Nunu was born at 33 weeks and was rushed to the NICU. I didn't get to hold him when he was born. Everything around his birth is a bit of a blur. I remember making my husband stay with the baby because for some reason I feared they'd swop children and we'd come home with the wrong one. He stayed with Nunu when he was connected to the breathing and feeding tubes, while I lay in recovery. I was wheeled to my room, where I was immediately attacked by a nurse who wanted to collect my colostrum. Words cannot do this moment justice! I was tired, in pain, hopped up on morphine, hadn't seen my baby and everything was completely surreal. And here was this stranger groping my boobs and telling me the importance of this "liquid gold".
So here was the deal: I couldn't move as I had just had major surgery. Nunu was in the NICU and needed milk. Throughout the night, I had different nurses working my battered body trying to squeeze out a teaspoon of milk.
The next day, I got to see Nunu for the first time. I wasn't allowed to hold him because he had so many tubes. So once again, breastfeeding was delayed.
Once I was allowed to hold him, we tried latching. Several times. I had a lot of assistance but to no avail. Nunu wasn't interested. With him being a preemie, it also didn't help matters because they are renowned for their weaker sucking reflexes. Despite the challenges I was presented with, I wanted Nunu to have breast milk. So I made the decision to exclusively pump.
We made the decision to buy a Tommee Tippee Electric Breast Pump. In hindsight, I should have bought a double breast pump to save time. My milk came in and I started pumping. In the beginning it seemed easy. Nunu was still in NICU so I could pump at home and then bring my milk to the hospital. It was quite overwhelming as I would think I had pumped a lot, but then would arrive and see the mom next to me and her 2L coke bottles (not really, but it felt like it while I was holding my little 50ml sterile bottles).
It also seemed to be a never ending battle - I would pump enough for the day and would arrive only to be told that his feed amount had gone up and that I needed to pump more. My milk supply was slow and I wasn't producing enough, so I agreed to let the NICU nurses top Nunu up with formula. For me, it was more important for him to be fed and full than to be hungry and waiting for his mom to produce milk that might never arrive.
Pumping exclusively is not an easy road. I honestly felt very lonely and depressed at times. I had a lot of support from my husband, mom, family and friends but at the end of the day, its you sitting in the dark room at 4am trying to produce the goods. The sound of a breast pump still sends me into a cold sweat to this very day.
You see, when you choose to exclusively pump your entire life becomes about feeding your baby. There is little time for anything else. Your life becomes a carefully laid out schedule where you are constantly balancing the amount of milk you have against the feeding schedule of your child.
I would "start" the day (I use inverted commas because in the beginning stages of motherhood, do you even start or end the day? You just see it as a never-ending rotation of darkness and light) by pumping at 6am, hoping that I could express at least 240ml. I would then feed Nunu at 6:30AM. Throughout the day, I would have to time my pumping so that I would have enough milk for the next feed. It was emotionally exhausting thinking ahead throughout the day and constantly worrying that I hadn't produced enough to feed Nunu. I had to plan all outings around the fact that I needed to pump every 3 hours and that Nunu needed milk every 3 hours.
I went back to work when Nunu was 4 months old. I planned to continue pumping at work, but I felt as if I was drowning. I was teaching, trying to pump between lessons, having to keep my milk in the staffroom fridge (disguised in a cooler box) and then having to pump the moment I got home too. Add to this the mom guilt. Oh, that mom guilt will get you every time. I wanted to stop pumping and put Nunu on formula, but felt like I was letting him down and failing as a mother. I persevered to 5 months and then just couldn’t face that breast pump any longer. I put Nunu on formula and SURPRISE he survived.
To those exclusively pumping, I feel you. I understand that lonely road and the dedication it takes- this is not a decision to be taken lightly. Exclusive pumpers- you are the unsung heroes of the breast feeding world. No one can understand the cross you have to bear unless they themselves have based their entire life around feeding and expressing schedules. I’m here to say you’re amazing! And whether you continue pumping until three years old or three days old, neither will make you a bad mother! We are human and have to remember that.