In the beginning
My sister sat in the recliner across from my bed; tears in her eyes, cell phone in hand, vigorously scrolling through whatever was on the screen. Deliberately avoiding eye contact – not because she didn’t have anything to say to me, but because she was unsure of what to say. How does one go back to small talk after just being told that their baby sister and her newborn just narrowly escaped death?
You can’t go back. Not right away anyway.
Silence will have to do until we can both wrap our heads around what just happened. Or at least until one of us is brave enough to break the awkward tension.
She and I had just begun to talk again when the lactation consultant walked in my room. I could barely move my body. Bedrest had ended, but my legs felt heavy, like the weight of a thousand full term babies rested on them. My abdomen was sore; it hurt to breathe, smile, and talk.
It hurt to do anything other than sleep, and eventually that would hurt as well. I would soon learn that sleep was an enemy to me.
“Are we ready to practice latching today, mom?!” She asked, enthusiastically. “Where is baby?” My sister and I looked at each other. I turned back to the consultant and just stared at her. My sister intervened, I don’t recall what she said, but it was enough to convince her that her time was up.
I’m still not sure if she just confused me with another mom, didn’t see/read my chart, or just lacked basic skills.
I had no desire to breastfeed and being that we spent a little bit of time in the NICU, my feelings about breastfeeding were not popular, which is why, for the most part, I kept them to myself.
IN THE NICU BREASTFEEDING IS LIFE
Literally. Not only are you providing baby with all the best nutrients, but you are also bonding with him. Skin to skin is causing her to thrive (and grow!) – and also you! It lifts your spirit and changes your energy. Amazing things happen when you breastfeed a preemie!
All of this is true, yet I still had no desire to breastfeed.
But then I started being told things like, “your daughter’s life is going to depend on your milk.”
“Your daughter needs you to be able to breastfeed.”
“Baby Isa needs your milk because it’s the only thing her body can digest.” We won’t talk about how she wasn’t able to digest anything at all – mommy’s milk included. As a result of this, she went without feeds for a while.
Unable to actually breastfeed at that time, I pumped.
Fun fact: We actually put her on my breast a few times and things did not go accordingly, as to be expected. She lost calories & tired herself out and would fall asleep. Her suck/swallow did not improve. She wouldn’t breathe. Milk would pour from her nose, which indicated that she was drinking too fast and not pacing herself. There were just a myriad of things that would happen; in my head it just wasn’t worth it to continue. Clearly she wasn’t there yet, and I wasn’t going to allow anyone to force her to be.
The pressure to do so never stopped.
I went to sleep pumping and woke up pumping.
Pumping was my life. When I wasn’t pumping, I was thinking about it or I was cleaning bottles and equipment.
It’s easy to feed your baby when 2 cc’s of milk is literally all she can handle. The supply exceeded the demand, and I have in breastmilk heaven.
I pumped and pumped and pumped.
I took milk to the NICU every visit. On the days I couldn’t visit, my husband dropped milk off on his way to work. My friends even pitched in. Pumping was all I thought about. When I couldn’t/didn’t pump, I hand expressed. There were nights my breast would be so engorged… It hurt to express, but that didn’t matter.
It was the only thing that I could actually do for my daughter, so I did it.
I remember going to sleep one night and having a nightmare that my daughter died because I was unable to pump enough milk.
The pressure to breastfeed, pump, and to give my daughter donor breastmilk (DBM) was immense. Every visit to the NICU was followed up with a
discussion demand to breastfeed. I was almost bullied into giving my child donor milk. They waved consent forms in my face every chance they got. There was no reason for her to receive DBM. She had plenty of my milk in storage.
Where do I go from here?
I had panic attacks in the hospital and at home. I was convinced that my daughter would breathe her last breath in the NICU. And I wouldn’t be there for her.
My time with Isa would be interrupted to discuss breastfeeding. I couldn’t sit with my daughter without a nurse or lactation consultant finding me to talk to me about breastfeeding.
Once I drifted off to sleep while I sat with her, the doctor awakened me. My heart nearly stopped. I thought something was wrong with my child. She was completely fine. They just felt it was a great opportunity to tag team me.
Sometimes multiple nurses would confront me.
I made it pretty clear from the beginning that I would not be exclusively breastfeeding, but I would definitely be pumping. My daughter would definitely be receiving my milk.
Voices taunted me – voices I’d never heard coupled with voices of some of the nurses and consultants.
My child was going to die if I didn’t breastfeed her.
That was all she wrote. My battle with PPD may not have started here, but it’s where I was and I needed to do something about it before it did something to me.