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Slave to the Pump

Dec 06, 2007 - 1 comments






I wrote this when I was at home with our child and really stressed with pumping, scheduling, etc.  I needed to get it all out - just for a peace of mind if nothing else.  I would like to share it with you - and maybe some new mothers who I may be able to help, in some way, feel better.

Slave to the Pump (started 1/2005; unfinished; copyright KLR)

As a new mother, I cannot tell you how scared I am!  Time and time again, I’ve read that there are no instructions on how to parent…and that is so true!  Yes, there are books that provide advice and magazine articles that suggest what a parent should do in certain situations, but I, as a first time parent, no book or article can really prescribe all the right remedies.  

First off, our little boy was born prematurely – at 34 weeks.  For the first three weeks of his life, I was a permanent fixture at Albert Einstein’s NICU.  My husband visited with our baby every evening after work and dedicated more time during the weekend, but I was almost obsessed with being there for our baby – I felt that I owed it to him to spend countless hours going back and forth to the Neonatal Unit – his home away from home…and I don’t regret it one bit.  I formed wonderful relationships with the angelic staff of nurses and the doctors that took excellent care of him.  

I had planned on breastfeeding and read a tantamount of material on the subject.  My husband and I even prepared a birth plan (and we were the laughing stock of the Labor &
Delivery Staff – after all, who’d ever really follow a birth plan during the chaos of childbirth??) that repeatedly stated the importance of breastfeeding once our baby was born – he was to be brought to my room immediately along with the Lactation Consultant, no ifs, ands or buts about it!  Well, you can imagine how having a premature child changed everything.  What was to be almost predictable, was now a complete surprise and whether we were ready or not, our little one was ready to enter this world.  All my dreams for breastfeeding were put on the back burner.  

Introduction – the Pump…the breast pump became my best friend and my enemy.  We have a love-hate relationship.  I pump because breast milk is what is best for my baby – that’s what I love about expressing my milk.  What I don’t enjoy is the schedule.  In order to produce a good milk supply, you must implement an every 2-4 hour pump timetable.  I found myself pumping like a mad woman – wanting the very best for our premature child, I pumped every 3 hours – waking up during the wee hours of the morning despite the fact that I was so exhausted that I could hardly keep my eyes open long enough to piece the pump parts together.  I even purchased fenugreek, an herb taken to aid in the production of more breast milk.   I am not sure if it was mind over matter, but I did notice an increase in my breast milk supply.  How happy was I?  Words could not truly express.  Truthfully, previously having a low milk supply made me feel inadequate – now I felt like a real woman….a real mother…a real nurturer.  

The NICU provided sterile 3 ounce containers.  When expressing my milk, the requirement was to use these containers along with name tags that the NICU printed and then bring them to the hospital for the baby.  I was pumping so much and now filling up the 3 ounce containers that the nurses had to freeze much of my breast milk.  Later, I found out that there was a pumping room available, so instead of pumping for several hours at home, I now left early and spent almost entire days at the NICU, while pumping every 3 hours.  This made me feel closer to our baby…I could now have more time with him due to the convenience of the on-hand pumping facility.  Guilt was on the back burner….for now.  Because I was spending so much time pumping, I had to remember to eat.  The nursing staff acted as my mothers and kept on me about getting some food in my stomach.  Eating well and at least three times a day is what keeps the breast milk flowing.  Hiro, the sushi guy in the hospital cafeteria made a delicious avocado and crab roll (my main lunch staple) served up with a side of great conversation.  We spoke about his sons and I told him about my little joy in the NICU.

Finally, the day came when our little one was released from the NICU.  It was December 29, 2004, just in time for the New Year.  Who could have asked for a more wonderful gift?  We were so happy…we no longer had to leave our baby at the hospital.  We would have our son at home with us, where he truly belonged.  However, soon after his arrival at home, the doubts, worries, adjustments, arguments began.  Although the NICU was our baby’s temporary home, I became so dependent on the schedule and staff.  I didn’t know if I was coming or going.  All of a sudden, I didn’t know how to handle this new little life.  I called the NICU so many times those first two weeks that our son was home, that the nurses probably thought I was mad.  I wanted to make sure that the baby was being fed at the right times – I was afraid that I would miss feedings or that he would have difficulty taking his milk.  See, at the NICU, the around the clock staff watched his every move and ensured that he was “nippling” properly.  My fear was that he would no longer suck from the bottle nipple and that I would have to eventually get the milk to him via the dreaded feeding (gavage) tube.  I started to have day and nightmares.  I would second and third guess myself and my husband.  This didn’t make things easier.  I was just so afraid that I would do the wrong things.  I kept feeling my baby’s head for the “soft spot” hoping that it would always remain intact, because if it started to sink in, that would mean that he was dehydrated.  I checked his diapers to make sure he wet at least 8 a day.  As breast milk is already digested, he was able to move his bowels regularly – so that, I didn’t worry about.

…and then there was advice coming from everywhere.  Friends and family poured it on.  “Premature babies should be handled just like full term babies – we’ve had two in our family and they are just fine,” or give him water – he’s thirsty, give him gripe water for his colic.”  This just served to confuse me more.  Was I doing the right thing?  Am I a good mother?  At that point, I just didn’t know.  I was almost like a robot, mechanically doing all the things the nurse told me to do when I took our baby home.  I fed him every three hours, changed his diapers religiously, pumped milk every 3 hours, boiled bottles and nipples, bathed baby twice a week, hand-washed all of his clothes.  And in the midst of all this, I watched him like a mother hawk.  Every sound that he made, I was right there by his bassinet, checking on him and praying that he would not succumb to SIDS, have a bout of sleep apnea or spit up in his sleep without me being there to clear his oral and nasal passages.  I felt like I was going crazy.  I was sad, scared, angry, lonely, depressed, tired.

Baby blues?  Post partum depression?  My emotions were a mess.

Now it’s several months later.  I started putting words to paper in January.  It’s June now and our little boy is 6 months old.  (this is where I ended in 2004)

.....(this is where I started again)

You won’t believe this, but three years later and it’s December 2007.  I decided to revisit my beloved Slave to the Pump, as a colleague has just become a new mother.  She asked me a question about pumping – sounding very stressed and it all came back to me.  I even sent her a copy of this so that if possible, my piece could help her somehow feel better about the situation.  Well, our darling son, who was 6 months of age when I took a reprieve (long at that!) from my story, is now 3 years old!  I took a look back at my last few entries and realized that I temporarily ended with questions about post partum and baby blues.  It was hard.  Like I said, my emotions were an absolute mess and aside from crying all of the time, images of smiling and happy mothers kept barraging my mind.  Was it normal to feel out of sorts?  After lots and LOTS of writing – and even more research on hormonal changes in women during and after pregnancy, I realized that YES, I was okay and not “wrong” for feeling the way I did (the guilt mothers feel for practically everything is unbelievable!).  My baby blues (which is what it was, as it lasted just a few weeks) was finally over and I was able to really concentrate on continuing to build the bond with my new and precious child.  

My husband and I grew closer.  It was difficult at first.  He did everything he could to make me comfortable, help take care of our then, baby – and no matter, I doubted all of his efforts.  Again, it was hormonal and through research, I also discovered new mothers with baby blues or post partum had patterns of what I call “micro-babying” or more accurately, almost obsessively watching over the child while thinking nothing is ever perfect.  When my blues were permanently gone, I apologized to my husband for all that I put him through; although, unintentionally, I understood then (clear-minded, finally) that I had hurt and angered him by my actions.

I am not sure how much more I can recall since the time last time I wrote, but I promise that as I continue this story, I will make sure to include any memories that happen along the way.  In the interim, I will certainly say that we have had some serious family journeys, life lessons, success stories to date! ..and the learning never ends.  I was telling my colleague, the new mother that “children make you even more resourceful and creative than ever before."  If you thought you were imaginative and could come up with tricks before – you just wait!  Moms and dads become all genres of artists (i.e., magicians, singers, painters, dancers, etc).  I remember that when I had my little one at home during maternity leave – I needed to do so many things in the house, but he would cry whenever I put him down, so I took a long wrap skirt I’d had in my closet, held him to my side, working the material so that I finally had it (almost perfectly!) wrapped around his back and underneath his bottom so that his legs could hang loose – and then around me.  It worked! ..and I was amazed with myself, but our baby boy inspired me without having a clue.”  

(a work in progress - thank you for taking the time to read..)

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by HummingbirdNC, May 24, 2009
Your story is identical to mine. Our son was born at 34 weeks May 8th 2009. He spent two weeks in the NICU of Mission Hospital in Asheville NC and I just moved in to the NICU sleep rooms there so I wouldn't have to leave him. I am also a slave to the pump, actually I googled "Slave to the breast pump" and your site came up, lol.

Thanks for posting this!

Jessica, NC
TheMunsellFamily @ gmail dot com

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