So let’s get a little personal. Just a little. And if you are easily offended by anything boob-related, breastfeeding-related, or most especially, breast-pumping-related, you can just go look at a recipe now. If you aren’t offended -or if you enjoy being offended once in a while- read on.
I’ve been “Exclusively Pumping” for 14 months now. Yes, this is actually a real term. It is a term I became deeply familiar with when it was obvious my little Ari and I were finding no success with breastfeeding. I was devastated to say the least. I was pumping because the nurses at the hospital told me to pump in order to encourage my milk supply to come in, then pumping in order to keep up the supply for when Ari did eventually breastfeed. That never happened.
After a week or so of finger feeding Ari with a tiny tube next to our finger and a syringe of whatever breast milk I was able to eke out in the early days (and sometimes the dreaded formula when I didn’t have any milk way in the beginning), we moved on to bottle feeding in between attempts at the breast and using a supplemental feeder (that’s a whole other story).
It was time to face the facts. Ari wasn’t going to breast feed. Boy, did I feel like a failure.
This is not a good feeling at a ‘normal’ time of life, but add the hormones after childbirth, exhaustion, physical discomfort and then sitting holding these two horn thingies to your boobs every two hours. I was a mess. What was supposed to be the sweetest time was nearly a nightmare at some moments — those moments when I sat there at the pump listening to my failure drone away sounding to me like “fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you…”
Besides being AMA (Advanced Maternal Age). Yes, that is the actual term they use now.
It took a few weeks for me to realize that I was either going to have to give into the formula feeding or something else… I continued to pump, and once I got to Ari’s 10th day of life outside the womb, my milk came in. It took a while for sure, but once it came in, it was IN.
I continued to pump and by this point, I went back to look at a product I’d seen online when I was pregnant. You know those things you look at when you are expecting and you are like “HAHAHA! This is hysterical! I can’t believe this even exists! RON! You HAVE to check this ridiculous thing OUT!” Well the product wasn’t so ridiculous now. It was a hands-free pumping bra! After a couple of weeks of sitting there every two hours, for 20-30 minutes at a time, holding these horn things to my boobs (sobbing of course), I needed some relief! I ordered the ridiculous product.
It saved me. I could now pump and hold a book to read or even be on my computer! It was amazing. It was around this time that I realized that I could actually keep pumping. I don’t even know what my entire thought process was about it honestly. At that time, with a new little bundle of amazing Ari, everything was such a FOG. When I think back on it, it is such a jumble of snippet-like moments of memory with no relation to anything. I was so completely present in THAT TIME.
There was actually no “decision-making” because all decisions were just making themselves. So it was with “Exclusively Pumping”. It just happened.
I remember finding a site online about it. I was shocked that there were actually other women out there committed to the rigorous and time-consuming task of pumping to this extent. It did make sense of course. I wanted to give Ari the best I could give him and this was the only way.
I absolutely could not have done anything like this without the full on support of Ron. Ron had taken his last vacation weeks and paternity leave together after Ari was born so he had 3 weeks off. He was as committed as I was and showed it not only in his generous support to me directly in words, but his actions that spoke volumes more. He was the one feeding Ari his bottles in the middle of the night -twice- while I sat in the corner of the bedroom and hooked up to pump during that time. I was always pumping the milk for Ari’s NEXT bottle. This schedule was grueling and went on for the first few months. Ron was also cleaning all the pumping equipment and bottles. A meticulous job in the beginning with needing everything to be as sterile as possible for our newborn. Quickly he acquired terrible “dish-pan hands” and had to put on my frilly gloves to wash after going through tubes of moisturizers for the dryness.
Once Ron returned to his usual work schedule, things were rough until we kind of struck a rhythm of sorts with our schedule (and Ari’s ever-changing schedule!). I was still pumping every 2-3 hours for a while. I was then able to cut the pumping down to about 4 times a day if I lengthened the time I pumped. So instead of every 2-3 hours for 20-30 minutes, I could pump every 4-6 hours for 45 minutes to an hour. My supply was quite generous. Around the time when Ari was about 4 months old, he was taking about 24 ounces of mild in 24 hours. I was pumping 40 ounces in that same time period! We purchased a chest freezer to begin storing milk. The milk lasts 6 months in a chest freezer versus a regular fridge/freezer combo that only keeps it for 3 months. It was worth the investment for sure.
It is now 14 months later and after pumping 3 times a day for one hour and producing almost exactly what Ari needs each day, I have recently cut down to two pumps. This is, all at the same time, very sad for me and also liberating. I am producing just under what he is demanding and we have to reach into our freezer every couple of days to supplement. The frozen supplies are definitely low, my production has dropped and is continuing to do so. I am facing the fact that Ari, now eating a nutritious diet of pureed food 3 times per day, is almost ready to give up his bottles of my milk.
Ari is still dependent on 3 bottles a day – one at his afternoon nap, one at bedtime, and one in the middle of the night that I am slowly tapering in order to wean him. The past few days of cutting down has been a mixed bag. Ari whines a little as the milk runs out in the bottle. I know he could and would take more, but I also know I have to help him wean and “move on”. I give him his pacifier and lots of extra cuddles and kisses so he can drift off to sleep sweetly in my arms. I know that most of his need for those bottles now is more a need for our special cuddle time. Ari is not a big cuddler by day. He is always on the move and wants to jump out of your arms at every turn. This is why our few cuddle times are so sacred – it is the only time Ari truly gives in and melts in my arms completely. He stares into my eyes and we have that special bonding time that can only happen at those times between just him and me. And I know that eventually our cuddle time will not include the bottle, just US.
Due to circumstances dictated by the universe that were completely unexpected, uninvited and very challenging, I found out about donating breast milk when Ari was two and half months old. Ari was born on November 7th, 2011 and we didn’t plan on having to travel much all winter with a new baby. In fact, we counted on NOT having to travel at all. The universe had other plans for us and our little Ari though…
…and that my friends, is a whole other post…
Painting and Photograph by Gretchen Baer