Tuesday, January 6, 2015

if I wanted it badly enough.

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Well, this is it...Rowan's very last full bottle of breast milk.

(Notice the date? August. It was about to go bad in my freezer. Bottoms up!)

More interested in the picture of grapes than the fact that her bottle was gone.

Oh, the feels. My emotions are all over the place, no doubt exacerbated by weaning hormones. But primarily?

(1) Pride. She's fifteen months old. I've been pumping since day one, and exclusively pumping for thirteen of those fifteen months. I mean, who even knows if she would still be nursing from the breast, had she taken to it? But here we are - exclusive breast milk for over a year, then cow milk added in slowly as my supply diminished. She's had about 80% cow milk for about a month now, but I've still been pumping three times a day (and getting a measly four ounces total), just to keep that little bit going for her.

(2) Excitement. No more waking up at six a.m., regardless of whether Rowan is awake or not, to climb out of my warm, cozy bed and hook up my boobs to cold plastic. No more praying her nap will last long enough for me to finish the mid-day pump, or rearranging plans to accommodate a pumping time. No more spending a half hour before bed nodding off as I complete that last pump of the day when all I want to do is sleep. No more washing stupid parts and pieces. And NO MORE PUMPING, WOOOOO!!!

(3) Regret/sadness. Rowie loves her mama milk. She'd happily keep drinking it if I kept offering it to her. How often do you get to feed something to your child that she adores AND that's purely healthy? It was her only sustenance for her first six months, and it's been a source of both comfort and nutrition for her whole life. So, yeah. I regret, a little, that I didn't fight my diminishing supply harder. And I'm sad. It's the end of a journey, one of the hardest ones of my life.

(4) Peace, courtesy of closure. And that's why I'm writing this.


Before I became a mother, I believed I could do anything if I wanted it badly enough. It was a belief born of a privileged life where I was taught to advocate for myself and marshal my resources. I don't judge others' struggles - barriers are barriers - but when it comes to my own goals, I'd be hard-pressed to find one that I failed at after giving it an honest 100%.

Which is why learning to breastfeed Rowan was such a shock.

Truthfully, I never for a second doubted that I would breastfeed my baby. It was modeled for me by friends, family, colleagues, and clients; I live in a liberal community that supports nursing; my husband enthusiastically attended breastfeeding classes with me while I was pregnant; hell, I even drew encouragement from my leaking pregnancy-breasts, knowing that it was a sign of good milk production to come. I never had to doubt my hospital's policies regarding skin-to-skin contact and nursing after delivery - everyone I talked to, from my OB to my birthing instructor to fellow mamas, confirmed that following recommended protocols to promote nursing was the standard, regardless of delivery method (which, for me, was a C-section). I registered for the best breast pump I could find and received it, along with all sorts of nursing and pumping paraphernalia: nursing pads, lanolin, flanges, tubes, membranes, bottles, bottle brushes, freezer packs, Ina May this and that, special pillows and bras and shirts....I'm not sure it's possible to have been any more prepared.

Except to have been prepared for the possibility that it wouldn't work.

Before Rowan, I had no judgements about formula-feeding. Really, I hadn't given it enough thought to form judgements. I just kinda figured that if breastfeeding was your thing, then you did it, and if it wasn't your thing, then you formula-fed. Whatever. Of course, I'd heard that nursing could be really hard, but I never considered why that might be, aside from having to be available 24/7 in the beginning. So what, I thought. Seemed like a pretty pleasant way to spend my maternity leave - snuggled on the couch, suckling a baby while binge-watching mindless TV shows. 

All this to say - I wasn't dogmatic about breastfeeding. I knew it had important benefits, which is why I planned to do it, but I also knew the benefits of formula-feeding. I'd read about gut health and bonding, sure, but as an early childhood specialist, I'd seen firsthand that feeding a baby lovingly is more important than anything else. Honestly, my biggest concern regarding breastfeeding was how my nursling and I would adjust to me returning to work after a few months. Would she refuse the bottle? Would my lunch breaks be rushed attempts to force a nursing session? Legit fears, no doubt. But wildly off-base.


Someday I'll write another piece about the trials and trauma that made up our early months of breastfeeding (and, likewise, of mothering) - about the visits to lactation consultants and pediatricians and obstetricians and doulas and occupational therapists and cranial-sacral therapists and psychiatrists and social workers. Suffice it to say for now that I tried EVERYTHING during the first eight weeks of Rowan's life to help her breastfeed. Eight weeks doesn't actually sound like much now, but the newborn time warp is unparalleled and intense. When you are struggling and crying and panicking for at least one out of every three hours for fifty-six days in a row - and when a brand-new little baby is also struggling during each of those hours - well. In retrospect, I wish I'd been able to stop earlier.

Stop trying to nurse, that is. We did combination nursing/pumping/tube- or bottle-feeding for the first five-ish weeks, while Rowan was sleepy and lazy at the breast and gaining weight slowly. With a newborn, adequate weight gain is pretty much your only indication of whether everything is okay, both with the baby and with your parenting. Struggling in that area was terrifying and guilt-inducing and just crushing for me.

Dada using the Supplemental Nursing System via pinky finger
while I pumped (and cried) on the other end of the couch.

Around five weeks of age, though, we (sort of) got the hang of nursing. The lactation consultant confirmed that Rowan was transferring sufficient amounts of milk, and I relaxed. I used bottles of pumped milk to top off nursing sessions here and there, but she primarily took milk directly from the breast. It was never easy, it was never peaceful, it was NEVER a bonding experience...but we sort of had it. Until, that is, the morning Rowan decided she was done with the boob.

Again, more details another time about the crazy-making weeks that followed of trying to force her back to the breast. The point is that we eventually reached a place where it was healthiest for everyone involved, mentally and physically, for me to pump and then give Rowan my breast milk from a bottle, instead of forcing her to attempt nursing at every feeding. It happened gradually, the shift away from the "nurse" part of our nurse-pump-bottle feed routine, but by the time she was two months old, it dawned on me that I was no longer trying to make Rowan nurse...at all. The facilitator of my new-moms' group congratulated me on my ability to switch to exclusive pumping when it was clear that nursing wasn't an option anymore, but it was never a conscious switch. It started the way a lot of things in parenting do: It happens here and there, and then you realize it's what's been happening consistently, and that it's working for everyone. So you go with it.

And that's pretty much how it went from then on. I never explicitly decided, "All right, I'm going to be an exclusive pumper." I didn't even know that was a thing until months later, when an old friend mentioned that that's what she did as well and recommended a book (Exclusively Pumping Breast Milk, by Stephanie Casemore). In the beginning, we already had our pump-bottle feed routine going; later, when I returned to work, it actually got easier (because pumping in the freezing, designated-pooping-bathroom at work still beat trying to entertain a four-month-old without picking her up for fifteen minutes multiple times a day). I just kept saying that I'd stop when it stopped working for us, or when my milk dried up; whichever came first.

Pumping in the car while Rowan snoozed in her car seat.

An adorable visitor during a midday pumping sesh.

I don't mean to imply that it was easy. At all. Ever. Pumping sucks (no pun intended). It's truly an example of the end justifying the means. It's the worst of both worlds - bottle-feeding and breastfeeding. I shouldered the troubles of nursing: the time commitment, middle-of-the-night feedings, hormone fluctuations, nipple damage, clogs, supply maintenance, vasospasms, DMER episodes. I also had the downsides of bottle-feeding: grieving our lost nursing relationship, finding the "just-right" bottle and nipple, being screwed if we were out and I forgot a bottle, judgement from lactivists who didn't know what that bottle the baby was drinking contained, not having milk warmed and ready immediately when she got hungry. And, finally, I faced challenges unique to pumping moms: the double time-suck of pumping and THEN feeding the baby, pity from both nursing moms ("I could never do that; I hate pumping") and bottle-feeding moms ("Why don't you just give her formula? It works for us"), washing endless parts and bottles, panicking when the pump breaks (which mine did...twice), being tethered to a pump while the baby is screaming right next to you, an unforgiving pumping schedule (every. three. hours. no. matter. what), avoiding social gatherings because they interfered with pumping times, pumping first thing in the morning (whether the baby was awake or not) and last thing at night (my least favorite pump), spending precious baby-naptime minutes pumping away.

Whew. And THAT'S why I'm (1) proud. And (2) excited to be done. And not at all sure if I could ever do it again, and therefore terrified of having another baby. Because when it comes down to it, I still achieved my goal. I breastfed my daughter. I'm still (3) sad that she won't be getting my milk anymore, but I've gained perspective - perspective that I can only appreciate now that the postpartum fog has dissipated, which is this: My baby was always fed. Whether there was food available for her was never the issue. I'm so thankful for that, and that I have a partner whose support made it all work. I'm not quite at a place where I can be thankful that we had the "luxury" of "only" struggling with breastfeeding and postpartum anxiety, as opposed to, say, homelessness or domestic violence or the like. Breastfeeding struggles and mental illness are major-league issues for new moms. But I'm grateful that Rowan has been fed, and fed well, which brings me (4) peace. And closure.


Yep. Closure. Turns out maybe I can do anything, if I want it badly enough - and if I'm willing to accept that it may not shake out the way I originally envisioned. That requisite flexibility is harder for me than the dreaming and pining, harder than the wasted efforts, harder than the wrong turns and little failures along the way. But, along with the opportunity to give my baby what I believed was best for her, it's the gift that pumping gave me - learning the power of flexibility when mixed with determination. True, I couldn't have done this without other considerable resources (a supportive family and workplace, money, access to pumping supplies, etc.), but I'm the one who did it, in the end. Eight times a day for three months. Seven times a day for eight more months. Six, then five, then four, then three, then two, then one. Me and my pump.

Maybe I just did it because I don't do well with spontaneous changes in plans, and I very much planned to breastfeed. Or maybe I did it because I'm damn stubborn and competitive, even with (mostly with?) myself. But I'd like to think I did it for better reasons. I did it because I learned to listen to my baby in those early months and respect what she was telling me - that nursing wasn't for her. I did it because it was a sacrifice worth making. I did it because I believed my breast milk was best for her. And I did it because I wanted to, badly, even when I didn't want to.

I did it.

Last bottle of mama milk...January 5, 2015!


  1. Great reflection on your journey, as a fellow EP'ing mom to twins congratulations on being done and on sticking it out for the long haul!

  2. Thanks, Melissa, and I'm impressed that you can make EP'ing work with twins! Way to go :)



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