I struggled a lot with milk supply. Not with breastfeeding – I was one of the lucky few to whom the act came fairly easily. Or, I should say that I am one of the lucky few who had great lactation consultants straight away, a great baby with a natural latch, and an iPad with Netflix to make the whole thing more enjoyable 🙂 But, my body did not have a great supply. Why? In my sadder moments I have blamed the separation after birth, the nights in ICU, the severe postpartum anemia, the extensive surgery on my breast (left side) at 22. In my guiltier moments I have blamed returning to work so quickly, going to a conference at ~5 weeks postpartum, and not eating enough. I hope, deep down, it wasn’t ultimately any of these things, and just one of those things that was not meant to be.
I have accepted now that I really didn’t go down without a fight. In fact: I didn’t so much go down, as willingly jump off the ship in the end. When I last wrote about this, I was in the throes of upping my supply with various tricks. Since that post, many internet surges, many forum chats and many lactation consultant visits actually got me to match my son’s needs. It required two things:
*A large bottle of V8 fusion a day
Power pumping, to the blissfully unenlightened, is pumping for 20 minutes then having 10 minutes on, and 10 minutes off for a full hour. The idea is to teach your body to produce more. You do it for a couple of times a day, for a period of time, and then you wean yourself off it. Hopefully your body will have learned to produce more. Unfortunately, my body never ‘learned’. It would respond to power pumping with increased production (I got to, and beyond, my hallowed 30 oz a day), but as soon as I stopped, my supply would sink again. Ultimately, power pumping for each and every pump, 7 times a day, plus the shorter pump at night, meant I was pumping for a whopping 6-6.5 hours a day.
I did it for 3 weeks.
And it was every day – weekends included. Sam got so used to the speed of a bottle, he would not take the breast.
I told myself that breastfeeding takes at least that long per day, so I had to suck it up. There was no way I was not doing something for my son, which other mothers were doing all the time. Even if I worked, which some people see as a free pass out of such things I was not letting my son miss out because I had to work. I couldn’t go less, because if I dropped one session (even the night session) I lost not only the oz from that session, but all the others went down dramatically.
Then I had surgery (another blow to supply, by the way). I still fought to keep it up. I think the ultimate symbol of my dedication to me will always be coming around from the general anesthetic in the recovery room, and noticing the time on my monitor. The operation had been supposed to take under an hour, but the infection was deep, and it took over an hour. Upon realizing this, 3 minutes out of general anesthesia all I could say was “Please get me a breast pump. Please find me a breast pump, I have to express milk”. My body was so broken at this stage (from the op, not the pumping), that nothing came out. But I lay and did it for 20 minutes, and then asked the pump to be brought to my second recovery room.
The next day, I was feeling uber sorry for myself, and put myself on strict bed rest. I took Sam, and told Wes to have a day for himself. I couldn’t give Sam my milk due to the effects of the surgery drugs, so I just didn’t pump as much. In fact, I ended up only pumping three times that day: morning, lunch and night.
Dear God, it opened a world to me. A world in which my contribution to mothering did not consist of just sitting in another room, either earning money or producing milk (or, frequently, both) but actually looking after my son’s mental, and other physical needs. I cannot hold Sam close when I am pumping; in fact, I can barely hold him at all. I can barely play with him – just sit him on a mat and sing to him, or wave things at him. I spent a whole day with Sam in and out of my arms freely. It was the best day ever. I went to bed elated and happy. I thought it was just because I finally had time for Sam, but as I was giving him him Dream Feed, I realized it was because I didn’t have 6 1/2 hours that day where I could not be with him. And then just short 1 hour bursts of a day where yes, I could be with him, but it was also my only other chance to get other things done, like showering, cooking, shopping.
With that realization I wept. I cried harder than I have cried in a very, very long time. I cried for everything I have missed out on. For every bedtime since he was 6 weeks where I have sat across the hall watching him refuse to settle with his Dad, while I pumped. For every breakfast I have missed out on. For every play session where when he has cried, I have had to call Wes until I had finished pumping. I cried for all the smiles I had missed, all the hugs I had given up.
Then I went to bed and cried some more.
Eventually I emailed two dear friends and asked what to do.
They helped me a lot. Through tender exchanges with them I realized several things:
*Making it to 3.5 month breastfeeding, with just a few bottles of formula, was not a ‘failure’. It was still a gift to my son, and an achievement.
*Stopping breastfeeding was not done for selfish reasons. Yes, there are advantages to me, but I am doing it to be there for my son. They made me see that Sam needs me physically, as well as more materially. That cuddles and kisses may be more valuable to him than anything else.
*There are other benefits that Sam will get, if I stop. My marriage will be a lot better when I can give Wes some breaks, when I can spend an evening with him without the pump, when I am just up for 30 mins feeding Sam at night, not 30 mins feeding + 40 mins pumping (I always kept the 3 am pump short).
*That, life is beautiful.
So. With some peace, but a heavy heart I decided to give up breastfeeding. I don’t think it is an understatement to say that mourn its loss. I do grieve for losing that experience for Sam. But, already, I was able to take Sam for a whole day: no relief needed. I have put him to bed every night. And I got off what a friend who went though a similar thing memorably described as ‘the rollercoaster’. The high of pumping enough, the fear when you don’t. That up and down every day.
When I had made that decision, I realized I could pump some without too much disruption. I could get up with Sam, spend time with him, and pump on the way to work. I could pump at lunch, and once, for 20 minutes, when Sam went to bed. My goal is 5 oz a day – which Sam can have split into two portions and mixed with his morning and evening feed (yup, my average on this schedule Will probably be a little over 1 oz / pump). I suspect my supply will quickly dwindle to zero, and Sam will get zilch. But, that is better than a Mum who doesn’t really see her son in a meaningful way.
I am appreciating the benefits: the extra time with Sam, the extra energy for him, the extra ways to express our bond. My head appreciates this as the best solution, but my heart is still heavy
Btw – this was also a total pic spam post. Sorry ’bout that.