That’s the minimum amount of ounces I’ve pumped for my son since he was born.
I would have an exact number, except my phone shit the bed a few weeks ago and Apple had to wipe it clean. If I had been on my game, I would’ve posted an entry on my exclusive pumping journey months ago and would’ve had a more definitive update. *headdesk*
But, that’s my guesstimate for a minimum. My last post on pumping had my total at about 9,500oz and I was pumping about 35–40oz per day. Seeing as how I was netting about 30oz a day through most of August, I figured that was a good minimum to go on.
That’s 130 gallons of breastmilk.
WHAT IN THE WORLD.
Anyway…this is a long one, so get comfortable…
I took the first step toward weaning this month. Over the course of about a week and a half, I prepped my body to move down to only 2 pumps per day. Once when I wake up, and once in the evening (not right before bed, but after dinner…around 8:00-9:00PM). Gone is the awkward middle-of-the-day-walk to the Quiet Room at work. Gone is the anxiety and frustration I feel when I didn’t take that walk and came home with a rowdy toddler and breasts about to burst. Returned is that slice of 45 minutes back in my day—to work, to relax, to whatever.
And…returned is my anxiety about losing this connection with my baby.
Yes, there were very few times we actually had baby-to-breast success, so the connection isn’t physical in the strictest sense. It’s more than that. It’s the result of a really hard-fought battle to force my body to support my baby. Sure, it was delivered by bottle, but I remained the source. I’ll support formula-feeders ’til the goddamn cows come home and fully believe fed is best, but being able to feed Joey breastmilk was my torch and I was going to carry it as long and as far as my body and mind would allow.
I think after you’ve lived through this struggle—be it infertility or miscarriage or both—you latch on (pun) to something. Before Joey was even born, I worried about breastfeeding. Knowing it was a struggle for my mom. Knowing my large cup size would work against me. Fearing a battle with postpartum depression would derail any attempts I made. Eventually, fearing my c-section would decrease my chance of success (which, in hindsight, it might have). I bought a book and read it cover to cover and talked with friends online and sought out all the support I possibly could on the subject. I was determined. I knew I might fail, but I would go in as prepared as possible and fucking fight.
I remember the first time I tried, only just arrived in the recovery room. The nurse helped me position him and asked, “Is he latched?” I thought, How the fuck should I know? One, I can’t feel anything from the neck down. Two, I can’t even see my boob, or his mouth. Three, I’VE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE. I’ll never if he was latched in that moment or not. This far removed from that weekend, I can’t even really tell you how much he took from the breast directly while we were in the hospital. I only remember being hooked up to the Medela Symphony, drawing out the colostrum—at first, in tiny amounts; later, in large and amazing amounts. We would feed Joey with a syringe until finally he was taking so much (and I was producing so much) that we had no other option but to go to a bottle.
Something like 6 or 7 private lactation consultant meetings post-discharge, and I continued to fail. Joey would spend a second on before pulling away and crying angrily at me, hungry, frustrated. Every time I tried to feed him directly, ended with my husband feeding him by bottle and me sobbing hysterically and fumbling once again with the pump. At every LC meet, he latched beautifully and drank plentifully—just hardly ever at home, when I was on my own. The breastfeeding group was heart-wrenching. I went twice, and left early twice, holding back tears. Joey just screamed and cried, in the midst of all these mothers feeding their babies. It was too much.
Looking back now, and after many conversations with a good friend, I don’t think I got the support I needed from the LCs. The advice was sound, but not for my situation. But I’ll still be forever grateful for the LC who told me to pump diligently every few hours in order to build and maintain a supply. That advice is what got me where I am today.
Over 18 months, and he hasn’t touched a drop of formula since the end of his first week of life.
At the height of it, I was pumping more than 50oz a day. Since moving to 2 pumps per day, I am netting around 20–25oz…usually, right around the 21–23oz mark. I’ve reduced my little piglet of a toddler’s intake to 6oz each before nap and before bed, and 8oz overnight (two wakeups usually around midnight and 4:00AM—yes, he still doesn’t STTN, but that’s a post for another day).
I think that’s the hardest part right now. Not weaning myself off the pump, but weaning him off the milk.
He asks for it all the time. Looks at me with a smile and pumps his fist like he’s milking a cow (sign language for “milk”). His face falls when I say no. When it’s time for his nap, or bedtime, he runs to the fridge and points expectantly and signs and coos with excitement. I hand him the milk and he goes and snatches up his blanket and indicates he’s ready to drink and sleep. Into his bed he goes, his milkies resting between the little chubby hands that clutch it tightly.
I moved him to limited feeds months ago. For a short time, he would ask for it in between “scheduled” feeds, but eventually stopped. He would come to expect it only before sleep, and during sleep. Occasionally, if he took a bad fall, I would give it to him no matter the time—I imagine, much like I might have breastfed him after an injury to comfort him.
Comfort. That really, truly seems to be what he sees in it. I mean, it can’t possibly be nutrition anymore. I can tell just by looking at it, scrapping what I already know to be true, that my milk has thinned and is more watery than it once was when he was an infant. My body adjusted—he eats solid foods, so he doesn’t need as much nutrition through my milk. So what does he want it so badly for?
Knowing that, how do I take it away from him? How?
Like I said…he asks for it all the time now. The smaller amounts aren’t enough for him. He asks for more when he’s done with what I gave him. He asks for it several times between naptime and bedtime. I know he doesn’t, but it feels like he knows the end is coming. It feels like he doesn’t want it to…
I had expected him to self-wean.
Well, actually, my fear for the first full year was that my supply wouldn’t last until his birthday. Then afterwards, it was that it would dry up before he was ready. Eventually, the idea that he would self-wean before I was ready became a possible reality.
But nope. Here we are, over a year and a half later, and he still wants it.
And I’m done.
Hoping to be finished before Christmas…at the very least, before the new year.
It’s certainly a hard pill to swallow. One laced with guilt and anxiety and, maybe, even a hint of failure again.
Last night, I stayed for dinner and wine at my nanny’s house (a common occurrence, because she’s the best EVER), and stayed too late. Joey was playing, then he got cranky, and fell. Busted his lip. There was blood. I scooped him up and tried to console him, but he wouldn’t have any of it. He kept trying to pull away, the tears streaming and the pained cries wailing. I asked my nanny’s daughter to get his spare milk from the fridge.
In another reality, I would’ve latched him and comforted him that way.
The second the milk hits his mouth, the cries stop. The tears dry. He melts into my arms, and I sit on the hardwood floor in the middle of the room rocking him gently.
I wonder, briefly, if I should’ve tried harder to console him without the milk. To prepare him for the day when I won’t have a choice.
In another reality, I might not be faced with the decision to quit before he’s ready. Time spent pumping, time separate from time for anything else, wouldn’t exist. Breastfeeding would be woven into the design of time spent with my baby.
I look down and kiss his forehead, squeezing his little hand that’s holding my own.
In another reality, we might have continued for longer.
I snuggle his big, toddler-sized, relaxed body close to my chest, and I wish it was easier.