February 21, 2021.
“…similac, materna or enfamil?”
Huh? I didn’t understand.
“Your son, he’s hungry. Do you want to give him similac, materna or enfamil?”
July, 2020 when I found out I was pregnant.
I knew there could be complications. I’m a 41-year-old type 1 diabetic – just getting pregnant naturally was, to me, a miracle. But my pregnancy was nearly perfect. I met with my medical team almost weekly. I wrote down everything I ate, every unit of insulin I shot up. I took every vitamin and supplement I was told to. My son grew exactly as expected. All the extra tests I had to do due to my age and diabetes came back perfect. My son was going to be fine, but I worried.
For 38 weeks I worried. I worried whether he would stick. I worried that he would grow. That he would be ok. But one thing I didn’t worry about was breastfeeding. It was normal. It was natural. It couldn’t be so hard. Could it?
February 21, 2021
“…similac, materna or enfamil?”
Huh? I don’t understand.
“Your son, he’s hungry. Do you want to give him similac, maternal or enfamil?”
I didn’t understand. I was going on my 5th day in the hospital, my 4th day of induced labor and almost 24 hours of no sleep. A delivery that ended up with me on oxygen and about 9 people in the room because he didn’t want to come out. I was sitting on a bed in the delivery ward that they were trying to move me out of quickly because more women were going into labor and they needed the bed. Adam was still upstairs with our baby and I did. not. understand.
“…similac, materna or enfamil?”
After almost 24 hours without sleep – David was born. “It’s you“ was the first thing I thought or said when they laid him on my chest. He was dark, with curly hair and he squeaked. He didn’t cry. Why isn’t he crying I asked, and they told me he would and then they took him away. Well, he wasn’t dark, he was blue. He had fluid in his lungs. They took him and Adam away to clear his lungs while I delivered the placenta. They said I would stay to recover for a few hours and then told me they were moving me because there were more women who needed to give birth.
“…similac, maternl or enfamil?”
No, I said. No, from me. I’m going to feed my son.
Somehow, I found the strength to argue with the nurse. I’m not against feeding babies with formula but I just assumed I was going to feed my son. I hadn’t pictured any other scenario.
“…similac, materna or enfamil?”
She argued with me that it wasn’t a big deal, but I was emphatic – my sons first food would be from me. So, she told me to squeeze myself, to lischot. The same word used to talk about juicing oranges. And turned back to her computer. Thankfully there was a student nurse there and Adam who had come back from being with our son and they helped me. I had no energy left. Cut and sore and trying to comprehend what I’d just been through; I couldn’t figure out how to lischot. But thank God, they collected a few milliliters of colostrum and said that was enough for his first meal. I was ecstatic. I thought the rest would come soon. Now I needed to meet my son properly. And to sleep.
Again, I’d assumed that breastfeeding would just happen. It wouldn’t be hard. After all, my mom breastfed me and my brother the first year no problem. I’d be the same, wouldn’t I? No. Not at all. I was 11 years older than she was when she had me, and I have type 1 diabetes. In the hospital there were lactation consultants who came through to help and they said he would latch, we just needed to be patient. And so, we tried to get him to latch but it wasn’t working. So, Adam milked me into a syringe as we said it would just be a couple of days until we got the hang of it. Of course, it would be fine and soon I’d be staring down at a cherubic face as he drank to his heart’s content. But it wasn’t.
And then the lactation consultant realized that he had a tongue tie. She convinced the hospital to keep us another day so that we could have it fixed. Ok, we thought. We’ll fix that and then he’ll latch correctly and it’ll be fine. But it wasn’t.
It turns out that I have flat nipples and he can’t latch correctly. And so we hired a lactation consultant who showed us tips and tricks – assuring us that it would be fine. That I just needed to keep working on it, and feed him every 3 hours from the time he started to eat. So even if it took 2.5 hours to feed him, I had to start again 30 minutes later. No matter what. But it would be fine. We’d get the hang of it. But it wasn’t.
Keep your sugar stable but feed your son every 3 hours. Wake him up if needed. But don’t forget to eat. And watch your sugar. Make sure your sugar is stable. And stay awake.
But I fell asleep. I’m forty-freaking-one years old, damnit. I can’t start feeding him every 3 hours from the time he starts. I can’t stay up all night, every night. And he’s asleep, why do I have to? My mom says it’s fine, why are you making me feel like I’m failing my son?
Every morning the lactation consultant would text asking how the night went and then tell me my son wasn’t eating enough and I needed to follow the regimen so he would. My son was crying. I was crying.
February 25th, 2021
We go visit the pediatrician. His weight is going down and his bilirubin is too high. We’re sent to the children’s ER and admitted for 3 days for jaundice. By this point I’ve bought an electric pump, but I don’t really know how to use it. Just set the sucker to high and suck it up – it’s for my son so I can handle the pain, right? But only a little comes out. Not enough to feed him. So we agree to give him similac while he’s in his little spaceship of light wearing a diaper and an eye mask. I stand by his side, looking at my little astronaut and feeling so guilty. Is it my fault? I’m too old, I have diabetes – why isn’t he perfect and what did I do wrong?
February 27th, 2021 – May, 2021
The one good thing the lactation consultant did for me is give me tips to increase my milk supply. She said to try fenugreek, moringa and Dr. K. And I did. And they helped.
Adam used to come home to help me express milk but slowly, I learned to use the pump correctly and slowly my incessant googling led to me to learn the term “exclusively pumping,” or “EP.” Slowly I learned that I am not alone.
My medical team assured me that while my age and type 1 diabetes have an effect on my milk supply, I could do it. They gave me tips, tricks and foods to eat to help me increase my milk supply while keeping my sugar stable and actually getting some sleep.
And then it happened. About a month after David was born, I fed him for a full 24 hours. No formula needed. And then another day and another. For the next almost 3 months I fed him fully. And I have never felt prouder of anything in my life. I researched the different pumps available and found Medela, which I didn’t have to plug in, and bras that I could pump in. Suddenly I was mobile! I wasn’t tied to a electricity outlet.
And the nurse at tipat halav (postnatal clinic) asked me if I was breastfeeding. I explained that I’m pumping to a bottle. So, you’re breastfeeding, she said. And I started crying. I didn’t know how much I needed that validation as I tried to explain to people that while my body couldn’t feed my son the way he’s ‘supposed’ to be fed; I was doing my best. But she said it correctly; I may not be nursing my son, but I am breastfeeding.
Finally, I felt able to process what I was doing. To assuage my guilt at not “breastfeeding” my son. I am breastfeeding, I’m just not nursing. And. That. Is. Ok.
May, 2021-June, 2021
I’m a superhero and I can do this.
I pump at the namal in Tel Aviv, on a bench on the beach, in a changing room at a kids store. I’m feeding my son just like a mom who can whip out her boob would, only different.
I’m a freaking rockstar.
And I can sleep through the night sometimes because a big plus of exclusively pumping is that Adam can share night duty. We divvy up the nights so we can both sleep and Adam gets to spend the same amount of time bonding with our baby as I do. In fact, anyone who wants to feed David can. That’s pretty amazing.
I had a stomach bug. The kind that you really don’t want. It wiped me out for a full 24 hours and demolished my milk supply. I was back at square one. Power pumping and drinking liters upon liters of water, sticking to a strict schedule of pumping every 3 hours. Just as I’d returned to work. We had to return to supplementing with formula. Yes, my son eating and growing is the priority. But I still felt guilty.
Today I still take my supplements, I drink a ton of water, I wake up in the middle of the night to pump, I pump twice at work. It’s like having a third full time job. Taking care of David and my actual job being the first two. And we still supplement with formula. Some days we don’t need it and some days we need a lot of it. But each day David receives at least a couple hundred ml of breastmilk, and I am proud of that.
I think that a large part of helping me feel at peace with pumping and supplementing with formula was corona. He was born into a world of masks. And the one day we had between being discharged and being readmitted for his jaundice, I received my first vaccination. The fact that I’ve been able to pass on antibodies to him has been an impetus to why I put the effort into pumping.
And Adam, my amazing non-husband (ask the rabanut why I call him that) has been the biggest influence on why today, just 3 days away from my son turning 6 months old, I am still pumping. Because he doesn’t accept when I say I’m sorry.
When I apologize for having to supplement with formula. He congratulates me on whatever I’m able to pump and tells me I’m doing great. He is my biggest cheerleader, and I wouldn’t still be trying this hard for this long without his support.
Having a child is hard. Being 41 and a type 1 diabetic in the middle of a global pandemic when my son was born is even harder. But it is possible. With a lack of sleep, commitment, and hard work – I’m doing it. And when I took him to the pediatrician recently for something else and asked to weigh him, the doctor said sure, but just from looking at him I can tell you he’s doing fine. My little hungry hippo with chubby thighs and a huge grin is growing and thriving. I have nothing to apologize for.