It’s 6 am. I wake up in a hospital bed having only slept about three or four hours after giving birth to my son 5 weeks early. My breasts, usually VERY small, are rock hard, bumpy, lumpy, and terribly painful!
What is happening?! How did no one tell me about this?
All my girlfriends had had babies before me. Did no one think this was an important piece of information to share with me?! I heard about the blood clots; I heard about the possibility of pooping on the table while pushing out the baby; I heard about the hours and hours giving birth could take. The milk “let down” or “coming down” was nothing anyone mentioned. And then, I’m not even sure how it all happened, but within minutes I was plugged into a hospital-grade pump and I was pumping ounces, multiple ounces!! from each boob. Crazy. And what a relief!
The rest of the story feels far less dramatic. Although my son was in the NICU for 10 days with a feeding tube, the nurses still encouraged me to try breastfeeding him every few hours and when he was finally strong enough, they pulled out the feeding tube and let us try on our own. And, it was amazing!
I felt very fortunate. Having watched my sister and some of my close friends struggle with nursing, I felt lucky that it wasn’t hell or pain or terrible.
What ensued was 11 months of a strict regime of feeding for 10 minutes on each side, every 2 hours, and then every 3 hours, and then only in the morning and evening without fail. That was the routine (except that one time I exploded at my husband, who was only trying to help, and told him I ABSOLUTELY CANNOT COUNT BY 2’S TO TELL YOU WHEN HE NEEDS TO EAT AGAIN!).
When I gave birth to my daughter two years after my son, I spent three sleepless nights in the hospital waiting for my milk “to come in”: pumping, sitting in front of the NICU bassinet looking at my daughter, pumping nothing again every few hours, and trying desperately not to freak out inside - fearing that maybe the first time was a fluke and I wouldn’t be able to replicate the ease of nursing and pumping a second time. The doctors in the NICU were amazing and didn’t pressure me. They said that she could have sugar water until my milk came in, and if 3-4 days passed, they would give her a little formula. Thankfully, again, my milk came in and I could start the process with my second little one - first navigating around a feeding tube, learning her rhythm, and figuring out one another.
My daughter was less calm and patient nursing than my son and, sometimes, in the middle of the night, feedings would go completely crazy; didn’t she realize that I was trying my hardest to get her what she needed as quickly as possible? I swear some of the “shushing” we do as moms is for ourselves - to calm us as much as our little ones. Here, too, once she came home from the NICU what ensued was 10 months of pumping and feeding and pumping and reading so many books on a Kindle in the dark while loving the closeness that comes with a completely quiet house where only two people are awake. And then, it turned into just me quietly sneaking downstairs every night with my pump while the little one slept, and pumping in the dark so that she would have enough for the next day, week, month.
I loved nursing. I loved feeling my milk come in every few hours. I even loved figuring out the pumping: on planes, around wedding events and conference calls, and traveling for work, and hall closets, and shared fridges, and my very generous neighbor who couldn’t breastfeed but opened her basement freezer for my milk storage. I love the community that I felt with other moms and their choices and struggles and successes and that feeling of working through it all together.
They say it takes a village and I definitely felt that and am forever thankful for mine.