by Courtney Sley
“You know you really love someone when you can’t hate them for breaking your heart.” This was a quote I found when mindlessly scrolling on Pinterest one night around 2:45 am, pumping all alone in my beautiful and comfy nursing glider.
I knew I always wanted to be a mom. When my husband and I started talking about our future and what we wanted, having a child was always at the top of our list. We were going to get married and start trying right away. We were extremely blessed that we were able to get pregnant rather quickly, and when I was about five months pregnant my husband and I started to put together our registry wish list–all the most important things a family must have in order to care for a baby. Let’s be honest: Most of the “things” were that–things that maybe aren’t really necessary. As I walked the aisles looking at all of the different baby swings, bouncy seats, pack-n-plays, changing tables, sheets, and swaddle options I realizes how a new mom can get quickly overwhelmed. Not to mention when you go in to register they give you this “check list” of all the things you need, and I saw just how many infant feeding tools were on the list. I knew one thing for certain: I knew I was going to be a breastfeeding mom. I had researched and read about the nutritional facts and the pros and cons for a breastfeed baby. I was also able to watch my sister-in-law and best friend have a bond with their children because of breastfeeding. My sister-in-law and my best friend were breastfeeding rock star moms. They could whip out their boobs anywhere and calmly and easily feed their children. They had all the breastfeeding accessories for traveling, at home when guests would come over, the car, and more. They made it look so easy (although they never claimed it was easy; they just did it). So of course we registered for “all the breastfeeding things” along with everything else Buy Buy Baby had to offer.
Our son Leo was born five weeks and six days early. He spent 14 days in the NICU at Christiana Hospital. When Leo was born I was told I would not be able to do skin-to-skin until he was cleared. As soon as I delivered him, they scooped him up and took him off to the side where a team of doctors and nurses checked him out. I was able to hold him for a few minutes before the nurse took him again and brought him to the NICU. I was not able to see him until I was cleared, because I had had an epidural. I was wheeled into my new room on the side of the Labor/Delivery and Postpartum Wing with the moms who did not have babies in their rooms. This was not how I pictured my first hours being a mom. A nurse came in with a plastic bag with parts and encouraged me to pump. I looked at her and said, “Please help me; I don’t know where these things are supposed to go and for how long.” She talked me through it and I did the best I could. What seemed like drops turned into a few milliliters. The nurse instructed me to bring all of these drops down to the NICU with me. She also explained that I needed to pump every two hours to get my body ready for when I would start to breastfeed. Again, this is not how I pictured my breastfeeding chapter to begin. A few hours later I was able to go downstairs and see and touch Leo. He was so tiny, so beautiful, and so perfect. He was on a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) and had a feeding tube. He was a trooper.
I continued to pump every two to three hours day and night. I would set alarms on my phone so I would wake up on time. It was exhausting and frustrating. In the NICU everything is about numbers: how much he weighs, how many ounces he eats, and how much time goes between feedings. Everything is a schedule. I thought, “This was going to be so easy once we get home. My newborn was being trained on a schedule.” After a week or so in the NICU, the nurse said I could start to try to introduce my breast to Leo. This was the moment I was waiting for. I was going to scoop him up, whip out my breast, he was going to latch, and all was going to be right with the world. Hahahaaa! NOPE. He fussed, he screamed, he would latch for about 30 seconds and fall asleep… and that’s how our breastfeeding relationship started.
Leo was released from the hospital and I thought when we got home that things would be different. We would spend the day together learning how to do this breastfeeding thing. I would lean over him and almost dangle my breast for him. I tried laying down sideways. I tried the football hold. I felt as though I was a complete failure. He loved to eat, but from a bottle. It was his normal; it was easy for him. He didn’t want to nurse since that meant he would have to work at eating. After going to my first check up with my OB, I put everything out there: no sleep, no baby blues, just frustrated and uncomfortable and my newborn did not want to breastfeed. My doctor gave me a name and number of the “Boobie Whisperer” a.k.a Katie Madden. I called and made an appointment right away.
Katie was able to observe and give me pointers of what I was doing right and different things to try to improve Leo’s and my breastfeeding relationship. Leo and I met with Katie a few times and even had a couple of phone dates. I remember Katie asking specifically what our goal was and I said with confidence that we wanted to exclusively breastfeed. Leo and I worked hard–really hard–towards our goal. It was not easy, but in time we found our groove.
I returned to work in late August. Katie and I talked about a plan when returning to work. I knew I was going to have to pump and Leo was going to get a bottle while at daycare. I picked Leo up at 3:30 pm and headed home every day. Leo and I would sit in our comfy glider and I would nurse him and talk to him about how much I missed him. This was our routine and it worked.
When Leo was five months old he broke up with me. I remember it was a Friday. I got home from work and did our usual routine and he wanted nothing to do with nursing. He would cry as soon as I would start to put him in the position of nursing. At first I thought it was because he wasn’t hungry. Then I thought, “Well, maybe he is getting a tooth.” I texted my sister-in-law and explained what was happening. She said keep offering the breast, he probably just going through a nursing strike. So I did. Leo would scream when I would try to lay him down in the position for nursing. I finally gave in and offered a bottle. He took it right away. I read that if you offer a bottle then take it away and slip your breast in place that babies will latch onto the breast and remember what to do. Ha! That sent Leo into an angry fit. I also tried using the nipple shield, thinking the texture of that would remind him of the bottle while also encouraging him to nurse. So that weekend, I offered the breast but I didn’t have the strength to only offer the breast and let him cry it out. We tried laying down to nurse. He used to love to do that in the afternoons right before a big nap, but that did not work either. I was already feeling guilty about being back to work. I didn’t want our two full days together to be me being the mean Mommy who would not feed her baby the way he wanted to be fed, so I would give him a bottle when it was time for him to eat.
That was it. Out of the blue and with no warning signs, Leo decided breastfeeding was not for him. That feeling of my son not wanting to nurse hit me harder than I thought it ever would. I thought I was the one calling the shots and we were going to start weaning when it got closer to Leo’s first birthday. This feeling of being not in control and not feeling wanted really sucked. I just kept thinking that we had come so far and worked so hard towards “our” goal and for it to end without warning signs did not sit well.
I have an extremely supportive and loving husband who tried to remind me that we have a very happy and healthy baby. He is still getting my milk and it was going to be okay. He would tell me how proud of me he was for as far as we made it in our breastfeeding journey. I just remember feeling like I did something wrong for Leo not to want to nurse any longer. I felt ashamed that I was not able to perform the way I always thought I would, because I had “all the things” I need to be a rock star breastfeeding mom. I then had to set new goals for myself. With the support of my husband I decided that I was going to continue to pump so Leo would continue to get my milk. I set myself a short term goal of one month and a long term goal of three months. I hit my short term goal of one month of exclusively pumping and felt proud. It was challenging and frustrating at times but I could make it work. Leo is now eight months old and I am still rocking it out by exclusively pumping. There are definite moments of feeling ashamed, like I let him down, but those feelings are pushed away when I watched him learn how to hold his own bottle. He is growing, learning. and most importantly, he is happy.
So as I sit here at 3:51 am pumping in my comfy and cozy glider, I remember I am doing the very best I can with the cards I was dealt. I am still a rock star Mom. I love my son with every fiber of my being. There are going to be many more moments in life that I am going to have to change the goals I set for myself, but that does not mean I failed. It just means I need to go about it in a different way.
Click here to register for the upcoming Weaning Gracefully Live course.