mama story: pumping was my lifeline to my baby in the NICU
Thanks to Brittany Brown from Columbia, Tennessee for today's inspiring mama story!
Motherhood. I hadn't realized all of the hopes and expectations I'd had for myself as a first time mom until I kept bumping up against them along the way.
My little guy is almost four months old and I'm embracing that every day is a chance to challenge and a chance to declare victory over these expectations even if it's not what I thought it would look like.
At my 20 week ultrasound appointment all I could think about was the excitement of seeing my healthy baby and learning the gender. I never considered that we'd get a diagnosis for a defect.
Defect. That word was an instant dagger into my perfectionist, "type A" heart. I'd already failed my baby.
We learned that he had formed with a defect called gastroschisis (a hole remains as the abdominal wall closes and some or all of the intestines grow on the outside of the body - there is no known cause and thankfully is very treatable after birth). I read about it online despite being advised against it, scared myself with all of the rare outcomes, and prayed for miraculous healing. We plugged along like normal through the remaining weeks and I tried to pretend that everything was normal.
It wasn't until I attended a breastfeeding class and heard all of the benefits of the first skin-to-skin, the first breastfeeding session, and the liquid gold in the initial hours after birth that I had to face the realities that my baby boy and I wouldn't get that.
We'd been prepared that he would be whisked off to the NICU and it would be weeks before he'd get my milk and no telling when we could hold him. Would we bond? Would we get to breastfeed?
At my 35 week OB appointment our specialist determined that baby boy wasn't getting anymore out of the placenta and his growth was stalling so we should have him via emergency c-section that day. 45 minutes later Charles Theodore ("Teddy") was born. We got a quick picture and a chance to touch his hand through the door of the NICU transport incubator and then he was whisked to a bigger hospital while I was left to recover.
The next morning I asked the L&D nurse if I should start to pump. They sent in a pump and parts, someone helped me set up the pieces and told me to try and pump for 15 minutes every 3 hours. While my husband was at the other hospital with our son, I sat alone in the room listening to the sound of the pump and trying to figure out what words it was sounding like it was speaking to me and watching a few scant drops come out, I wondered if it was worth trying any of it, it seemed hopeless and my heart wasn't in it. I felt so numb and was still trying to process that our baby had been born. When it wasn't even enough to pull into a syringe the nurse told me to just rub it on my nipples.
The next day I got discharged and went to visit Teddy. As I looked at his sweet little 5lb 4oz body all hooked up to machines, I knew I wanted to try to keep going. I hadn't been ready to stop carrying him inside of me, close to my heart and nourishing him, but I could do something else for him.
Teddy was in the NICU for 6 weeks and pumping became my lifeline to him.
I'd sit at home and look at pictures of him on my phone and pump and remember "he's mine". I'd go visit him at least once a day and pump next to his bedside. Being tired, recovering from the c-section, making an hour drive each way to visit him - some days it felt so hard to get in enough pumps, to overcome sore nipples, to get in enough meals and water to feel like I was able to nourish myself to provide sustenance for him, but I know it kept me going.
On Day 12 we got to hold him for the first time, 4 weeks in we got to "kangaroo" for the first time. And 4.5 weeks in I got to give him his first bottle of my stored milk (we had to buy a deep freezer at home because we were running out of space and didn't want to overload the NICU's freezer!). Teddy got 5ml that first day as we tested what his tummy could digest now that everything was fixed and appeared to be functioning in his body. It was everything I hoped it would be without knowing what I expected.
My next expectation came into full view when the day before he was to be discharged that we finally got to try nursing.
It ended quickly in tears from both of us. After a week of failed attempts once we were home I felt brave enough to ask for a referral to a lactation consultant. She came to our home and we spent an hour and a half together. At the end we'd manage some successful latching but in the days to follow I finally made peace with the reality that Teddy loves bottles. And that's okay. That's victory for us.
While I sat there and envied other mothers who can nurse their babies I realized that there are probably many of them feeling stress about bottles.
We are feeding our babies and however they get fed, it's winning!
My baby was sustained by IV fluids for all or part of his first 6 weeks of life. The fact that he'd gobble up a full bottle of my milk now was a miracle of modern medicine and God's provision in our lives. I remembered back to the little micro-preemie who was Teddy's NICU neighbor, and how every day I came in for visits, the hospital pump would be sitting over there from that mom using it. It felt like a little sisterhood we shared as it moved back and forth each day even though we never met.
There are so many mamas out there lovingly sitting at a pump and it's just as special. It's just as nurturing and life-giving.
I have loved finding community in the shared experience of breastfeeding moms. It is an honor and a gift, and so inspiring to know that everyone's journey is tough in its own way and we're no less victorious if it doesn't match what we'd hoped for.