Moving On from Pumping

Feeding Forrest ended up being more complicated than I ever thought it would be. In the past 6 months, Forrest has eaten over 5,000 ounces of milk. I have pumped approximately 3,100 ounces. I have pumped for a total of at least 400 hours.

I have washed bottles until the backs of hands are so dry I can't use hand sanitizer or scented lotions, until my knuckles crack and my nails split.

I have sanitized bottles two or three times a day for 6 months. I have gone through 4 bottles of dish soap.

I have read hundreds of articles on how the movement to normalize breastfeeding is both a positive and a negative. I have used the hashtag #fedisbest and been told, repeatedly, that fed is not best by the worst of the breastfeeding advocates.

I have cried more times than I care to admit. I've given up on dreams of nursing, on dreams of exclusively feeding breast milk. I have given up a lot of my expectations and accepted the reality of the baby I have. 

I have pumped until one of my nipples was bruised and the other was bleeding. I have pumped through thrust, mastitis, clogs. I have pumped through an infected Montgomery gland. I have worn terrible, ill-fitting nursing bras for 6 months--even though I don't even nurse. 

I have toted a heavy, stupid pump back and forth to work for three months. 

I have taken supplements that upset my stomach, that taste like actual vomit. I have tried every trick in the book, from massage to cheesecake and everything in between. I have spent an embarrassing amount of money on different shields and supplements and tools. 

I have gone without sleep to pump. I have mentally calculated, over and over, the amount of milk I have in my fridge and freezer. I have stressed over how much to feed Forrest. I have woken at 3am to pump; I've interrupted meetings and doctors appointments and oil changes. I have pumped in my car, in offices, on the floor, in the bathroom. I have pumped in a weigh station on the side of US 20 headed into Ontario. 

I have pumped and pumped and pumped. 

And it's over. It's done. (Well, not totally.) 

The truth is, the Montgomery gland is part of what did me in. I can handle a lot of things--but I can't handle an infected Montgomery gland. (Did you know there was such a thing? I didn't--until one got infected. It's worse than a clogged duct or a dreaded milk bleb, at least in my opinion.) The infected Montgomery gland, the repeated dips in my supply every time my body was under any stress, the constant worrying, the constant need to pump... it was too much. 

I decided to wean one day and I just started--before I could talk myself out of it. Not that I'm really weaning anything. "Weaning," typically, suggests transitioning a baby away from nursing, but that's not the case. Forrest will just, one day, get all formula, instead of half. One day, it will just be gone. No more breast milk! Just typing it makes me sad. 

But the sadness I feel doesn't really overwhelm the feeling of being completely and totally done. The hardest part is knowing that, if things had been different, if Forrest has nursed from the start (if I hadn't gotten preeclampsia, if my milk had come in on time instead of days later, if he hadn't have had jaundice...), this wouldn't be happening. Looking at the "what ifs" and moving on from them is still something I struggle with. 

Watching the amount I pump each day (even though I'm doing it on purpose) is a struggle too: I inherently begin to panic when I think, I won't have enough milk... But that's the point. I won't have enough milk for Forrest--and it's okay. But I have to remind myself that it's okay, or else I'll panic. 

When I look at Forrest, I want to apologize to him: I'm sorry I couldn't give you more of this. I'm sorry we didn't get those quiet, special moments to bond. I'm sorry I'll never know what that's like. I'm sorry I couldn't keep going. I'm sorry. I will always try to give you everything in the world, anything and everything you want--because I couldn't give you this. 

There is a tendency, I think, for mothers to feel they have to martyr themselves. Most mothers (and maybe this is a generalization on my part) would lie down their lives for their children. In many ways, for the last 6 months, I have attempted to martyr myself: I keep pumping, through pain and unhappiness and anxiety and depression, for the simple fact that I felt guilty about it. I felt like I was a bad mother for all the things I couldn't change (the preeclampsia, the jaundice, the rough start)--so I would do the absolute best at the one thing I could do, breast milk. But my body fought me every step of the way. 

At a certain point, I had to accept the truth: I couldn't fight my body, and punish myself, anymore. It was time to move on from being mommy martyr and just be a mom. 

Packing up the little bottles, the tiny colostrum bottles I first pumped into, the SNS I dutifully taped to my boob every night in the hospital, the little Similac bottles we gave Forrest his first 20 ml bottles with, was one of the hardest parts. But I did it: I bagged them up and put them in a box. In a week, I'll probably pack my pump back into the box and store it in the garage.  I will defrost all of the milk I have in my freezer. 

One day, very soon, Forrest will get his last bottle containing any breast milk. There is a part of me that thinks, we can reverse this! We can pump frantically again! But I know it's not worth it, emotionally, for me anymore, as much as it hurts to think of Forrest not getting anymore milk from me. One day, it will just be gone, over, done. And we'll just have to keep going, like we have the last six months.

And the best part is, one day, this won't even matter. One day it won't hurt to think of the "what ifs", the "I could have..." One day, this will just be a memory and I won't have to feel guilt over it anymore.