I did it.
I stuck it out, and today was my LAST DAY pumping.
I didn't think this day would ever come, and somehow now that it's here, I feel a little guilty and a little sad. This time of my life is over, and that's strange.
For those of you who don't know our story, Isabel (though just two days early) was born tiny, and the nurses didn't want her using up too many calories trying to nurse (even though she had an immediate great latch). She was given a bottle and it was a battle after that to get her to nurse. She would do it sporadically, whenever she felt like it. I was really stressed about it because I was a new mom, and everyone tells you that your kid has to breastfeed or they will be an inferior human being. Or you will be an inferior human being. There were all kinds of desperate measures that could be taken to force her into nursing exclusively. But I was not willing to do that. It was going to be stressful on her and stressful on me, and I was already stressed because having a (at the time) 3 month old is hard.
But I wanted to give her breast milk, if possible. I know that babies who grow up on formula come out better than fine, but if I could produce it and contain it, I knew I wanted to do that for her.
I had been pumping from day one, every 2 to 2.5 hours on the dot, like clockwork. So I just decided to keep it up and pump exclusively. It was really hard. I was stuck to a machine for something like a total of 2 hours a day, sometime while Isabel cried for me. I missed the tender nursing moments we had. When company would come, I'd be stuck in another room for 20 minutes at a time. I felt the stress of making sure I could get to my pump when I needed to, or my supply would dwindle or I would be in pain.
What used to be a month-to-month struggle for survival became routine. It just became life. And before I knew it, I had enough milk stored up in the freezer to get us through to just about her first birthday, when I can start giving her cow's milk.
And today was my last day pumping. I think about all that frozen milk. Those bags are symbols of all the struggle, stress, and sometimes actual sweat and tears I experienced over the last nearly 11 months. But it was worth it. I feel like I've done something important.
I've learned a lot about myself through this. I've learned where Isabel gets her tenacity and determination. I've learned that if someone tells me I can't do something, you'd better believe I can. And will. But more than anything, I've learned that I really can't do it on my own. I've learned that my determination and tenacity are strong, but without God's strength, I am weak.
So I didn't really do it. God did it.
So what else did I learn?
1. I learned that (and it's always easier on this side of things, and every new mom has to learn this herself) you can actually relax about most things. If your child is fed, clothed, and content, you have done your job. There are no special medals for those who exclusively nurse, pump, or use formula. Anyone who says or implies that your child (or you) will be inferior as a result of your choices is simply a fear-mongering fool. Relax. Your child will turn out just fine if you don't nurse. I have a very close bond with Isabel, despite not having exclusively nursed. She's also whip-smart and very happy. I know other babies who are formula-fed and just as smart and happy. Be nice to yourself and just relax. Let go of some of your preconceived ideas of what is best and just do what is best for you and your baby, if it doesn't harm others.
2. You can do anything for just ten seconds. Okay, maybe Kimmy Schmidt taught me that, but the concept applies. I took it one session at a time, and sometimes, half a session at a time. Then one month at a time. And then it was done. If you want to do it badly enough, take it ten seconds at a time.
3. I learned a whole heck-of-a-lot about pumping. If you need tips, let me know. I learned way too much to list it all here.
4. There are some battles you should not fight. Not when you want to win the war. I wanted to be a happy mom. In order to do that, I needed to stop battling Isabel's strong will against nursing. It was as simple as that. And once I let go of the guilt I never needed to have, we were both happy.
5. I don't know more than nurses, but there is something to be said for a mother's instinct. If I had it to do over again, I would request that my daughter continue to nurse and then weigh her the next day. Because I really think she would've been just fine, considering she could hardly be waked to drink formula. And I would have said "hey lady, please take that paci out of my kid's mouth, and ask me next time before you do something that clearly can mess with nursing, since she is my kid and not yours," only in a nicer way.
6. Milk smell exists at all times, and grows more pungent with sweat. I'm super glad to be done with that.
So if you are an expectant mom, I know that you are probably overwhelmed with all the information and expectations placed on you-- feeding, sleeping, wearing, working, etc. You might have strong convictions one way or the other about a lot of things. But when you find yourself in a situation that is affecting your joy, make a decision and don't feel guilty about it. Because you get to call those shots, and nobody gets to judge you.
If you find yourself on the pumping journey, take heart. Set small goals and create a routine, and remember why you're doing it. Before you know it, you'll reach your goals and create more, and then one day, you'll pump for the last time and wonder how your child got so big (here's a hint: it's from drinking everything for which you've worked so hard!).
For those who would like to know, here's an update on our family since our heartbreak last week.
We are healing. Mike and I process in very different ways. I process through words, both written and spoken. Mike processes inwardly and therefore it's more mysterious to me. But we've spent a lot of time together over the last week, and that has helped. We've prayed a lot, consulted the word a lot, and had so, so many dear friends check in on us.
It is still hard to believe that it has happened, and that we have a child in heaven. It hits me sometimes, when I think "I should be pregnant right now. I should be six weeks pregnant and telling my family in person this weekend." I think, "I should start feeling nauseated." I think that the exhaustion I'm feeling as a result of the trauma is what I would be feeling like if I still had the baby. But on the other hand, my mind went through a type of denial, and I tried to convince myself I had never been pregnant, but I clearly was. I guess it just seems easier to take not getting pregnant over losing the baby.
I've learned that this happens so often. So many women in my life have experienced this loss, though many keep it quiet. I'm personally glad I didn't keep it quiet. I think it helps me to talk about this baby and I pray it will help others who (heaven forbid) have to walk the same road.
So we are healing. We'll never forget, but the Lord is good and allows time to help heal our wounds.
We were planning on plating a tree for Isabel's first birthday in May. We are now going to plant two trees, because we want to always remember the life that was created and ushered into heaven so early.
Thank you so much for your prayers and kind words. We are blessed beyond measure to have so many who care. Please continue to pray for healing and that we would trust in God's timing and sovereignty as we continue to hope for another child.