In honor of World Breastfeeding Week , I am once again sharing my initial struggles with breastfeeding as a new mom. It is supposed to be one of the most natural things in the world, but it can be difficult…both physically and emotionally. Breastfeeding is one of the hardest and best things I have ever done.
Waiting for My Miracle
There was never a doubt in my mind that I would breastfeed Madeline, once she arrived. I took two classes on breast feeding and read a ton of books. Although everyone said that it was natural and that babies are born with the instinct to nurse, I was so nervous.
I knew that I could physically produce milk because my milk came in after giving birth to my first daughter, Audrey. After she passed away, I felt like my body was betraying me by producing milk. My heart knew she was gone, why didn’t my breasts? It is still an excruciatingly painful memory to recall. I can still picture soaking through my pajama tops and waking up crying in despair.
Got Milk? Not So Much…
Finally, my miracle, Madeline, arrived in this world and I was not soaking through anything. My milk was nowhere to be found. Madeline did her part by constantly nursing, suckling for an hour or more at a time on each side. She maintained her nurse for an hour, sleep for an hour rotation and I did not sleep a wink for days.
I knew it would take a few days for the milk to come in. Yet how would I really know if and when she was getting anything? My classes and the books indicated that I would feel a “let down”. How was I supposed to know what that even felt like? I was my baby’s sole food source and I had no control over production and manufacturing.
At Madeline’s first official pediatrician appointment after coming home from the hospital, she was measured, weighed, and thoroughly looked over. After looking at the data, the pediatrician said he was concerned about Madeline’s weight loss since birth. He said all babies lose some water weight at first, but that she had lost too much and I would need to supplement with formula.
I burst out into tears. Actually, it was more like hysterical sobs. He tried to calm me down and say things like the majority of breast feeding mothers have to supplement at some point and that it might actually help her sleep longer. But I just stood there and cried. Realizing that he was not getting anywhere with me, the doctor excused himself from the room, I assume in hopes that Jerome would talk some sense into me.
Jerome had no idea why I was crying. If you are a mom, I need not even explain. If you are a dad, allow me to spell out my complete breakdown, as I had to do with Jerome. “I am a failure as a mother!” I wailed. Jerome assured me that I was doing a great job, but he did not understand where I was coming from. I had not slept in at least four days straight. Every minute of every one of those days was spent trying to breast feed or contemplating how I could do it better.
The Quest for Unattainable Perfection
I know that plenty of women are unable to breastfeed or simply choose not to nurse and have raised gloriously healthy children with the help of formula. But this was not part of my plan. The plan where I was going to be the perfect mother. It was all in the manual I had yet to find! To me, giving Madeline formula meant that I was unable to provide for her and I was devastated.
The pediatrician returned to the room carrying a couple of containers of organic formula fortified with all kinds of vitamins. I refused to touch them. As he handed the formula to Jerome, he explained that I needed to start pumping a few times per day to find out exactly how much milk I was producing. She needed to have half an ounce of milk per hour, so if I was producing less with that, I would need to supplement the difference with formula. The doctor said that I would only need to do this for the short term, until my milk fully came in. I stared at him and continued to sob. Jerome said that we would go buy a pump on our way home and get started.
I cried the entire way on the car ride to the store, head in my hands, saying over and over, “I’m a failure as a mother!” Jerome loaded Madeline into her stroller and dragged me into the store, still sobbing. As we stood in front of the aisle with all of the breastfeeding supplies, Jerome said that I really needed to stop crying because people were beginning to stare.
“The doctor wants me to supplement with formula!” I bawled to our spectators. The women shoppers totally got it and continued with their business. Jerome just shook his head and sighed. The doctor had suggested that we buy a manual pump, as they are cheaper and “just as easy” as an electric pump, so that is what we bought. Someone really needed to have stepped forward with a manual at this point.
At home, I decided to pump, as I acknowledged that it would be useful information to know how much I was producing. I took the manual pump out of the packaging and started squeezing away. Nothing came out. Not a drop. I began to cry all over again. Jerome came in the room to help. I held the pump while he squeezed with all of his might. This is true love, when your husband attempts to pump milk out of your breasts.
It took us over thirty minutes to squeeze out less than half of an ounce and we were both exhausted. I nursed Madeline and then Jerome gave her a bottle of formula because I still refused to even touch it. We continued this routine for the rest of the day. Jerome and I would work together to manually pump milk out of my increasingly sore breasts in between my nursing and Jerome bottle-feeding Madeline. I cried every single time she had to take a bottle.
The next morning, Jerome was out running errands with his dad and I called him and asked him to pick up an electric breast pump. I am pretty sure that farmers no longer milk cows by hand and there is a reason for that. Jerome, as my pumping partner in crime, readily agreed.
I was not there, but my dear husband and his dad apparently surveyed women at the baby store about the best breast pump on the market. I sincerely wish that I could have been a fly on the wall, but they advised correctly because Jerome came home with a top-of-the-line breast pump. It is probably one of the best gifts that I have ever received. I hurriedly took that baby out of the box and let the power of electricity work it’s magic. I pumped a full ounce of milk in less than fifteen minutes.
The Milk Maid
I proudly displayed the bottle of pumped milk in a place of prominence in the refrigerator. I told Jerome that next time we needed to supplement, we would use my very own pumped milk instead of formula. Once my wild emotions had abated, I could think logically. I knew that the more we supplemented with formula, the less milk my body would produce. It was also important for me, of course, to ensure that Madeline was eating enough and gaining weight.
I decided that instead of pumping a few times of day, just to see how much I was getting, I would pump after every feeding. Now that I had my fancy electric pump, I was so much more efficient! I would nurse Madeline, pump, then feed her the pumped milk, and repeat.
The next thing I knew, I awoke from a much-needed nap with a soaked t-shirt. I raced downstairs, to where Madeline was sleeping in Jerome’s arms and did a little dance around the living room in my wet t-shirt. “Check it out!” I whispered, as I lifted my shirt over my head. “These things are enormous!” Jerome struggled to control his laughter so as to not wake Madeline, but he nodded vigorously in agreement.
I had once complained to a manager of one of the college bars in which I worked that he was discriminating against the mammary challenged. He had given away the station I usually worked to another girl who was more well endowed than I. I may be a lot of things, but busty is not one of them. I had never considered my boobs to be an asset until they became milk machines.
After my milk came in, I would only pump once per day to build a freezer supply. I fed on demand and Madeline gained plenty of weight to sustain both her chubby cheeks and chunky thighs. At our next pediatrician appointment, I returned the unopened container of formula to the doctor with pride.
A Change of Plans
I know that many moms are able to breastfeed successfully until it is time for them to return to work. This is because nursing provides you with a wonderful feeling of bonding with your baby and pumping sucks, even with a high-powered machine. On the subject of returning to work, I came to the conclusion that there was no way I could leave my little miracle all day, every day. However, I also like money and health benefits, so not working was not an option.
I was fortunate enough to find an online teaching job. I would be able to stay home the majority of the time, but continue my career as a teacher simultaneously. My first day of training at my new job was also the first time I had ever left Madeline. I was trying to focus on learning my job responsibilities, but my heart was heavy and my mind was with my sweet little girl at home.
On a break, I grabbed my pumping bag and tried to find a place to pump. I was not used to going so long without feeding and I felt like my boobs would explode any minute. Soon, I would look like I had entered a wet t-shirt contest. As I tried to find a suitable location to pump, I ran right into another teacher and it was like looking into a mirror. She also had the trademark black pumping bag slung over her shoulder and was also desperately trying to find a place to go.
Finally, we found an empty office and decided to pump together. As we pumped, we introduced ourselves and immediately began gushing about our daughters, who were almost exactly a month apart. Our chatter drowned out the steady rhythm of our pumps.
Over the next few days at training, we found other breastfeeding moms and together we arranged to pump at the same time, so we could talk. We included a couple formerly breast feeding moms to join us, as well, so we could benefit from their expertise. We called it our “Pumping Party”. It may seem odd to barely know someone, whip out your breasts, and begin sharing your life stories, but it is the most normal thing in the world if you are a mom.
Whether I am feeling good or feeling down, I am able to share both my triumphs and my challenges with my same group pumping party pals. Not one of us has found that manual to guide us towards parenting perfection, but I am grateful nonetheless for their wisdom and support. When I had dreamed of becoming a mom, I never knew about all of these unexpected surprises. Wonderful surprises like finally having cleavage or developing a network of mommy friends that I know I will have for life.