He wouldn’t latch. Freshly wheeled out of surgery and into recovery, we tried without success. I was told he was too sleepy. Then they told me his mouth was too small. They said it will take practice and not to worry – a newborn doesn’t need to eat for 72 hours. He then turned jaundice, but still wouldn’t latch. It got so much worse, before it ever got better.
I would sit alone in our bedroom, begging him to latch.
“Why won’t you latch? Don’t you see I want to feed you more than anything?”
He needed to eat, so my husband and I would hand syringe all his milk, trying desperately to avoid the bottle. That dreaded bottle. The thing that would surely sever any threads of possibility, that still hung from our failed breastfeeding relationship.
You may ask me why didn’t I just formula feed?
Because all of my birth plans had been stripped away from me.
I pumped because I believed I had failed at natural labor and a non-hospital birth.
I pumped because I had to have a c-section.
I pumped because I was embarrassed of what others thought of my perceived failures.
And I pumped because I now believed I had failed at breastfeeding.
At just a week into motherhood, I believed I had already failed multiple times over. So I pumped.
He lost so much weight. We went to the doctor for his first check up after leaving the hospital. They demanded I fed in the pediatrician’s room to see if he was taking in milk; talk about pressure! But by some miracle, he latched perfectly. I will forever cherish that moment, because it was the only time we were ever fully successful at breastfeeding together. I shed tears of absolute joy; and hope began to rise from the ashes of my disappointment. “We can do this,” I whispered to him as the scale reflected he had consumed milk.
But we never did it. After multiple missed diagnoses of a severe tongue and lip tie, our destiny was sealed. I pumped around the clock, constantly forgoing sleep. I was either up to pump, or I was up with a screaming newborn. I felt robbed of my maternal experience. With each pumping experience, I grew more bitter at my situation. Every time I would see a friend nursing her baby, my body would ache for the same experience with my child. When others would feed my son with his bottle, I felt conflicting twinges of jealousy and support.
Early on in my exclusive pumping journey, I created a simple Facebook group for breastfeeding moms in our area. I wanted an outlet for my loneliness in exclusive pumping. And I wanted to prevent any other woman from struggling alone in her breastfeeding journey. Our small group has now become a large group of women 700 strong. And although I’ve slowly spent less time on the board, I still check in weekly. It brings a smile to my face as I scroll through the posts, to see how these amazing women are supporting one another. This group of mamas are a silver lining in my story of epic personal struggle with breastfeeding. I may have missed out on directly nursing my son, but if my journey has helped at least one women not experience what I did, then it wasn’t in vain.
Mastitis, thrush, thyroid issues, and hundreds of large clogs; I almost quit a thousand times over. But I pushed through.
I learned the ins-and-outs of milk donation: the first weeks I was a recipient, than I was a donor, than I came back full circle into a recipient. I jumped hurdle after hurdle, bound and determined to see my goal through: to provide my breast milk for my son. I was determined not to fail at this.
And in the fourteenth month, as I gave him his last bottle of my breast milk, I cried. Because in my lifetime of multiple challenging experiences, I have never experienced something so raw, difficult, and simultaneously rewarding.
I whispered ‘I’m sorry, and I love you.’ And just like that, it was over.
It was time to move on to the next phases in our lives.