumping.  I wanted to continue to give from this double blessing.

Soon I will be pumping less as I get ready to tell my body that I don't need to make as much, in preparation for weaning Edmund.  But for now, I save every extra ounce and praise God for the incredible blessing of being able to pump.

I feel joy in saying that I am glad I couldn't exclusivity nurse Edmund in the beginning.  Glad I had to pump.  Because then I could give. God gave me a double blessing.

I feel joy in saying that God also gave me a triple blessing because now I do exclusively nurse my son.

This is not the journey I imagined when I was pregnant.

But because it is different, harder in ways, I have more blessings to count.


Stephanie C said...

God bless you

Chopsticks on Oboe said...

What a sweet post! It's amazing how God works!

Charity said...

Thank you for sharing your beautiful journey, Beth-Anne! I am grateful that God worked through your circumstances in order that you could give and receive a blessing. :-)