Let’s talk about World Breastfeeding Week.
Kinsley was born June 25th. Leading up to her birth I did everything I could to prepare to be a breastfeeding mom. I purchased a pump, I stocked up on storage bags and nipple cream, and I told myself every day that no matter how hard it was, no matter if she couldn’t latch, or my milk didn’t come in for a week, or my supply wasn’t what I’d like it to be, or my nipples cracked and bled, or I got mastitis, I told myself these things would not be excuse enough to formula feed my baby when I have what she needs right inside me. I told myself I would find a solution to any problem we had. I told myself I was not allowed to give up because I wanted so badly to provide for her in a natural way. It’s something that is important to me.
She was born via natural vaginal birth. No drugs, no pain meds, no epidural. Just sweat, tears, and pure love. I was so proud of myself and at that time imagined breastfeeding would be the same way- hard work but worth every bit of sacrifice and resulting pride.
But I hadn’t planned or even considered the complication we face today. It wasn’t that my milk didn’t come in. It did, and within 24 hours of birth I was making more than enough for her; it wasn’t that she couldn’t latch, the nurses and I came to find out in the third week after her birth that she was a better breastfeeder than bottle feeder. It wasn’t that my nipples cracked; they didn’t, not even from pumping so much. It wasn’t that I got mastitis; I DID, and I figured it out.
I prepared for these kinds of things because they were the struggles I’d read women often had. But our struggle is different.
Kinsley just can’t eat altogether.
Her congenital defects make it difficult, painful and dangerous for her to take any food by mouth, something I am still coming to grips with.
We got to breastfeed for a little over a week, but when her feeding therapy became dangerous and she needed a second surgery, all oral feeds, including by breast, were forbidden. It isn’t me, it’s her, and no one told me this might happen, in fact it was the farthest thing from fathomable. It still is.
But I still want to provide for my baby, even if she is unable to eat right now and for months to come. I said I would do this no matter what, and I will.
So I have been exclusively pumping around the clock, every two hours to provide the volume that her body needs now, which is 2.5 ounces every 3 hours or 20+ ounces total per day.
It’s really hard. Harder than the struggles I was imagining we might go through.
I don’t get to wake up in the night and put her to breast in our bed for 20 minutes and place her back in her bassinet once she’s full, only to turn over and go back to sleep myself. No, instead she sleeps soundly in the NICU while I wake during the early hours of the night to sit on the second bed in our hotel room and turn on my pump. After 20 minutes I unhook myself from it, turn it off and clean the parts. I walk to the second floor and place my labelled liquid gold in the fridge. Then I return to my hotel bed feeling angry at women who complain about waking in the middle of the night to feed their child, feeling the need to scream, “AT LEAST YOUR BABY CAN EAT.” And then I try to sleep for two more hours until I must repeat the process.
The anger and sadness I’ve felt have been hard to deal with, because I want someone to blame and it isn’t anyone’s fault. I feel angry when I see other moms who have it so easy and don’t realize how lucky they are that these struggles aren’t part of their every day lives, when I would do almost anything to struggle with latching issues or milk supply instead of my child’s inability to eat. I sometimes look at my child and feel so sad that she has to eat through a tube in her nose that nick and I have to learn how to put down her esophagus. It’s scary. It’s painful for me, and it doesn’t feel normal because it’s not for many others. But it is for us.
It’s not glamorous. Its not what I imagined. It’s not fun. But it’s honest motherhood.
I have struggled so many days and nights with the blind commitment I made months ago, to continue on no matter what. At night I have sat up in bed with both shields attached to my breasts, wondering why I am still doing this when many women have quit before enduring half of what I’ve been through to do this for my child.
But then I think of how different this is for me, and the perspective I have now because of this. Then I remember how my story can be inspiring to others, and how the pride I feel by providing for Kinsley this way is 10 times the pride someone else feels for providing for their child because the struggle I have endured is so much greater. I remind myself that nothing about this is easy but that’s okay, because these results are so much greater to me and mean so much more in my heart than if we had had smooth sailing from day one. And the bond I have with my child is something no one can even come close to measuring because they have no clue what this has been like.
All that being said, I hope if you’re struggling with breastfeeding this week or in the future that you remember how much more difficult it could be and it helps you keep going. And if you decide you can’t, I hope that you feel confident about your decision. I know what that’s like too.
Recently I was faced with the decision to go to 50-50 feedings (half breast milk, half formula) temporarily because I had to return home for a short time and had no way to transport milk 200 miles to the hospital while I was gone. Even though I knew she would be back on straight breast milk when I returned, it was devastating and I felt at first like a failure, but babies are fed formula all the time, and there is nothing wrong with that. I had to remind myself that you can only do what you can do.
So no matter what, I hope if you’re a mom, breastfeeding, formula feeding, or otherwise, I hope you know that even women like me, who have fought tooth and nail to do this for our babies, even we support your decision whatever it is, because FED is truly best no matter if it’s formula or breast milk and no matter how it’s given- by breast, by bottle, or in our case, by feeding tube.