"Sometimes breastfeeding looks like this.
The journey to parenthood for my husband and I was long and sometimes it feels like we literally travelled to the ends of the earth before finally getting pregnant with our miracle baby. After all the struggle and heartache that come along with infertility, I longed for as natural of a childbirth experience as possible. I wanted to finally see my body do what I knew it was made to do. I wanted to feel everything. I wanted it to be real, primal, and beautiful. I was ready to experience this major milestone that millions of women before me have experienced throughout human history.
What I was not prepared for was prodromal labor, which basically means that you are stuck in early labor that does not progress. After five days of labor, I went from wanting as intervention-free a birth experience as possible, to being wheeled off for an emergency c-section with just about every possible type of intervention you can have in-between!
I was naive. I believed that once my sweet son was born, breastfeeding would just come naturally. I neglected to do much research while I was pregnant because I assumed they would teach me what I needed to know about nursing at the hospital and thought that my son and I could figure the rest out together.
Like so much else on this journey to motherhood, things did not go quite the way I had planned. I was unable to bring my baby to breast immediately after his birth and when I finally did, he had trouble latching. Before leaving the hospital, my son had lost 11% of his birth weight and the nurses wanted us to supplement with formula. I was stubborn and felt that I had already missed out on so many female rites of passage, having been betrayed by my own body over and over again. I refused to give up easily on what I saw as my last chance to do something “the way you’re supposed to.” I was desperate to hold onto my goal of breastfeeding the baby I had waited so long for and worked so hard to bring into this world.
Within a week he had lost over 13% of his birth weight and was only transferring a half ounce of my milk each nursing session. The pediatrician wanted him topped off after every feeding with expressed breastmilk or formula. I began the vicious triple-whammy cycle of nurse - bottle feed - pump - repeat every 3 hours. Every time we attempted nursing he would cry, scream, arch his back and fight me until finally he would give up and try to suckle, only to soon fall asleep. My husband and I would try to wake him with tickling, talking to him, putting cold wet washcloths on his back and this would start the whole process over again. We would go on like that as a family for 45 minutes a session, but he still never seemed satisfied.
I finally decided that what we were doing was not what was best for either of us. He was unhappy and hungry, I was exhausted, frustrated and overwhelmed. It was nearly preventing me from enjoying the baby whom I had wished for for so long. So I decided to let go of my goal of nursing my baby and chose to try exclusively pumping for him. That may be the moment that I truly became a mother.
I think part of the reason that I fought so hard to breastfeed my son is because it was the last thing I was holding onto as part of my dream of what I thought motherhood should be and my identity as a woman. Though it took me a while to mourn the loss of our nursing relationship, making the decision to exclusively pump finally gave me a sense of control over a larger situation that I had felt powerless in for a long time. It was the right choice for our family and my son is now thriving.
For nearly a year now, I have been a proud member of a quiet minority of mothers out there who for a variety of reasons were unable to or chose not to establish a direct nursing relationship. Instead of turning to formula bottle feeding, they dedicate themselves to exclusively pumping for their babies to provide them with the ideal nutrition. These women are now my tribe.
We are pumping up to twelve times a day sometimes for more than an hour at a time, around the clock. We stay up after everyone has gone to bed, wake to pump in the middle of the night while our babies and partners sleep, and rise long before the rest of our house stirs in order to get our pumps in every day. We pump while feeding and caring for our babies, we pump at family events, we drive while we pump, we pump in public while shopping, at restaurants, while out for a walk with our families, mowing the lawn, at work, and while travelling. We do whatever we need to do to provide breastmilk for our little pumplings and we often have to advocate for ourselves to get the same recognition and rights afforded to our direct nursing counterparts. It is time to normalize breastfeeding in all of its forms."