I noted yesterday that this past Monday we were given the green light to stop supplementing Elanor with extra calories, which means she can now drink unaltered breastmilk. Which means we can try to create a breastfeeding relationship.
For those who are new to the blog, my daughter came out of the womb with some breathing and blood sugar issues. The breathing problems (which resolved in about 4 hours after her birth) meant she had to go to the NICU immediately after birth. I only got to hold her for a minute, and was not allowed to attempt breastfeeding (not that I even was thinking about it at that point). Her blood sugar issues meant we had to supplement her with formula to spring her from the NICU, although I began to pump immediately and gave her my colostrum via syringe. We also began to try breastfeeding in the NICU with the help of an LC and some nurses, but only had one successful latch after many sessions where she fell asleep or wouldn’t latch. When she went home I would try to put her to breast, but without much luck, probably due in part to the fact that she was becoming severely ill. At a week old, she was hospitalized with a life threatening infection. She was on an iv and ventilator for a week, and the week after that was too weak to suck-and was fed by a tube down her nose. Her final seven or eight days in the hospital, her suck reflex returned and she began to take my breast milk, fortified for extra calories to help her gain weight, via bottle.
The last few days in the hospital and our first few days home, I began to put her to breast again, and miraculously she would occasionally figure it out and drink. But I was scared. I was scared that I was hurting my daughter by not giving her enough calories…that it was wrong to make her exert so much effort…that she would get sick again, basically. My anxiety reached such a point (which, looking back, is probably an early manifestation of my PPD) that I stopped trying to breastfeed altogether at around the second week of December.
In part, I despaired that we would EVER be allowed to stop supplementing. Elanor left the hospital in the third percentile for her weight, and she seemed so small and fragile in those first terrifying days without 24/7 medical help in the room at all times or a short button push away.
So I pumped.
I have been pumping every single day for 10 weeks and 4 days as of today (Friday 1/16)…that’s 74 days. Seventy four days of hooking myself up to a machine and watching milk squirt out into hard plastic containers. In fact, I’m pausing from writing this post to hook myself up to my Symphony to pump.
My husband and my friends have been nothing but supportive. My good friend who has a son two days younger than Elanor has gone so far as to give me some of her excess supply to help me meet Elanor’s needs. I have taken Reglan. I am taking Fenugreek. While part of me despaired that I would ever actually breastfeed my daughter, enough of a glimmer of hope remained that I kept it up even when there were days when I fantasized about quitting pumping at every single pump. When formula was the easiest road, I resisted it even as I fantasized about it.
Now we have a chance.
I have a Lactation Consultant coming on Saturday night. I am, in equal parts, elated and terrified.
Trying to breastfeed feels very high stakes. I very much want to breastfeed my daughter to the full extent of my supply. But I’m so scared that Elanor will not want to. The bottle is inherently easier, and she seems to have forgotten what my breasts are for. I have tried to put her to breast multiple times this week and all she does is scream…she won’t even latch. I can not force this to happen. I can’t want it into existence. I can only take the advice I am given, be open to trying anything and everything (at this point, I’ve even considering re-birthing, which several months ago I would have fallen over laughing at the very idea of as WAY too “crunchy granola” for me).
I’m also going to start attending breastfeeding support groups, and am going to reach out to the local LLL, for all that I generally find them to be a bit preachy and pedantic.
I know that it is possible, and Elanor is a smart little girl, and all I can do is hope.