What does it mean to 'make it to a year?' Or more specifically, what does 'make it' mean?
I've been asking myself this very question for awhile now. It can mean that you breastfed the baby for a full year---meaning he nursed from you to get that milk (duh). It can mean you pulled a combo of breastfeeding and pumping for bottles if you are a working mom, or one who can't always nurse the baby directly. It might mean you gave your baby breastmilk without actually nursing at all, being an 'exclusive pumper' instead. It can mean you gave only breastmilk as a drink, without supplementing in any way. It can mean you haven't needed to supplement with formula, but you have started a bit of cow's milk in addition to breastmilk. Or maybe you were able to nurse just once or twice a day and the other feeds were formula bottles.
If we look at the bigger picture, 'making it to a year' really only means that you kept your baby alive/fed/growing and kept yourself alive for a full year. Does it really matter if you nursed, exclusively pumped, or supplemented?
When I admitted to my goal of 'making it to a year' I meant that I wanted to nurse Truman for a full year without supplementing. At first I just wanted to make it through my maternity leave. Then I wanted to make it to 6 months. After that milestone came and went without many issues, I went full throttle and pushed for an entire year of nursing and then came the 8/9 month chaos when sleepless nights plus a restless nursing baby meant something had to give. I do not regret my decision to give Truman bottles of pumped milk in the slightest---he has been more satisfied, slept better, and is growing into a perfectly healthy BIG boy. But of course I am sad when I think about that being the pivotal moment in our breastfeeding journey, when I went from nursing him numerous times per day to just twice, and then just once. Becoming a nearly exclusive pumper was not easy for me and yet we all survived just fine.
And now? We are exactly 9 days away from his first birthday. Still nursing in the mornings and occasionally in the afternoons when I am home. And three days ago I decided to stop pumping all together, which of course brought about loads of emotions that I was not prepared to encounter. I was only getting about 2 ounces during a pump session which seemed totally pointless and I decided to cut the ties a few days earlier than planned. I mean, was I just pumping for myself to make it to that magical year mark or was I doing it for Truman? It was hard to tell anymore. I figured I would be celebrating the detachment of that pump from my body and yet I could barely sleep the first night I didn't pump before bed. I just keep thinking of our roller coaster ride of breastfeeding and pumping...
Flash back to our very first nursing session: I remember that my biceps were so incredibly sore and seemingly shredded from pulling my legs back while pushing Truman out that I could barely hold my newborn baby boy to my chest. I remember the nurses helping me with multiple pillows, they inclined the head of the hospital bed (as I still hadn't made that bloody trek out of said bed just yet), and they gave words of advice. I'm pretty sure he latched on that first time but we were both pretty pooped out and overwhelmed by it all.
The Lactation Consultant visited us at the hospital on the second day. I loved Lori to death from the night that we met her during our breastfeeding class, when I was about 30 weeks pregnant. Nate and I both left that class feeling a little more confident that breastfeeding could be an achievable goal instead of just a hope floating by us. During her first visit to us, she gave numerous 'thumbs ups' to us as a nursing pair and she even called Truman 'Mister Perfect' because he had a textbook latch. I fumbled through the various 'holds' trying to find one that suited us best and although the football hold was kind of cute and fun, I stuck with the cradle and reverse cradle at times. I kept in touch with the Lori with frequent phone calls those first few weeks and I've been meaning to call her back to update her on 'Mister Perfect' and his nursing career lasting this long. She was a huge part of our success because of her kind heart, her patience, and her knowledge and I'm forever grateful for her time spent on us.
I recall nursing on night two at the hospital, in a horridly hard rocker---don't they know that post-partum nether regions are SUPER sensitive? I texted Hannah while I nursed, asking her if the intense uterus contractions lasted much longer for her. I didn't think I could stand the searing pain of my ute contracting down to a normal size with every suck, but sure enough that pain dissolved on the third day.
At our very first Pediatrician's visit at one week old, I was ecstatic to learn Truman was gaining weight at an acceptable rate. Nursing was working and even though it felt like he was permanently latched on my boob I was starting to enjoy this incredible bonding experience. Good thing, too, since he nursed 12 times in a 24 hour period sometimes for up to an hour at a time. So basically one hour on, one hour off around the clock. I remember those early weeks being full of uncertainty, lacking confidence that my body would do a good job in feeding my son, and wondering if it was possible that he was secretly starving to death. I feel that there is a lot of propaganda telling mothers that they cannot produce enough milk for their babies and supplementing is the only way to be sure they are getting enough. I am so grateful that I did not fall into that trap in those early 'scary' days and I feel completely blessed that somehow my body did it's job despite being under pressure to succeed.
The first time I pumped I was so discouraged by the teeny tiny DROPS in the bottles that I vowed to give it another week before I tried again. I asked around and apparently that was very normal but it still totally freaked me out and I couldn't bring myself to get into the routine at 2 weeks even though I wanted a nice fatty freezer stash for my return to work. Eventually I became besties with the dreaded pump of course but it was absolutely terrifying at first.
Looking down at Truman's little newborn body while he nursed was one of my favorite things to do. He was so teeny and curled up just perfectly into my chest and I loved looking at his chicken legs wrapping over my waist. I wondered how it was possible to nurse a growing toddler---I tried to imagine what it would look like from above, staring down on a big boy whose legs would dangle behind me somehow. Mind blowing: I simply could not picture it.
I was the lucky recipient of mastitis THREE times over: once at 3 weeks, once at 3 months and once at 6 months. Every time was absolutely horrid, complete with chills, body aches, red/angry streaks across my milkers, and near-mental breakdowns from pain/exhaustion. I always responded well to the antibiotics prescribed, though, and luckily Truman continued to nurse during those times, too.
I have so many memories involving my beloved/hated pump, it's hard to capture them all...
Pumping in my car....while driving (yikes, I know!). Trust me when I say that a hands-free pump bra and a nursing cover go a long way and I'm pretty sure it's not illegal and wasn't as distracting as you think. Pumping in my boss' office after hours, in a corner with lights out, praying nobody would come in the unlockable door. Taking those three clockwork pump breaks at my old hospital job, while typing notes, making calls, and literally juggling my job as a pumping mom. Pumping as a passenger on road trips to Missouri. Pumping during a bachelorette party. Taking breaks from visiting my family to pump in seclusion during a trip home. Pumping with a nursing cover in front of my in-laws. Pumping while knitting, while blogging, emailing, giving/getting foot rubs from Nate, eating, etc, etc, etc.
Not to be dramatic, but I endured blood, sweat, and tears for this breastfeeding journey. Blood: when I looked down at my pumping bottles to see pink milk. I must have rubbed my nipple raw that time and it scabbed over into a sad reminder of how much pumping sucks (get it?). Sweat: pumping in the back seat of my parked car in a Kohl's lot, not wanting to waste gas so I had the windows cracked instead. It was September and unusually hot and I was literally sweating at the end of this session, and then of course I was all cranky about sweating and being too hot. Tears: I remember sobbing while nursing Truman in the early weeks. It was in the middle of the night, I was exhausted, coming down with my first bout of mastitis, and feeling very insecure about my abilities to care for Truman. I cried to Nate that I felt inadequate, like I wasn't keeping Truman happy enough, and that breastfeeding must not be working because he wanted to nurse ALL the freaking time. Nate---as my level-headed partner must do---informed me that I was a great mommy and my milk was keeping Truman totally satisfied. Also, for the tears part, there was that time I spilled 2 ounces of freshly pumped milk as I was trying to screw on the lids to my bottles. Milk splattered EVERYWHERE and after I calculated what I lost, I did my best to put on my big girl panties and deal with it. But that saying about not crying over spilled milk does not apply to pumping moms, FYI.
And although I spent a huge amount of time pumping in the past year, what I'm choosing to remember the most and what has made a lasting impression on me more than anything else are the sweet times spent nursing my baby boy. The way his pudgy fingers rested on my chest. The way his round, half-asleep eyes gazed up at me intently. His teeny little jaw moving up and down to gather the milk. It's amazing to me that he instinctively knew how to nurse from day one and he truly taught me all about breastfeeding more than any class could do. The bond that we have experienced through nursing is one I will never do justice in this blog post----there just aren't words to describe how blessed I feel to make it this long in our breastfeeding journey. I know that many women deal with circumstances beyond their control that end their breastfeeding journeys sooner than they had hoped and I am extremely grateful and humbled that I could keep going without major roadblocks. And I know breastfeeding isn't for everyone and not everybody cares to give it a shot. But I can honestly say it's been one of the most amazing privileges I've had in my life.
I am done pumping. I am still nursing. We are mixing cow's milk into our breastmilk bottles created from the last of the treasured freezer stash. And even if he stopped nursing tomorrow I would still say that I made it to a year---the badge of honor I've wanted for so long. Being a working mom who breastfeeds is harder than I ever imagined, and it's been one of the biggest challenges I've faced. But I wouldn't trade a second of it for anything.
I hope that Truman continues to nurse once or twice a day until he wants to stop. But no matter when that happens I know I've done the best that I could do for him. And isn't that the ultimate goal in motherhood?
(my newborn baby---seems like yesterday. Maybe it's the impending birthday or the hormones that come with weaning/stopping pumping but I can barely handle these itty bitty pictures right now)