End of an Era

Brandt enjoyed his last bottle of mama’s milk last Friday.

(Gentlemen readers, I’ll keep the rest of this post PG, but if you don’t want more details about pumping, don’t read further.)

My supply had been diminishing for a while, and on Friday it reached such a low point that the milk would spoil before I collected enough for one small bottle. So Brandt’s exclusively formula-fed now, and I can finally say goodbye to the pump.

When I dreamed of having a baby, I dreamed of the nursing relationship. So many women describe that bond with rosy tenderness. My desire for that experience drove, in part, my pursuit of infertility treatments. When Brandt was born early and I learned that many preemies struggle to nurse, I was initially determined to beat the odds.

But looking back, those odds were stacked quite high against us. I was fortunate to be able to establish my supply through pumping; many women can’t in such unnatural circumstances. But between Brandt’s teeny preemie mouth that easily tired of sucking, his special feeding needs due to small size and low blood sugars, and the impossibility of me being at the hospital for every feeding, he really had to do most feedings by bottle. When Brandt came home, I tried nursing him for every other feeding, but he just didn’t have the stamina, and we both were miserable doing it. Dread had replaced the dream.

So we quit nursing and I resumed exclusive pumping.

Bottle-feeding my baby expressed breastmilk put me in a no-man’s land of sorts. It astonished me how many strangers (especially store cashiers, for some reason) would ask, “Do you nurse?” At first, I gave long-winded explanations, but then I realized people actually just wanted to know if the baby drank breastmilk, so I simplified and answered yes. When people would say, “Oh, it’s so good that he’s getting breastmilk,” I appreciated the encouragement but also silently reserved my right to stop pumping at any time.

Pumping is hard, time-consuming work. There’s no rosy maternal bliss when you’re hooked up to a machine. Pumping and offering comfort to my baby were often in direct conflict. I wanted Brandt to have the benefits of breastmilk, so I persevered with pumping. But we constantly reevaluated that decision to make sure it was best for our family as a whole.

And that’s what I would say to any woman facing decisions about breastfeeding, pumping, or formula feeding. Do what’s best not just for the baby, but for every member of the family.

In the end, I’m glad I pumped, but I’m glad to be done. It would have been my first choice to nurse, and it was tempting to feel cheated of that experience, but I learned to be content in one more God-given circumstance.

(Now, though I’m not entirely satisfied with this post despite working on it for a week, I’m just going to hit publish and go feed a bottle of formula to the baby who just woke up from his nap!)

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10 Comments

Filed under Brandt

10 responses to “End of an Era

  1. Andrea,
    what a wise mommy you are….already learning how to be content with what God has given you and making decisions that best serve your family as a whole. I only wish i had learned that lesson when i was younger and with my first baby!
    i was unable to nurse my first….had lots of problems, no nursing support, and loads of guilt for not giving my baby what i “thought” was the only “best” thing for my baby.
    it wasn’t until baby #5 that God was finally able to get me to see that what’s “best” for my babies is a mommy who loves them enough to do what’s healthy and wise for not just baby, but for the whole family. and He helped me to see that formula isn’t bad for my baby…if giving the baby formula will not only keep baby healthy, but will keep mommy strong, rested, and able to care for baby and also care for her hubby and family, then it IS the best thing for baby.
    sorry for going on and on…..i just wanted to encourage you that the love and care that you give brandt daily is what’s best for him….and that doesn’t come in a bottle, it comes from your heart!!
    i love your sweet baby boy!
    ~patty

  2. Oh the memories…. Yay for a new era! Enjoy your new season of more free time, healing of cracked hands from washing pump supplies multiple times a day, and an end of carrying an extra bag wherever you go.

  3. MarySue

    I appreciate the wise and balanced perspective you have, and I identify with what you’ve said here from my own experiences with our preemies. Thank you for sharing these poignant thoughts.

  4. Hurray for the end of pumping! I’m so glad pumps exist, so that our babies can still have breastmilk in spite of nursing difficulties–but it’s so nice to stop, too. I am very much looking forward to rediscovering those extra hours in the day!

    I think this is one of those areas in which mothers need to give themselves, and each other, more grace. Why is it so easy to condemn what other mothers do? I have fallen into that often myself…I hope that as the years go by I am getting mellower and humbler! I hope! I know the feeling of difficult, miserable nursing…and nagging guilt over having to pump… and jealousy of those blissful nursing experiences…

    So glad you and Brandt are both healthy and happy! God is giving YOU the wisdom you need for the child he gave to YOU. Good job, Mama!

  5. Liz

    I hope you never feel an “ounce” of regret. (har har har)

    Pumping for this long is a near superhuman feat. When I worked as an LC, I sometimes dreaded preemie moms because they often couldn’t establish a sufficient supply and trying to work through the guilt and stress they suffered left me brokenhearted for them.

    But for all the people who will tell you “formula would have been fine, but good for you for pumping”…I’m here to tell you that when Brandt was in a NICU isolette, hus tiny body in multiple organ failure…he DESPERATELY needed those immunities and antibodies that ONLY you could provide.

    So I will offer congrats for a job very well done…and extra snaps for the perseverance and devotion that may well have had a significant part in saving your son’s life.

    Who knows, perhaps there is another baby in your future…one of those babies who looks at you like you’re IN-SANE if you offer anything besides the breast.

    I’m interested to know what pump you used, if you don’t mind sharing. I’m often asked for recommendations but ever since the whittlestone breast expresser went off the market (tragedy) I really don’t have an *affordable* effective pump to promote. The pump in style seems to work wonderfully or not at all, no middle ground…and the ones that work really well (symphony, ameda egnell elite, medela classic, etc) are way outside of most peoples’ price range : (

    • While Brandt was in the NICU, I rented the hospital-grade Medela (the Symphony). I think it would have been hard to establish a good supply with anything less, and I could use my rented machine at home and the NICU machines interchangeably if I brought along my tubes and collection parts. Once Brandt came home, a friend offered to loan me her Pump-In-Style (a no-no according to Medela, but we suffered no ill effects). I was grateful not to have to pay for a pricey machine!

  6. Annika

    We went through a phase with Jack of pumping and bottle feeding and it was SO hard…double duty, it felt like! I used a Pump-in-Style (really? “in style?”) too, and it worked really well. But I was very happy to be done, as well. 🙂

  7. Andrea, I applaud you for this amazing feat! Breastfeeding is so much more difficult than I ever anticipated — those first few weeks were nothing short of torture for me personally. (I know you had lots more obstacles than I could dream of.)
    There is no way I could have continued with nursing without the help of a really good pump (also a Medela Pump-In-Style, and also borrowed from a great friend!). It helped to keep my supply up during the first month or two while I struggled to figure all of this out. Pumping and feeding your baby expressed milk takes time and dedication, and I think you are incredible for keeping that schedule up for Brandt’s first year. Way to go!
    I bet returning that pump will be a great relief in many ways. Hope you’ll find even more time to spend with your adorable, healthy little sweetie.

  8. Andrea,
    Thank you so much for sharing this honest window on your perseverance and love for your son. I’m always encouraged by your gentle reminder that mother hood is a journey not always a pretty as our expectations but even more fulfilling. Thanks for sharing your heart and hard won wisdom. Your family and all the rest of us are blessed by your heart and the expression of your passion.

    In Him,
    Sarah Kay

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