pumping for my preemie gave me purpose
My story of mamahood began this past August, three months earlier than expected. I gave birth to our first babe, Agnes, via emergency C-section at 27 weeks and 5 days.
These first few chapters of our story have been surreal.
The experience was, and continues to be, an exercise in managing my expectations and ideals. For example, our beginning didn’t bear any resemblance to my ‘new mama’ Pinterest vision board. Incubators, beeping monitors, and yellow hospital gowns didn’t jive with my dreamy vision of a natural childbirth and hours of peaceful mom and baby cuddling.
Agnes was less than 3 pounds, and was so small and fragile that it was over a week until I was able to hold her for the first time. I felt immediately bonded to her, but not like her parent at first. With Agnes’ constant entourage of trained medical professionals always nearby, it was months before I felt comfortable in the role of decision maker.
Around six weeks into our hospital stay, a nurse told me I should stop asking for permission to pick up my own child. The statement actually took me by surprise as I was so used to taking my cues from the doctors and nurses and deferring to them at every turn. It was a few more weeks until it felt natural to pick her up without a nurse in the room.
The NICU stay was challenging but came with a couple of unexpected bonuses. I felt so lucky to have a team of lactation and baby experts at my disposal. It felt like I was in a really intense training course for how to care for my preemie. By the end I felt like a junior NICU nurse... or at the very least a Candy Striper.
I began pumping right away with the support of my new best friends... the hospital's lactation consultants. And pumped around the clock.
I pumped in the car on the way to and from the hospital. I pumped while listening to the doctors doing rounds. I begrudgingly pumped in the middle of the night, at home without my little one.
I pumped while doing kangaroo care (skin to skin time). I pumped with visitors. I pumped through tears.
And as Agnes grew stronger and healthier, I began to realize that I was playing an incredibly important role in her healing process by providing vital nourishment and immune support to her fragile system. It was clear that my breast milk was healing for her, and it turned out that having an active role to play during those dark days in the NICU was healing for me as well.
I no longer felt like a helpless bystander next to her incubator. Instead, pumping gave me purpose and a reason to put one foot in front of the other.
The other bonus of our NICU stay was the 6+ hours of kangaroo time I shared with Agnes every day. We had a doctor who strongly encouraged skin to skin time as a way to heal and help our preemie grow. After hearing the benefits of growth and better brain development, I made it my mission to do as much skin to skin time as possible. I am so grateful for that quiet healing time for both of us.
From the beginning, we could see that Agnes was incredibly strong and resilient.
She has often led the way on this journey and has already helped us to become better versions of ourselves. I know every story of motherhood has different chapter headings, but so many of the themes are the same.
As new mamas, we have to adjust to our new role, struggle with the challenges and roadblocks, and can’t help but to grow in our capacity to love. It’s an honor to be this girl’s mama and to join such an incredible community of inspirational women.