I’ve had this photo sitting in a folder on my desktop for a number of days, but I’ve been hesitant to post it. Breastfeeding is a very natural — but very personal — thing. It also can be a sensitive topic: some women choose not to breastfeed; some women cannot breastfeed; some women breastfeed for 1 month or 6 months or 12 months or 36 months. That it every woman’s personal decision and right — and I respect that.
What I’m about to say in no way refers to anyone’s story other than my own. It casts no judgments and makes no assumptions. What I’m about to say is only about me and my experience. It is my breastfeeding story.
And it starts with Penelope Joy.
When I had Penelope Joy and we found out she had even more birth defects and complications than we could have imagined, I was heart broken — for a number of reasons. When we said “hello” and welcomed Penelope Joy into the world, we said “good-bye” to a lot of our ideas about what it meant to have our first child, what it meant to be parents.
One of the things I was most looking forward to was breastfeeding my baby girl. And then … I couldn’t. Due to her condition and to her nonexistent immune system, we were told she would need to receive special formula. Then, we found out she could receive breast milk — as long as my blood tests remained CMV negative every week. It wasn’t the “breastfeeding” I had in mind, but at least I’d be able to provide for her. This is what my first breastfeeding experience looked like:
At least, that’s what it looked like until she got too sick and couldn’t have my milk anymore. And, let me tell ya, having to pump milk for a baby who couldn’t have it — and then who was dead — was difficult and, honestly, pretty emotionally scarring. I spent a lot of hours crying while I was hooked up to a pump so I could avoid engorgement. Even writing about it right now brings tears to my eyes.
So, to say that it was important for me to breastfeed Dottie would be an understatement. When she was born, she snuggled right up to me and was nursing within the first several minutes.
But our breastfeeding relationship hasn’t always been as easy as it was on day one. Once it was time for me to think about heading back to work, I started pumping. I didn’t respond super well to the pump, though, and I didn’t start pumping soon enough. When I went back to work, I barely had any stock in the freezer.
Pretty much from that first week back, I was barely keeping up with Dottie’s demand — what I pumped at work on Monday, she ate on Tuesday. Any stock I built up over the weekends she’d eat throughout the following week and I’d be back at square one before Friday rolled around. In addition, I was driving to daycare on my lunch hour to breastfeed.
It was exhausting — I felt like a poorly performing milk machine. There were days I called Mr. B on the way home from work crying because I had no milk for Dottie for the next day. And we could pretty much throw out any ideas of a date night out without Dottie because I had no milk to leave with a babysitter.
I felt like I was doing it wrong because people don’t talk about how hard it can be. We’re constantly told how natural and beautiful and amazing it is to breastfeed. But women seldom talk about how it feels when it’s not going well, when you feel like your body isn’t doing the one thing it’s supposed to be doing. There were a lot of days that I felt like a failure. I cried a lot — morning, noon and night … especially night … and morning.
Once we introduced Dottie to solid foods, things started to get a little more relaxed. But, she still was having bottles throughout the day and I had a hard time keeping up with her needs. I’ve just recently stopped pumping milk for her. (I kept saying “this is my last week pumping” and then continued for another week.) It’s been bittersweet.
Pumping while working full-time is a lot of work, but I’ve felt proud to provide Dottie with her main source of nutrition — even when it’s been hard. In fact, it’s one of the things I’m most proud of in my whole life. Dottie’s still nursing in the mornings before work, in the evenings, before bed, on the weekends and sometimes through the night. And I’ll continue to breastfeed her as long as she wants — knowing her, she’ll be very clear in telling me she’s ready to stop.