Rewind back one year. My boy was three days old, my milk had come in, and I was the most stressed out mother. Nursing was not going well. I kept trying but was getting frustrated – J. simply didn’t seem to be able to hold on. He was beginning to turn yellow from jaundice, and he was sleeping most of the time; it was really hard to wake him up for feedings. Hubby and I had no idea what to do. And since it was three days after the birth, my hormones were going crazy, and all I wanted to do was to curl up in a corner and cry…
That evening our midwife came for a check-up. She listened to my worries and told us it would be OK. She weighed J, and he had lost too much weight since birth. He was small to begin with, and 350g weight loss was about 12% of his birth weight. Not good. His jaundice wasn’t too bad – yet. But he was too small and too sleepy to nurse well.
We had to get J’s weight loss under control. And how? “Do you know anyone who could pump you some extra milk? If not, you’ll have to get some formula to get you through.” No! I don’t want to do that! “Do you have a pump?” Yes. I don’t know how to use it, though. “Let me help you. Here’s how you put it together. Jason, find the camera and get some photos so that you won’t forget. Here’s how you use it. Pump as much milk as you can, and get some extra just in case. You’re probably not going to be able to pump much at this point.” OK, but then what? I don’t want to give him the bottle. “There’s no need. You can use this. It’s a feeding tube; let him suck your finger and put the tube in with the finger. He’ll get the milk from that but he’ll still have to work for it.” But… “Look, you have 18 hours to make him gain weight. We’ll check in again tomorrow, and if he hasn’t gained any weight, we’ll have to take him to the hospital. He’ll be in an IV for a while, and the nurses will give him the bottle before you can say a word.” OK, we’ll do what we must.
This was the start of our pumping and tube-feeding weeks. Yes, weeks. We got J’s weight loss under control that night, and with all that milk (and a little bit of formula) in him, his jaundice began to fade. But he was still very small and not able to nurse. I kept trying – sometimes he could suck two or three times and then he’d just give up. So we continued with the tube.
Two of our friends, Jenny and Joanna, spent nights on our couch, getting up every two or three hours with us to help with feedings, until we got into the groove and were able to do it on our own. (Jenny is the one who started to call this process “you-tubing”, the term we used until the end.) It all took some getting used to… And so did the pumping. I was using a manual pump all the time (the electric ones sound too much like a milking machine for a dairy farm girl like me!) so the pumping was slow. But I had milk. Oh, did I ever… By the second day of pumping I had more milk than J. could drink so I started freezing it, bags and bags of milk. (A month later we had to go buy a small deep freezer – the little box above the fridge just wasn’t enough.)
So the days went by. More and more tube feedings. More and more attempts to nurse. And the nights went by. Often hubby would tell me to go to bed, he stayed up watching movies and holding J, feeding and changing him when he woke up, and then rocking him back to sleep. I got up every few hours to pump.
The hardest part was the comments. Most people around us were very supporting, helping with this and that, and encouraging us to keep going. But we also heard the “you’ll never be able to nurse, he’s so used to the finger now”. That was painful.
Thankfully those comments turned out to be nonsense. J. was three and a half weeks old when, all of a sudden, the light bulb went on. I was trying once again to get him to nurse, and he looked at me with this look that seemed to say “Oh, this is how it’s supposed to work!” And then we took off. Within three days he was nursing properly, and we were able to get rid of the tube. It may seem like a small victory but to me it was and it will always be huge. Looking back, that first month of J’s life was the biggest struggle during the first year.
I continued to pump. I found another mother who needed milk for her son – the little one had been through several surgeries and spent most of his young life at NICU. The doctors had said he would benefit hugely from breast milk, and since the mom wasn’t able to pump enough for him, they were relaying on donor milk. So that’s what I did – I had more than enough. (To find out more about donating breast milk, check http://www.hm4hb.net/.)
And I continued to nurse. I nursed J. exclusively for the first six and a half months, and we’re still nursing. And I’m not planning to stop any time soon. We had to fight for this so I want to keep going as long as possible. I’m really happy and grateful that I’m able to nurse our son. It’s been a special privilege, probably even more so because it wasn’t easy.
I wanted to share our story because I think it’s important to support new moms who want to breastfeed. I understand that things don’t always work out and sometimes bottle feeding is the only option. But I want to also share that sometimes it’s worth the fight. One year ago I wasn’t sure it would work out but it did.