I am Mourning the End of Breastfeeding
I’m a mess. A crying, blubbering, oversensitive mess. I know this pales in comparison to what we’ve been through, but it feels like my heart is breaking. I know it’s the right decision, I know I’ll get over it, but I’m mourning it all the same.
As a mom, there are many milestones, hearing the baby’s heartbeat, the gender reveal, the first time they roll over, crawl, sleep through the night, etc. These are all talked about often. But there’s one significant milestone that doesn’t seem to get mentioned (at least it didn’t to me).
The intense & emotional moment when the last drop of milk you may ever make falls from your breast. That’s it. I’m done. I might not ever have that connection again.
The Story of Our Breast Feeding Journey
Before Adeline was born, it was my plan to breastfeed her. When she was born prematurely I knew it was essential I give her my breast milk. Not to victimize myself, but just like getting pregnant, just like my entire pregnancy, and just like Adeline’s birth, producing milk was a struggle. John put it like this in one of his “Diary of a NICU Dad” posts,
“While she (Adeline) bakes in her isolette and continues to fight for freedom, her mama is also fighting back outside in the real world. Fighting to increase her milk supply. Fighting to give Addie more of that medicine she needs. The supply hasn't been as plentiful as we'd expected. Stress, one of the outside influences that can impact milk supply most significantly, is part & parcel of being a NICU mom. The deck is stacked against them from the start. Add to that recovery from the c-section, the bronchitis, and lack of sleep from having to pump your brains out and you don't exactly have a recipe for a bounty of milk. But she's not giving up. Because Addie's not giving up. Fenugreek drops. Lactation cookies. Drinking water until it leaks out of her eyeballs. Constant snacking. Power pumping. Hand expression. Boob massage. Acupuncture. Hot showers. Protein. Oatmeal. Protein. You name it, she's trying it. She'll get there, but it feels like an on-going struggle. A vicious cycle of ever-increasing stress and pressure. You need sleep, but you can't because you have to pump. You need to relax, but you can't because you're stressed about not having enough milk. She'll get there. She's stubborn. She won't give up.”
Babies born as young as Addie was don’t have the ability to suck, swallow, and breathe and most wait until about 36 weeks to try. So I pumped.
Every 3-4 hours, for 20 minutes each time, 24 hours a day, I pumped my breast milk for her. I power pumped for an hour each night. In all, we calculated that I was pumping about 32 hours a week – basically a full- time job. I tried everything under the sun to increase my production and even when it didn’t work, I didn’t give up. I met with the NICU lactation specialist at least 4x a week and tried all the things John mentioned above. At 36 weeks, I was no longer producing enough to keep her fed and we had to supplement with formula. Heartbroken. They called me to just let me know as an FYI and I started sobbing. All I could muster was an “Ok.” before I hung up the phone. I cried for a week. I felt like I’d failed her already, my body failed to keep her inside long enough, and now I couldn’t produce enough breast milk to keep her fed. Even worse, her gut reacted terribly to the formula, and she got sick. I felt like it was all my fault.
At 37 weeks, we tried to breast feed. We’d do it for only 5 minutes a day because it burned too many calories. And since she was having growth issues they didn’t want her doing it for very long. Over time, we built up to 20 minutes, but we still only did it one time each day.
My Mindset Changed
For a long time, I was devastated about my production. I felt like I was failing. But then the I realized that food always made her sick but breastfeeding didn’t. When she developed an oral aversion, she still breastfed. When she was having intestinal failure, she still breastfed. What I eventually realized, because I produced so little, breastfeeding could be a positive experience with food. This was something I could do for her, that would not make her sick, and it was something I could give her that no one else could. Comfort, attachment, antibodies, and bonding like none other. Maybe my lack of production was meant to be low, so when Adeline needed me, I wouldn’t make her sick. Volume has always been her enemy and my lack of volume is her friend.
Finally, Permission to Feed
After Adeline’s malrotation was corrected, after her G-Tube was placed and her Nissen was done, a surgeon said I should breastfeed as much as she/I wanted. So breastfeed we did. We have been breastfeeding all-day, every day for the last 1.8 years. After surgery, we breastfed, when she woke up, we breastfed, after she threw up, we breastfed, when she was overstimulated, we breastfed, when she was tired and needed to nap, we breastfed. I haven’t been shy. I’ve breastfed her everywhere, and I’ve lost count of the randos that have seen my breasts; Miss Adeline has refused to be covered since about 1-year. I appreciated this [I think] more than most because I waited for it, because I pumped for so all those months, because it took a long time for her to have the strength and stamina to do it. We worked hard to be able to do it and I loved it so much.
I Knew It Was Time
At 2.5 years old, I felt like it was time to stop. When your breastfeeding child can say things like, “mama has two nipples” or “Addie wants to breastfeed now” made me think she was getting a little old. John always said that anyone who does a headstand while breastfeeding on one boob and pinching the other nipple is too old to breastfeed. She’d never sit or relax with me without breastfeeding, or as she calls it “muckanurse” (muck=milk). Breastfeeding a toddler is like attaching a cirque de sole performer to your nipple. She’d climb on me and twist and turn all with my nipple in her mouth, not so comfortable. So, I picked a date when we got back from Disney. I was going to stop breastfeeding and each week for the past 3 weeks I decreased one time a day until the last day.
We’re done breastfeeding. It’s over. I feel like my heart is breaking and I’m mourning. Some women aren’t as affected by it, and some don’t consider it a milestone. Some are relieved to be done with it, and feel a sense of freedom. I can understand that. But for me, it’s a different story.
I felt an indescribable closeness and bond while I breastfed her and now that’s over. It was my last link to my ability to nourish and grow another human being. I may not have other children, so it may be over for good. I may never have that connection again. It’s always hard for me to go through these milestones with Addie. Maybe it’s because of our unique situation, maybe it’s my personality, maybe it’s both.
I know I’ll get it over.
I know she’ll get over it.
I know it’s the right thing.
But my heart doesn’t feel ready.
Please tell me I am not the only one?