Thursday, May 21, 2009

I can't believe I'm admitting this........

I recently was introduced to a blog I'd never seen before, and I've grown to really enjoy reading it. It's written by a fellow PE survivor, and Mom to 2 angel babies. Her most recent posting really hit home for me, and it's what inspired the upcoming confession you're about to receive. Check out her post called Pickles.....it's very well-written and thought provoking. I know I won't do as good a job with mine as she did, but here goes..........

I have something you'll probably find quite surprising in my freezer. Go ahead, guess. Cherry Garcia ice cream? Nope. How about venison? (well, we're in the South, it could happen....) Nope, strike two. Ok, I'll tell ya. Small bags of frozen breastmilk.

I think this needs a backstory, don't you? It's painful to tell, but I've come this far so I might as well finish it. I am by no means a member of the La Leche League, not a "breastfeeding nazi" as I've heard the term used, but I had always intended to try breastfeeding when I had children. I am familiar with the health benefits, for Mom and baby, and just always figured I'd do it.

But the hard, unflinching reality of my situation is that I never was able to really breastfeed in the true sense, with either of my munchkins. Never. Preemies who are sick, on ventilators for lung issues, etc are not able to manage the suck/swallow/breathe routine well enough to do it, they just can't. The nurses in my hospital and in the NICU heavily promoted pumping the milk so that it could be available for my boys once they were ready, and I dutifully did my part. Starting on the day of delivery, and round the clock from then on, even while I was still a patient myself. Those lovely pale-yellow hospital grade pumps became my most intimate friends........pun intended. Nurses brought one to keep in my room, and there were pumping rooms outside the NICU too. I was given small plastic cups with yellow tops to collect the milk in. I'll see those cups in my mind's eye for the rest of my life. I desperately pumped and pumped and pumped until I bled, truly. I carefully collected every precious drop of the milk in those cups, and turned them in to the NICU secretary several times a day---festooned with little white labels on which I'd written Mr. L's name, and the time and date of the pumping.

Day after day after day during the NICU weeks, I pumped and pumped. Stressed and freaked out if I was going to be away from the pump at the time I needed to do it, always worrying about the never-adequate milk supply, looking forward to that magical day when they took the first drops of my milk and fed it to my child through an NG tube. One tiny cc at a time. "Ooh, today he's up to 2 cc". "I think we can try another cc at the next feeding". The milk had to be so carefully thawed after freezing, carefully kept cold during transport to the NICU...it was so complicated and so artificial. Everything that the supposedly "natural" process of nursing your baby was NOT supposed to be.

When the boys came home, I kept on pumping, thanks to the hospital pump we rented for an exorbitant amount, and then thanks to a friend who gave us her pump she no longer needed. With Mr. L, the supply of milk just completely evaporated after his first couple of weeks at home......despite taking fenugreek, drinking fenugreek tea, you name it, I did it. With Energizer, I lasted longer with pumping, but as time went on, my supply did dwindle from its already-low level, and I wasn't able to keep up with his needs. I drank that horrid tea again, took Reglan (weird that its side effect is to help with milk production), and mixed the few ounces I could produce with some preemie formula. We were desperate for him to gain weight, as he came home still only weighing 4 lbs. 4.4 oz, a number that is burned onto my brain. Pediatrician was labeling him "failure to thrive", and the idea of a feeding tube was always dangling out there, to be inflicted upon us if nothing else worked.

And yes, in case you're wondering, I did try the act itself, after the boys were off of the vent. They still had oxygen via nasal cannula, and the suck/swallow/breathe thing still wasn't happening, but I did try. Both in the hospital and at home. Energizer would just cry and cry after we tried at home; I could tell he'd not gotten enough to eat, and how could I do what the BF nazis would say? "Don't introduce the bottle, don't give him an option, just keep doing it and he'll catch on" etc. Hmm, I think I value my child's life and healthy development over the idea of him feeding at my breast. If he gets the damn milk into his stomach, but it comes by way of a bottle filled with milk I pumped, what the hell difference does it make?

Gerber sells a handy little Ziploc bag designed for breastmilk storage, and it is here that my story comes full circle. The bags are made to stand up on their own, and are marked on the side with graduated lines to measure the amount of milk inside. I bought them, and began using those to store my milk at home, rather than the hated yellow-capped cups. I kept on pumping, getting fewer and fewer ounces every day, until Energizer was 9 months old. That's 3 months in the hospital, and 6 months at home. I'd thaw out a bag of frozen milk and ration it out over the day, so that each bottle he drank would have at least a drop or two of my milk in it, and the rest was Neosure preemie formula (one of the foulest smelling concoctions on earth). Eventually, I reluctantly stopped the pumping when it became clear I wasn't going to get any more for my efforts. And I slowly dipped into my frozen stock, until there were only about 3 Gerber bags left in the freezer. The last one I took out and thawed seemed freezer burned, if you can believe it, and he didn't like how it tasted apparently, so I just didn't thaw out any more, and I left the bags there.

I'd notice them occasionally, and think "how long am I going to keep those?", but just not have the heart to throw them out. When I'd rearrange the freezer contents, making room for new purchases, there would be those bags of milk, STILL there after many months, then years......Energizer is 5 now, and the bags are still there. At one point, I said something to K about it. Something very quick, and embarrassing, basically "don't throw those away, I'm not ready" and he has nicely accommodated me. This is so irrational, so insane, but it would feel like the final acceptance of my failure if I threw these out. The final blow, the final reminder of how my pregnancy, birth and parenting experiences have diverged from what I wanted in so many ways. And it hurts. I can't put it any better than that, it just hurts. It's been several years, I'm supposed to be ok now, right? Truth is, I'm not, and I guess I won't be until I'm ready to throw that milk away. I never breastfed my sons in the glorious "earth mother" way that comes so easy to so many, is so natural and has been practiced since the dawn of time......but as long as I have those bags in the freezer, I have proof that my body did in fact produce milk at one point in its lifetime. Not much else even proves I was ever pregnant, other than the precious lives of my children. No preggo belly pics, no labor......but I've got that milk. Check back in a few years to see if I've still got it. Betcha I will.

5 comments:

The Queen said...

Jen, I think you did an AMAZING job on that post!!!! I could have written that post (all except the milk still being in the freezer :) ). (((((HUGS)))))

Lori said...

Sending many ((((hugs)))). That was a great post.

Alice said...

Great post.

You took me back to a time I had absolutely pushed WAAY back in the recesses of my mind. I had forgotten the stresses of pumping while Bubba Joe was in the NICU.

I'm quite sure I'd be keeping that milk too ... at least for a while longer ...

4onfaith said...

Love the post! I remember opening the freezer and feeling vindicated in the PE process by how much milk I had frozen.....and like you, kept as much as I could for worry that I would run out. When I had to stop, fear definitely struck!

K said...

I dont know why but I felt so terribly sad for mums of preemies - your post certainly was not a sad one
Anyway I totally get what you were saying
Thats is a lovely post