The morning after my daughter was born, my husband and I were awoken after a few hours of fitful sleep in my hospital room by a lactation consultant. She came to the bed with a large green box and said, ‘it’s time to pump.’ She involved my husband as well, to make sure that he was watching and understood the importance of cleaning all the parts very thoroughly.
I was dumbfounded as she hooked the flanges up to my breasts and started literally milking me, even though nothing was coming out. She assured me that it would, and that I had to keep at this every two hours. She kept saying, ‘it’s liquid gold! This is the best thing you can do for your baby!’
My baby who had been born 16 weeks early. My baby who was only hours old and already had received a blood transfusion and was intubated and rushed down to the NICU. My baby who had been literally cut out of me while I was asleep only hours earlier. My baby who I had not even met yet.
They told me to pump by her isolette; it would encourage the flow of milk to see and smell my baby. My baby who looked like a broken baby bird; my baby whose eyes were still fused shut. I pumped by her isolette as alarms went off, as doctors rushed in and out.
I pumped by the glow of her bilirubin light, as she fitfully kicked and punched the air. I pumped literal drops at first; rejoicing when I got a few milliliters. The doctors and nurses congratulated me on my drops- after all, she was only getting ahalf-milliliter every 3 hours, so I was keeping up.
I pumped and hand expressed and visited lactation consultants. I pumped as I ate a lactation cookie; I pumped after drinking a dark beer; I pumped after doing all the things they said might help me produce more milk.
I pumped on my couch at home at 3 am; looking at pictures of her on my phone for inspiration, wiping the sleep from my eyes. I pumped before I left for the hospital in the morning, kangarooed my daughter, and then pumped again in her NICUroom. I pumped even when she started catching up with my production. I pumped even though I could never produce more than an ounce at a time.
I dutifully packed my tiny bottles of milk I pumped at home intoa cooler and drove it to the NICU.
My favorite part of the day besides holding my daughter, was feeding her a swab of my milk. The rest of it was delivered directly to her stomach through a tube down her throat- but those drops that I slaved away for, day and night- those drops that I got to feed her, made it worth it. To watch her enjoy and savor the only thing that I could really DO for her, made it all worth it.
On day 99, her needs officially caught up with my production. I could no longer keep up with her demands, but together we had made it through 99 days of breast milk for every feed. My milk was fortified to higher calories to meet her needs, but I had done it. On day 100 we started her on formula for some feeds, and my milk for others. I kept pumping an ounce at a time when she came home, 138 days after she was born. I pumped for 6 months. I got her as far as my body would allow with my own milk.
I used to think that my body had failed me because I couldn’t produce more milk; but now I realize that my body and only my body had fed my baby for 99 entire days and I am so proud of that. Even though it was hard, even though some days I felt like I was going crazy, I was able to do this for my daughter.