Sure, I was nervous that it would hurt or that I’d struggle with getting the latch right. I was nervous about producing enough milk. I was nervous about being a human pacifier for months on end. I worried about all of the normal things that moms who hope to breastfeed worry about.
But that’s not what *scared* me.
I was scared that too much pressure to breastfeed would break me. I was scared that when my milk came in, I’d be taken back to those first painful days after we lost our son. All I could do was take a long shower, put cabbage leaves in my bra, and hope that the engorgement would pass quickly. Those early days were followed by a month of leaking before my body fully accepted that there was no baby to feed.
I was scared that breastfeeding this time would be too much for me to handle. I knew that because of our previous loss I was already more susceptible to postpartum anxiety and depression. I knew that I was likely to experience another wave of grief triggered by our healthy baby. I wanted to be gentle with myself so I could be healthy and present to enjoy our sweet girl.
Being gentle with myself and letting go of breastfeeding expectations was one of the best things I’ve done for myself and my baby so far.
Like so many, my baby and I ran into trouble nursing early on. She was a little early and very jaundiced which made her sleepy and lethargic. Her half-hearted attempts at latching pushed me to pump. My boobs rose to the challenge, she guzzled bottles of breast milk with enthusiasm, and she recovered from jaundice quickly. But soon we were in a challenging bottle feeding/pumping loop and the magical nursing relationship eluded us. What could we do?
We could have fought through it like so many strong mamas do. I could have continued seeing lactation consultants. I could have kept up the triple feeding (nursing attempts, pumping, bottle feeding, repeat). But I didn’t. I didn’t want to put my heart through it and I couldn’t push my precious baby through it. So I pumped and my sweet baby ate. I couldn’t quite process what was happening, but it was working for us. We kept going.
I wondered if I should be mourning the nursing relationship… and dear friends gave me space to talk about that if I needed to. But that grief never came. I pumped and was thankful for the release – pumping milk to feed a baby. Thank goodness. I cuddled my baby close as I gave her bottles and I couldn’t imagine feeling any more bonded to her. I watched my husband cuddle and feed her and again, couldn’t imagine it any other way. This worked for us.
Eight months later and pumping is still working for us.
In so many ways, we got very lucky. Not only have I been able to feed my chubster of a baby, but because I’m exclusively pumping, I’ve been able to donate extra milk. I think about Arthur, the baby I didn’t get to feed, every time I share milk with our local milk bank or a few other precious babes in my community. Pumping and sharing seems like such a fitting tribute to both the baby I lost and the baby I get to raise. My two kiddos partnered up for this particular philanthropic project.
We’ve been successful with breastfeeding, but not because we hit a “breastfed for X number of months” or any other external goals. My baby and I are happy and healthy and have found a way to enjoy this journey. I’m really glad I prioritized being gentle with myself and would encourage other mamas to do the same as you’re figuring it out!