I breastfed my daughter for six months.
One of the pros of breastfeeding, aside from the obvious good it does the baby, is saving money. Well, that’s what they say anyway. While this may have been true at one time, it’s hardly true today. My husband and I invested a small fortune in breastfeeding. From pumps to storage systems to special bras and bra inserts to all sorts of accessories (pads, creams, gels, ointments). We even bought something called a breast stool, which despite its name is actually for feet. Anyway, you name it and we had to have it.
I say “we” because he, my husband Jason, played a huge role in my ability to breastfeed our daughter. It sounds funny to say but without his support, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. From day one, I struggled. I struggled with latching and then unlatching. The pain was unbelievable. My nipples bled. They cracked. They bled more. I hung in there. My daughter bit me every time she nursed. The milk turned Pepto Bismol pink! Still, I hung in there. It was important to me. Jason knew that, and so it was important to him.
I’m obsessive by nature and a glutton for punishment (this explains many things in my life). Being together for 9+ years and counting, he obviously knows this about me. As always, he helped me every step of the way. He provided emotional and, at times, even physical support. During my third trimester, he took a breastfeeding class with me! When our baby arrived, he helped in every way imaginable. While he couldn’t do the main task for obvious mechanical reasons, of which we are both grateful, he did more than his fair share. At one point, I fell asleep while he worked the pump (get your mind out of the gutter, people!).
Then, a few months later, I got sick. I tried to ignore a fever for 30 days. I was hospitalized. While the doctors struggled to diagnose me (Polycystic Kidney Disease, we later learned), they treated me for every disease and ailment imaginable. It was like being on an episode of the TV show House. While they worked hard to figure out what was wrong with me, I continually slipped in and out of consciousness and fought the worst fever of my life. They were baffled by my symptoms, so I was quarantined – on lockdown in the infectious disease ward. Due to risk of illness and unidentified potentially contagious diseases, visitors were told not to touch me. My daughter, who was just 3 months old at the time, was not permitted to visit.
It was horrible.
I was determined to continue breastfeeding. Since I wasn’t allowed to see, hold or touch my baby, it was my strongest connection to her. So, from my hospital bed, I pumped and stored my milk every day. And, every night, when visiting hours ended, my husband drove the milk home to our daughter. For 6 days, I was poked, prodded and tested for everything under the sun. The cocktail of antibiotics, pain killers, fever reducers and blood thinners grew and grew. Each individually was “OK” for breastfeeding, they told me. But I was concerned.
“What about the combination?” I asked.
They were confused by my question. So, rather than risk it, I opted to pump and dump for fear my daughter would pay the price. In case you’re not familiar, pumping and dumping is pretty self explanatory. Pump the milk. Then dump it. It’s a method passed down from mommy to mommy, primarily so mommies can partake in the occasional cocktail. A good friend had told me about it during my pregnancy to sell me on breastfeeding. She had me at margarita.
It sounded easy enough, and I couldn’t wait to try it. Unfortunately, my first postpartum cocktail was in the hospital. And, my first experience with pumping and dumping was way outside the recreational happy hour context. In fact, it wasn’t happy at all. For me, it was heartbreaking. Aside from the aforementioned financial investment, breastfeeding also requires a huge emotional and mental commitment. Dumping milk that was meant to provide sustenance and nourishment for my baby? Well, it hurt far more than the biting ever could.
Many of my friends and family advised me to give up on breastfeeding altogether. It wasn’t worth the agony, they’d say. But, I wasn’t so sure. Trying to comfort me, they’d tell me I’d tried hard enough. Um, have we met? After being diagnosed with PKD and released from the hospital’s infectious disease ward, which I later learned was the worst place for a kidney patient with a compromised immune system, I continued to pump and dump for a full month before being able to get back into the game. But, I got there… because I’m obsessive, remember?
Then, a few months later, I got sick again. Stress. Fatigue. Dehydration. These things added up, and I eventually threw in the towel. Basically, I dried up. It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. I was producing less than 4 ounces of milk in a whole day, while pumping every 2 hours around the clock, 7 days per week. I went from supplementing formula to supplementing breast milk. My body wasn’t cooperating and after an emotional rollercoaster, I finally gave up.
I had to admit to myself that I couldn’t continue physically. My body wouldn’t let me. It was hurting me more than it was helping my daughter. Sure, I could produce plenty of blood, sweat and tears but not milk?! Why?? What a joke!
I felt like a failure.
It may seem silly, but I had to forgive myself. Once I realized that my daughter was as healthy and happy as could be on formula as she was on breast milk, I felt better. I suddenly had more time to play with her and for other things like sleep! Eventually, the hormones shifted back into place, I was me again and I was able to truly appreciate all that I’d experienced as a new mother. Even though my original goal was to nurse my daughter for (at least) a full year, I was grateful for being able to have done it for as long as I did. Sure, it was painful and expensive but it was also wonderful while it lasted.
I eventually moved on to other obsessions. For example, I still refuse to accept the fact that we invested all that money for a mere six months. Come hell or high water, I’m going to get our money’s worth out of it!
This is the reason I currently use my breast stool when I need a boost to reach out-of-reach things, and why I occasionally use leftover Milk Screen alcohol test strips when I’ve had a few glasses of champagne. It’s why I know that breast pads make excellent coasters (they’re very absorbent & they stay put!) and that breast milk storage containers work just as well when freezing adult food. And, perhaps most valuable of all, it’s why I know that nipple cream makes the best lip balm!
I still haven’t found an alternate use for my breast pump yet, but I’m working on it.