When I was expecting, I would cradle my pregnant belly and daydream about nursing my little one in a cozy corner of our home. I imagined the first few moments of his life would be spent on my chest nursing drowsily in the delivery room.
Throughout my pregnancy, my excitement for breastfeeding grew with my cup size.
I hoped that breastfeeding would come easily to me. But when my little one finally arrived, I had a complicated delivery and quickly realized that breastfeeding was anything but easy.
When the nurses placed my baby on my chest, he cried and wriggled and would not latch. Then the nurse suggested we do his measurements and try again. But when he was placed back on my chest, he still wouldn’t latch. Without wasting any more time, I was rushed to a post-delivery room and hooked up to IVs and wires from every direction. My baby still hadn’t eaten and my breasts were on fire, so a nurse hand expressed a few milliliters of my breast milk into a tiny plastic measuring cup. I felt like a failure and a farm animal at the same time. The little bit of colostrum looked like nothing to me, but the nurse smiled and told me it would be more than enough for the night.
I spent the next week in that same hospital room with an IV in my left arm and a monitor cuff on my right. I couldn’t get out of bed to pick up my crying baby, nor could I find a comfortable position to practice breastfeeding, so I did neither.
Instead, I did what I could: I pumped.
I was given what seemed like a year’s supply of those tiny plastic measuring cups complete with lids and labels. By the end of my week-long hospital stay, the mini-fridge was fully stocked with bottles of breast milk.
I was praised by the nurses for my milk production. The pediatrician called me a mama cow; it was the best compliment of my life. She told my husband to handle the bottle with care and called it “liquid gold;” he has continued to refer to it as such since. When I was finally discharged, I was almost as excited to bring home my breast milk as I was my baby.
At home, I continued to pump like it was my job.
I meticulously measured milk into freezer bags, which I laid out and labeled with the amount, date, and time that it was pumped. At night, I slept with a cooler next to my bed so that I could pump and store my milk in a cool place without having to walk down the stairs at 3 am. During the day, I washed what seemed like thousands of pump parts. In my very limited free time, I became an expert on the CDC’s guidelines for the proper storage and preparation of breast milk; whether it was room temperature, refrigerated, or frozen, I knew what to do. My freezer stash was growing and I felt a strong sense of pride for being able to produce enough milk to feed my baby and have lagniappe for later.
Almost a month post-partum, I was able to get my baby to latch.
I would feed him from one breast and pump the other. My milk supply actually increased and I felt I was starting to get the hang of motherhood. I would add each bag of milk I pumped to the freezer and stare at my stash with pride. I felt that I was doing something great for my family: our baby could continue with a breast milk exclusive diet even after my maternity leave was over.
But when I called my boss to discuss my re-entry to the office, she informed me then that my position would no longer be available due to cutbacks from Covid. With no job to go back to, I suddenly felt as if pumping really was my job. Plus, with no second income for our family, saving money anywhere we could was more important than ever – one great benefit of breast milk is that it’s free.
Now, nearly five months later, my babe still nurses like a champ!
I’m also still pumping every day and taking pride as my milk stash grows. I exclusively breastfeed at home and he has an occasional bottle feed when he spends time with his grandparents – I have a milk stash in their freezer, too.
So, if you open my freezer and see there is no room for food, please don’t judge me. And if I hand you my baby with a smile then hand you a bottle of warmed milk with tears in my eyes, please don’t think I’m crazy. Just know that for the past five months I’ve been pumping like it’s my job, and it’s the hardest job I’ve ever done.