My debt to her - because she stuck around with me

I have hoped for a new pregnancy for countless reasons, the one of which apparently being quite common. Breastfeeding. I breastfed my son eight years ago, but it started pretty sloppy. Back then, I thought breastfeeding would be easy, because it is natural. It wasn’t easy at all, but somehow I managed. Having this experience in mind, this time I thought it would be easy and perfect. Well, due to a very imperfect childbirth, breastfeeding went in a completely different direction. Less than 10 minutes upon leaving my body, she was rushed to NICU, where she had spent seven days before spending seven more days in the post-intensive care unit. And instead of breastfeeding five minutes after giving birth, I ended up being stuck with a breast pump.

The entire time she was in a hospital, I was torn between breast-pumping at home or in a hospital, once in every three hours, for her to get the best possible food. Breastfeeding had to wait… And when we finally brought the little bundle of joy home, all of my attempts to put her on a boob ended in her screaming and rejecting it, and me becoming increasingly anxious. And physician’s advice - ‘She needs to rest’ - kept echoing in my head. The screaming and torture on my boob were anything but rest. So, I had to continue expressing milk. At full steam, every three hours, eight times in 24 hours. Day and night. She had a decent meal, I was producing enough, and secretly hoping that a miracle would happen. As the days went by, I slowly began to learn about a new world, a new culture. About breast-pumping. I joined a number of Facebook groups and started frantically reading experiences and advices, convinced that all of that wasn’t going to last that long after all. 

I was reading mostly during the night, trying to keep myself awake. I was using an electric pump and it was a life-saver. I thought I had fared well, as I was not breast-pumping manually. As I learned about lactation, breast anatomy, the process of releasing milk and everything else, I was also learning about equipment - breast pumps, funnels, membranes, and all the wonders of breast-pumping. She continued rejecting my boob, now without screaming - but with a very determined expression of disgust on her face. I can’t recall at what point exactly I came to terms with the fact that a miracle wasn’t going to happen, and that traditional breastfeeding wasn’t meant to be - but that she would be receiving my milk nevertheless. 

First, I got a double electric breast pump, and then - several months later - a hospital-grade breast pump, an ultra-strong and effective one, a Mercedes among breast pumps. I was exhausted, but I couldn’t care less. In addition to all of mother’s regular baby-related duties, breast-pumping meant that I had to sit for about four hours during every single day, in an attempt to express as much milk as possible (and sitting did not mean resting, no matter what some might think). I also had to wash and sterilize every single piece of equipment after each use… I could talk for days about mental fatigue and fear. Starting with a fear that I won’t have enough milk - because in the meantime, we were diagnosed with cow’s milk protein allergy, and she was refusing to drink specialized formula milk - all the way up to a fear that the pump might die on me. During the first six months, I almost didn’t go out at all, because going out was impossible to fit into my daily schedule, which included hours of breast-pumping and all other baby-related obligations. And I simply couldn’t force myself to start carrying the pump around and using it wherever I find myself at a designated moment in time.  

That summer, we spent our vacation at the seaside, to grant my son’s wish. I don’t even like to remember that summer vacation, the hellish heat, me drinking water like crazy as I was afraid that my milk would run out as a consequence of dehydration, attempts to breast-pump on the beach… People around me supported me for maybe several months, and then they started telling me to stop, telling me that it was enough, that there were plenty of alternatives, and so on. And when they saw that I wasn’t giving up, they stopped making comments. I fought my battle alone for the most part, alone with a pump and a baby that somehow learned to behave while her mom was breast-pumping. Today, I have forgiven them all, because I know that they were not and will never be able to understand what I was going through. I’m grateful for them taking care of the baby during certain breast-pumping sessions, as that was very helpful. Over time, the number of those sessions decreased, and I was able to return to my family, husband and son. Among all the sacrifices, the one the still hurts me the most is the sacrifice made by my son - and me not being present in his life for months. I was there for him, but barely, just enough for him to know I was there. But he took it like a champ, he almost never complained, and instead he was helping by entertaining his sister, carrying equipment, hugging me when I was crying from exhaustion. Once, while I was apologizing to him for not being there, he said that he fully understood me, that everything was fine, and that I would make it all up to him someday. He sounded so honest and grown-up. And I still think I will never be worthy enough of his love and intelligence. 

I have breast-pumped for 12 months and 12 days. I tried to convert it once into numbers. Roughly, if you add all the hours I’ve spent breast-pumping, that’s about 50 days in a row on the pump, and over 260 liters of milk. I’m eternally proud of myself and grateful to my body for supporting me all the time. Although it will always remember the burden and sacrifice, it is now well-rested. My soul has healed from everything I had struggled with during the process of breast-pumping. I have learned what the willpower, perseverance and discipline are.  That nothing is impossible, and there’s nothing a mother cannot do. Today, I’m not allowing anyone to tell me that she doesn’t have milk, that she can’t breastfeed (except for medical reasons). Milk is there, if you ask your body for it. Breastfeeding does not only mean a baby on the breast, as it can be done without any contact whatsoever. I have breastfed my girl for 12 months and 12 days. Contactless. Owing to that experience, I’m now a moderator in a Facebook group, forever enchanted by the magic of breast-pumping, and determined to help every mother who opts for this way of feeding her baby. I dream of talking about this, teaching moms and giving them wind in their sails. I want this to be spoken about publicly and loudly, because moms are breast-pumping in silence, bounded by their own four walls, breast-pumps and schedules. Getting the best possible pumps, membranes and funnels should not be so damn difficult and expensive.

Infinitely grateful for every drop of milk.

Author: Tea Memic

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