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Tit for Tat

Breastfeeding—there, I said it! Just the sheer mention of it can spur such a range of emotions and reactions from women. You have the mothers who would risk life and limb to be able to give their little one precious breast milk, and on the other end you have mothers who don’t bat an eye as they pour the formula into little junior’s bottle. I think that I fall somewhere in the middle of all this.

My journey with breastfeeding began last May when my son, Brendan, was born. He was four and a half weeks premature and had to stay in the NICU for a little over two weeks. So for the first few days of his life, I wasn’t able to breastfeed him because he was hooked up to several machines and breathing equipment. So in between family and friend visits in the hospital, a lactation consultant came in and asked me if I was planning on nursing. I was pretty much set on doing it (I had read a few articles about it and how good it was for the baby, etc.). So in my post delivery delirium, I said, “Oh yes!” I was totally on board when she brought in the breast pump and two small suction cups and slapped them on me and explained to me how to pump (things like, in the beginning, I would only get a small amount, and how as my milk came in, I would gradually start getting more milk.)

I got a few drops my first go at it and had the nurse take it into the NICU to put in an IV for Brendan. I was so proud of myself and felt like I was doing something for him. (I just felt so helpless, as we couldn’t hold him or feed him or do much of anything except stand next to his NICU crib and try to somehow comfort this tiny new baby boy.) Imagine my surprise when the nurse came into my room a little over two hours later to remind me to pump again. (I must have missed this part in the books or maybe I was just so tickled about the growing baby inside me that I skipped the chapter about how often you have to feed.) So once my jaw was peeled off the floor, I happily replied that I would be happy to do that just as soon as my hubby’s college friends left. (I wasn’t about to give them that show—I mean, hey, I was sober! Kidding, kidding!) She came back a few minutes later and helped me get unrobed. It’s funny how all dignity goes out the window once you have that baby! 

So I religiously pumped every few hours while I was in the hospital and when I was released and at home, I would set my alarm for every three hours to stimulate my milk production because at this point, Brendan was still in the hospital and I had to pump and bring the milk to him in our mini cooler (which I looked at longingly as one that we used to stuff with beer for tailgates!). The more I pumped, the more milk I produced and those little bottles were getting filled to the brim with mama’s delicious, creamy milk! We rushed them to Brendan every few hours when we went to spend the day with him and I even pumped at the hospital in the mother’s room. I was a pumping machine.

On day five, the nurse told me that Brendan was making great strides and could now be off his nasal canula long enough to feed “directly” from me. So we had to teach Brendan how to latch on. She handed me Brendan and grabbed my left breast in her hand and squeezed my nipple (I screamed and Brendan squealed as milk covered his face). Again, it’s funny how you just let anyone touch you after you have a baby—if the security guard came in and told me to take my pants off, I probably would have; that’s how tired and agreeable I was. Again, where is my dignity? So he got the taste and went to town! It was a strange sensation (since I was used to the machine up to that point). It was nice to have the nurse there to help with the latch and Brendan seemed to be doing well with it. I continued to pump and feed Brendan myself when I was with him and he kept getting stronger and better by the day. When it was time for him to be released, I felt like a lifetime had passed even though it was only sixteen days because it had been such a whirlwind!

In the lobby, Brendan, my hubby, and I waited for the parking valet to bring the car around when Brendan was released and I caught a glimpse of all three of us in the elevator door mirror reflection. We certainly looked different than when we arrived. My pregnancy glow had been replaced by dark circles under my eyes, my cute maternity clothes were wrinkled, and my hair had lost its lustrous shine! My hubby looked like he might bolt at any moment—he was driving and was super nervous to have to drive a 2,000-pound vehicle with a precious 7-pound baby in the back! Brendan slept peacefully in his car seat with blankets rolled up around his little body, no idea what journey was in store for him or for the rest of us.

We got home and I continued to breastfeed for three months. It was a struggle at times (well, most of the time). I was so tired. I know that new mothers experience fatigue and exhaustion, but I had no idea that it was so challenging. All you want to do is sleep, all the baby wants to do is eat, then they are ready to sleep but by that point you are so wired that that’s the last thing you can do. Brendan was a hefty eater—it was like he was in a competitive eating contest and at times I couldn’t keep up. One time I was on the phone in hysterics talking to my husband, threatening to give Brendan a can of liquid formula. He was trying to get me to stop (like he was talking me off a ledge or something!). Thankfully we can laugh about it now, but in that moment when you are so tired and exhausted and you have a screaming baby, you will do anything. And if I gave him formula, he would have been fine!

When I went back to work at three months, I tried to continue breastfeeding in the morning and evenings, but after about two weeks of trying, I stopped because it wasn’t working out. Maybe I kept doing it because I felt guilty about not bonding with him enough since I had to go back to work. I don’t know what it was, but all I know is that I see a healthy, strong, and fun-loving boy every morning who loves me no matter what! My hats and bras are off to all the mothers out there who do what is best for their kids and their situations. As long as you are doing the best you can, I think that is all that really matters.

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