This post has been a long time coming. Almost a year actually, because that’s how old my little man will be soon. I kept putting off and putting off writing this because I knew that my journey wasn’t over. Honestly, I almost talked myself out of publishing it today. That wouldn’t have been fair though because if down the road I have to do it all over again I need to have this feeling in writing to give me encouragement to get through it.
What am I talking about? Exclusive pumping. I have been exclusively pumping for my son for a year now. Fifty-two weeks, more than 50 times a week at the beginning. More than 40 hours a week those first few months. More time spent attached to my pump than sleeping some weeks. Washing pumping supplies 7-10 times a day. Every day, multiple times a day I get to hear the rhythm of my pump instead of breastfeeding my son like I would like to be doing.
One week early on when I was feeling frustrated with how my feeding journey was going, I was talking to my friends and one told me that I didn’t need to put so much pressure on myself because there are no trophies in motherhood. And it’s technically true. No one will ask my son on college applications how he was fed as a baby. No one will ask me at the PTA meetings if I gave my son formula. And no one, not even me will probably be able to tell the difference months from now when he’s drinking cow milk and throwing food on the floor like the rest of toddlers. I heard the words she was saying, but it didn’t really register to me because it DOES matter to me. It matters to me to give my child the start in life that I want to give him. It matters to me to follow through with my goals. It matters to me to give my son breast milk even if it isn’t in the way I desire to because I see the health benefits of it.
Let’s stop right here though. I truly believe that fed is best. I truly understand the reasons and choices behind decisions to go formula versus breast milk and vice versa. Sometimes your body, your mental health, or your life doesn’t allow you to breastfeed no matter how much you want to, and sometimes you just don’t want to which is totally your prerogative.
For me personally, I gave my first son a year of breastfeeding, and I wanted to give my second son that same start in life. I didn’t choose this pumping path though. Before he was born, it never crossed my mind that things wouldn’t go smoothly with breastfeeding the second time around. Right from the get-go baby #2 was nothing like baby #1 – shame on me for thinking they would be. We started our journey two weeks early, and he was a low birth weight. We left the hospital with him swimming in preemie clothes. One of the hardest moments of my life was going to his first and second pediatrician appointments to have the doctor tell me that he wasn’t gaining weight and I needed to consider other feeding options. No. No. No. This was not how it was supposed to go. Of course, his health was my number one priority so I started pumping (and pumping and pumping). Our routine became: try to breastfeed, give him a pumped bottle because he was still hungry, then pump. And repeat in 30 minutes because by that time it had almost been 2 hours. Those early days were a blur, and I thank God that my husband was home for awhile because I wouldn’t have made it without him. Yes, I saw a lactation consultant, but it didn’t help. G and I just weren’t compatible with feeding. (It took me a long time to word it this way so as not to put the blame on myself.)
My goal was to make it 4 months pumping, and then I made it. My goal became 6 months. And then I made it. My goal became 9 months. And then I made it. By 9 months, I had used up my freezer stash, and I had to start supplementing with formula for about 25% of G’s bottles. I hated it if I’m being honest. The first time I had to make him a formula bottle I cried because I felt like a failure. I felt like I could’ve tried harder, pumped more, or eaten more “milk supply boosting” foods. The truth is, I couldn’t though. Physically and mentally I truly gave it my all. By 9 months I was still pumping 4-5 times a day. I wish it was more, but once G was crawling the game totally changed. But here we are at a year, and I made it.
Logistics aside, I have never felt more challenged in my whole life. Life existed in 3-4 hour increments, and if we wanted to go somewhere I had to figure out how to store milk, bring freezer milk, and a place/time to pump. I was not mentally prepared for how exclusive pumping was 100% different than breastfeeding. Free time was for pumping. Early mornings and late nights were for pumping even though my kids were sleeping. Supper time was for pumping because the kids were strapped into their high chairs. When we had visitors, I would sit in my room by myself pumping while everyone else enjoyed playing with my kids. You have to use milk to make more milk and that is especially true with pumping. If I missed a session, my supply tanked until I added extra sessions the next day. There is no time off.
I am getting really emotional typing this because although I have zero regrets about doing this for my son, I don’t think I had any idea where to draw the line in regards to how much is too much for me on a personal level.
I’m not sure this is exactly how I wanted this article to go. It sounds a lot like complaining to me, but I really just want anyone going through the same thing to have their emotions validated. If you feel like complaining, go for it. If you feel like you no one understands you, I do. If you feel like there’s no end in sight, there is. It’s a tough tough journey, and it’s one that not a lot of people will understand. Mamas make a lot of sacrifices for their kids that often go untold which I think is the spirit of being a mom: we do a million things for our kids everyday without them even knowing it.
Today though, I am giving myself that trophy. It’s invisible, and no one but me will care, but my soul needs it. It needs it in order to feel like the tears, time, grieving the path I wanted, and emotional ups & downs were worth it. It needs it to validate the high fives I gave myself in my head, the pats on the back I offered myself after a long day, and the happy tears when I realized how much farther I made it than I thought I could. I’ve learned a lot this year; I’ve learned that I would sacrifice everything for my kids, but that I also have no regard for my mental health. I need to recognize that and work on it because a healthy, happy mom is the most important thing I can give them.
Please feel free to reach out to me if you are struggling with your feeding journey. Sometimes we need encouragement, sometimes we need a listening ear, and sometimes we need a friend that is willing to stand up and say “it’s okay to change your path”.