Saturday, February 04, 2006

A year of milk

Nine Thousand Two Hundred Eighty point Two ounces. One Thousand One Hundred Ten point Five hours. Seventy Two point Five gallons. Forty Six point Three days. These are the numbers of my commitment to nourish my baby with mother's milk. Mother's milk drawn drip by feeble drip from a disappointingly under-productive set of double-dees. Oh, sweet nectar of life. How hard you made me work for you. Two rounds of galactagogues. Four pumps - the first pump didn't cut the mustard, and we had to bring in the big guns. The second was a hospital rental while I scrambled to find my own on eBay, the third. Then one night, a few months later, during the midnight shift, the belt slipped from the shaft and the workhorse would work no more. Enter the fourth, another rental to see me through while my workhorse companion traveled to the land of Medela for service, because it is nigh unto impossible to acquire a simple little part to fix it oneself. No, one must have factory authorized service, shipping and insurance, for over a hundred dollars. (To their credit, the pump returned fully refurbished, with all new parts, shining as though it were brand new.)

It's been a long journey. I was heartbroken that my beautiful boy wouldn't nurse. Heartbroken. It's not that big of a deal, people would say to me. An entire generation was raised on formula, when breastfeeding was no longer de la mode, my doctor told me. But it was a big deal to me. It mattered to me. I wanted that full natural mother experience. I wanted the labor. I wanted the natural delivery. I wanted to breastfeed. Those first post-partum days were difficult for me. I struggled with such a load of self-inflicted disappointment. Disappointment that I didn't labor. The baby didn't even drop, let alone get ready for any journey out. He was quite happy where he was, or perhaps he was too big to drop. He was 10 lbs 7 oz, after all, at 39 weeks. No contractions. No labor. No natural delivery. Scheduled C-section at 39 weeks. And then, where was the milk? The lactation consultants assured me that the baby was getting what he needed from the measly drops of colostrom that my defective mammaries produced. They were wrong. How disappointed I was with the supply issues I faced, on top of everything else. I didn't even produce enough for a normal sized baby, yet here I was trying to feed my supersized child. I couldn't do it. Even with the help of galactagogues, and pumping for hours upon hours, I still had to supplement with formula. It was exhausting, to have to pump so frequently and for such a long time. Sleep when baby sleeps, everyone told me. But I had to pump. Because I wanted to hold him, and try to breastfeed him, when he was awake. I was so stubborn! I wanted him to have the benefits of breast milk, and by golly, he was going to get it. Again, in retrospect, I shouldn't have been so neurotic. I should have gotten some more sleep.

He did nurse a few times. I have a wonderful and warm memory of those few precious moments where we bonded, skin to skin, baby to mother, the way it was supposed to be. For that experience, I am forever grateful.

In the early days when life was little more than a blur, I told myself I could do it, I could make it to two months. Poor little big guy was a colicky boy, to top things off. Because I needed to experience a screaming child wailing for hours upon hours, who would only settle down if continually bounced. And I had plenty of time and energy for that, between feeding attempts and pumping. Obviously. Of course.

We got through the colic, and I set my sights on six months. It seemed like forever, but they say that six months is the magic line where health benefits are evident. Six months. I could make it, I told myself. And I did. I found a routine, finally, where I could get some sleep, not nearly as much as I'd like, but enough to keep my sanity. I managed to supply 75-80% of his milk needs, in the first six months.

Having a routine helped, so I made a new goal. One year. Twelve months. You can do it, I told myself. There were many times that I nearly gave up. But I persevered, and I made it. After he started solids, at six months, and after the second round of galacatogues, I was eventually able to supply nearly 100% of his milk needs.

Looking back, I'm not sure why I was so resolute. Perhaps it was because I had been barren for so many years. Perhaps it was because I knew that this might be the only child I could ever have, and this was a one time opportunity. I do have a strapping healthy boy, and I am grateful.

If there is a next time, I don't know that I'd make this kind of a milk commitment again. If there is a next time, I will maintain the hope that my baby will nurse, I'll pump to avoid engorgement, and I'll start the fenugreek early. If there is a next time, I may not keep as copious notes.


Blogger Kim said...

I mean to post on your site time and time again as I see you at Blackbird, PeaSoup and others.

It seemed weird that on looking back over some of my old post I found a comment from you which brought me here. To your post about pumping.

I can not imagine the frustration you experienced (being an amply mammory endowed woman myself). I know what it does to your head though, and I didn't need to for nearly as long as you persevered. But for 6 long and ardous weeks I pumped every three hours for 20 minutes each side. I pumped beyond that as well, but I think I've got traumatic memory loss as to how long it went on. But that pumping. Beside Oscar. Him so close but it not working. My God sometimes I felt like I would burst through my skin with the emotion of it all. But there you have it. The things we will endure for our children.

I love your blog. I read it often. And I'm going to say hello a lot more.

5:26 AM, February 05, 2006  
Blogger Suse said...

You are amazing to pump for a year. With #2 I pumped for 9 weeks and then gave up, sobbing. Too hard.

You have given Boo the most precious wonderful gift.

PS. Post nasal drip is a whole lot better than post natal drip, yes?

10:53 PM, February 10, 2006  
Blogger SueeeuS said...

Oooooh... Post natal drip, the one that lasts for six weeks? I wasn't going to mention it. Lord have mercy!

12:21 PM, February 11, 2006  

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