Life After Birth | Caitlin + Andy

Life After Birth | Caitlin + Andy

As told by Caitlin:

The birth of my son isn’t a story that would be helpful for anyone to read. The long story short is my beautiful rainbow baby boy was born on September 9, 2014.

So we will skip to a half hour after his birth. I finally get to hold my son after what feels like an eternity. The nurse laid him on chest and I guided him to my breast. It didn’t take him long to latch and he laid contently with me for hours. The first few hours were precious and I’ll never forget how it felt to finally have my son in my arms.

Against nurses orders, I kept my son in bed with me for pretty much the entire time we were admitted. On day 4 we headed home, he had only lost 5 ounces since birth. By his one week appointment he was 3oz over birth weight! We were so excited! Breastfeeding was working! Our son was thriving! We at least had that, even if we lost the birth experience we wanted.

At 8 weeks postpartum I had to return to work. I had 100oz in the freezer and I was terrified I’d run out. The first day the sitter went through 30oz of milk and I had only pumped 12oz in the 11 hours we were apart. So I started to wake up half hour earlier each day to pump. And an extra session at work. And an extra at night. Because he was blowing through 20-30oz a day on average at daycare. We didn’t know about paced feeding, and he seemed to only be content with a bottle in his mouth. We moved houses when he was 7 months old, and I had over 1,000 ounces of milk in the freezer. I contacted a human milk bank who after some screening accepted my donation. By his first birthday I had another 1,000 ounces to donate. We had made it to one year of breastfeeding and I felt so accomplished! We made it!

Well, my milkiedoodle didn’t get the memo that we were only aiming for a year. I started to wean off the pump but a Mom nearby needed milk for her baby, so I kept pumping for her little one, donating around 2,000oz over three months. In addition to the donor baby, I was sending 10-12oz a day with my son to daycare. I had to get several forms signed that he was to have my milk and not cow milk at school. I never thought it would be such a hassle to give my son what was best for him.

Well, his second birthday rolls around and I’m thinking that I should stop pumping finally! Weaning off the pump was proving difficult, but by 34 months I was finally done pumping!! Maybe I’m crazy for all that time pumping, but I kept thinking I had to do what was best for my son. And I had this obsession that if I couldn’t be with him, at least my milk could be.

Preschooler breastfeeding, Life After Birth Project

His third birthday comes to pass and we’re still breastfeeding on demand. I made the decision that I needed to start weaning him because he would never initiate weaning himself. We first dropped the on demand nursing and went to three sessions a day – morning, after work, and bedtime. Next to go was after work, and at 3 years 3 months we cut out the morning session. He asks frequently about having milk, and even though I explain it’s for bedtime only, he seems to understand but shows disappointment. On March 9 he will be 3.5 years old and that will be our last nursing session, unless he stops somewhere between then and now.

preschooler breastfeeding, Life After Birth Project

I feel so sad to think that this time is coming to an end. I felt like nursing my son was the first and only thing to go right in my motherhood experience. We made it to our goal of a year and kept exceeding the goal, so I’m not disappointed with that. It just seems so sad that one day soon I’ll put him to bed without that tender moment, and he may cry and fuss until he settles without his milk. I know that he will be ok, but after all we’ve been through, it’s hard to let this last bit of babyhood go.

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More about the LIFE AFTER BIRTH PROJECT

More weaning stories at the LAST LATCH PROJECT

Photos: Bergen Howlett

Life After Birth | Kelsey + James

Life After Birth | Kelsey + James

As told by Kelsey:

Picture this: a plastic pregnancy test resting carefully on the toilet paper holder in the last bathroom stall of my cushy office bathroom. I am so confident that there is no possible way I am pregnant that I take the test at work, but those two obvious pink lines glare up at me. There is no mistaking. Despite years of ovarian cysts, irregular periods and more than one doctors opinion on the matter – I am indeed pregnant.

I approach my best work friend, petrified, with tears rolling down my face and we escape to the nearest conference room to panic-cry together. Even though there is no room in my current life for pregnancy, much less a living, breathing human, there was never a question of will I or won’t I? In that moment, I become a mother. Against all odds.

I’m 25 and I work really hard in the oh so volatile mortgage business. I also really, really like whiskey, wine, my local hole-in-the-wall bar and my new boyfriend. We’ve only been together seven and a half months and I think he’s the one. This wasn’t how I wanted to figure that out but here we go – careening through a world of diapers, bottles, sonograms, gender reveal parties and pregnancy hormones. These are things I know nothing about. I’m very type A in my business world, but when it comes to this, I am lost.

Fast forward roughly 8 months and I’m in the hospital, about to give birth to my tiny human. I’m 9 days past my due date and I’m ready to be done. I took approximately zero birth classes and approximately zero hospital tours. I’m winging this knowing only a handful of things:

    1. I do not want a c-section. God please don’t let me need a c-section
    2. I want to hold my little human the second he his born, and…
    3. I want to breastfeed

 

I’m ill prepared for any of this. I lay in this bed, laboring (for a grand total of 29 hours – ugh) and I’m kicking myself for not reading the books, not taking the classes, not doing anything more than spending an unreasonable amount of hours constructing the perfect gift registry for my baby shower. I will share you the grueling details of my labor but eventually, miraculous, exhaustedly, I push out an eight pound, twelve ounce little boy. He is covered in what I now know is vernix, but I believe I then referred to it as “slime.” He’s being thrown on my bare belly in a manner that I can only compare to a Thanksgiving turkey being slapped in the pot. I am shocked by how heavy he actually is (though maybe I’m just exhausted) and disturbed that I don’t actually want to hold this thing. Why didn’t they clean him off first? I had a particularly hard labor and the fact that it did not result in c-section is a miracle, and largely in part to my incredible staff off delivery nurses. I was warned half way through pushing that once James Andrew was born, he was going to go off to the NICU. In that moment, I was crushed.

If you’ll remember, one of the only things I knew I wanted to do was breastfeed my son. I was already troubled by my lack of immediate connection with my own flesh in blood, and now he’s going to be snatched away from me before I even get a chance to put him to my breast? I remember being completely and utterly defeated. I was sore, hormonal and convinced that if I couldn’t immediately breastfeed him, he was never going to latch.

The rest of that night was long, and confusing, and overwhelming. My partner and I were finally allowed to visit our son in the NICU around 2 AM, but we weren’t allowed to hold him. Another missed nursing opportunity and another defeat to mark down in my book.

6 AM came both slowly and quickly and I’m up. I need to get to my baby so he can get on the boob and we can get this party started. I’m impatient and no nurses are coming and my boyfriend won’t wake up so I hobble my way to the NICU. I’m sore, but determined. I get there but I can’t go in. The nurses are making their rounds and don’t you remember we told you there were no visitors during the 7 o’clock hour and did you walk here? I get wheeled back to my room where I sob.

A lactation consultant shows up shortly after and shows me how to use the pump. I try, but I’m over-stimulated and frustrated and the machine tugging at my body makes me so uncomfortable that I ask her to leave.

FINALLY my boyfriend is awake. We go back to the NICU and after what seems like forever, I get to hold my baby again and put him to breast. Now that he is clean and bundled up and smells like a newborn, I am slightly more enamored, but become frustrated again when he doesn’t instantly latch. I’m uneducated, really, and again I’m kicking myself. The nurse suggests we try some formula and I get some rest. I know this is not what I want but reluctantly, I agree, because after all, fed is best. The nurse also promises she will call for another lactation consultant to visit James and myself later that day. I rest and I wait. This consultant is more aggressive, but helpful. I’m uncomfortable presenting my bare chest to what feels like world, but she is patient and kind and sits with us for almost an hour. James latches, but quickly falls asleep. This is progress.

A couple days pass and it’s time for me to go home. James has to stay. Everyone says to go home and enjoy a few nights of rest without a crying baby, but my heart physically aches when I leave my boy. We planned to go home as a happy and healthy family of three and this isn’t right. I spend as much time at the hospital as I can, and any time at home attached to my pump, which is only slightly less excruciating than the hospital pump. The motor whirls in a way that I swear seems to say, “bring him home” and I think I’m going a little insane. I think to myself, is this even worth it? It’s been five days and my milk still isn’t in.

Just as I am certain I’m going to quit, I manage to pump my first ounce of colostrum and my Type A personality starts to kick in. I’m going to do this.

 

And I do.

breastfeeding mother and her toddler son in black and white

 

Today my son is almost 14 months old and still nurses 2-3 times a day. I went back to work full-time when he was 3 months old, but even with that, I managed to pump 3 times a day and he remained exclusively breastfed until he was around 10 months old.

This breastfeeding journey has been the pinnacle of my experience as a mother. I had this innate need to do this for my son and that along with the support and advice from my local community has been incredible, for lack of a better term.

I have been guided by seasoned mamas through low supply, nursing strikes, clogged ducts and pumping during work. My sons absolute love for “milkies” has gotten me through cracked nipples, the exhaustion of cluster feeding and kept me going when I was certain I couldn’t on the pump. I have no words to describe how challenging pumping at work was for me. I never bonded with my pump so each session was slightly uncomfortable, and my office did not provide the most relaxing of spaces to take care of business. Despite this, I did it. Three times a day. Every day. For 9 months.

Breastfeeding was not always something I loved. It was more-so something I had to do for James but luckily, eventually, it stopped being something to just get through and became a true bond between a mother and son.

I am thankful for our nursing relationship every single day. I am proud to have nourished him for almost 14 months. I am proud to continue to be able to provide him with “milkies” and comfort and warmth when he needs it. I am in love with the way his face lights up when I offer his said “milkies?” and I am happy that he chooses to let me nourish and comfort him still. I know our days are numbered as our sessions grow further and farther between. As they become shorter and shorter. As the distraction of just about anything, including Bergen’s camera shutter, is enough to cause him to pull off and pop back on approximately 2000 times in a 3 minute time span, but for as long as we can do this in tandem, I plan to.

Being a mom has changed me. Breastfeeding has changed me. These acts have made me selfless and aware and stronger. It has changed my personality in huge ways. It has opened my heart and forced it to double, maybe triple, in size to fill with love for my babe. It has brought new challenges, new reasons to worry. Motherhood has brought a different set of struggles and an entirely different season of life, but at the end of each day when James and I sit down in that old wooden rocking chair and I nurse him and rock him until he falls asleep, I count my blessings and cherish each moment of THIS life.

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More about the LIFE AFTER BIRTH PROJECT

More about the BIRTH STORIES PROJECT 

More weaning stories at the LAST LATCH PROJECT

Photos: Bergen Howlett

Life After Birth: Kayla’s Exclusive Pumping Journey

Life After Birth: Kayla’s Exclusive Pumping Journey

As told by Kayla:

I pulled my last brick of breastmilk out of the deep freezer last night. There’s enough for 10 more bottles. I could have done my usual and prepped 4 bottles for today. That’s 3 for daycare and 1 for home. That would mean I’d only have two more bedtimes when we got to snuggle our little love and give her a bottle. I decided to not send any to daycare so I can extend our evening bottles for 10 more days. Ten sweet nights and then our nightly routine of quiet, no electronics, just us rocking would be done. I’d promised myself we would wean from the bottle when the breastmilk was gone. Now, here we were, at the end of the milk, and I’m not sure I feel ready.

 

 

Which kind of sums up my entire breastfeeding journey. I was a formula kid, as I think most kids born in the late 80s were. For a variety of reasons, including ease of going out and about, financial impact, and health benefits, I knew I wanted to breastfeed from the minute I found out I was pregnant. If I had to do formula, that was okay, because I TRULY believe that FED IS BEST and if I couldn’t breastfeed, then she would be just fine on formula.

Toward the end of my pregnancy, as I read more and more about latches and breastfeeding, I started to think I might have flat nipples. So I hired an IBCLC for a consult. She came over, confirmed that I did have flat nipples, and then we talked about how people could be successful despite anatomical challenges. I also asked for proper sizing on my pump flanges, but she had zero experience with the pump I was using and ended up not being terribly helpful in that regard.

Attempting to Direct Nurse

When Elizabeth was born, we had immediate skin to skin and an LC who came in to help us latch before I was even out of the delivery room. It didn’t really go super well, but we were hopeful it’d get easier. Throughout my hospital stay, I saw 3 different LCs, plus I had nurses helping me try to latch. I tried nipple shields. One LC even barged into our room to tell us that she heard the baby crying from the hall and that Elizabeth was starving and I needed to feed her. I tried, and tried, and tried.

Less than 48 hours after Elizabeth was born, my nipples were cracked and bleeding. But it wasn’t until the final LC came in and talked to me that I finally found the relief I needed. She was the first LC to look at Elizabeth and me and see that we couldn’t continue the way we were going. She told me to start supplementing with formula while we figured out the latch.

In the journal I was keeping at the time, I wrote,

“When I got home and tried to have her latch and my whole body tensed and I started crying from the pain, I finally gave myself permission to try something else and take care of myself. Elizabeth needs a mom, not a martyr. As long as she is fed, I’m doing my job well.”

We gave her formula. She was happy, and I wasn’t in pain. I called my best friend, who had exclusively pumped, to come over and show me how to use the pump. I cried in her arms for a bit as I overcame the feelings of failure for not being able to do “the most natural thing in the world.”

Another excerpt from my journal:

“I realized that the only times I was really holding her was when I was trying to feed her. Which was super painful and resulted in somewhat delayed bonding. I was starting to associate her with pain.  It’s been better since I got a bit more selfish and snuggled her just to snuggle her.  And also since I stopped forcing myself to breastfeed. I’m pumping and supplementing with formula, and my stress levels are so much lower. Life is good. :)”

That began my exclusive pumping journey. I did meet a few times with the IBCLC at our pediatrician, but between my flat nipples and Elizabeth’s lip tie, it just wasn’t working, and so I decided to exclusively pump.

Exclusively Pumping

When I started pumping, I was pumping 8 times per day- every 3 hours, the same as Elizabeth’s feeding schedule until she got back up to weight. I spent 4 hours every day hooked up to a machine for the first twelve weeks. I carried pump supplies with me everywhere. I didn’t leave the house with less than three bags – diaper bag, bottle bag/cooler for milk, and pump bag.

EPing was a huge learning curve. I relied heavily on my BFF, the ONLY other person I knew who had EP’d, and she introduced me to an amazing Facebook group of EPers where we could ask questions, commiserate, and get tips and tricks.

I had to learn what a let down looked like/felt like. I started timing the amount of time after my last letdown to make sure I was pumping for 5 extra minutes after the let down so I could boost my supply. I drank blue Gatorade. A wonderful friend sent lactation cookies. I drank cardamom Mother’s Milk tea. I figured out that coconut oil is an amazing salve, and that lanolin stains sheets. I learned how to sleep in 2.5 hour stretches.

The first time I figured out to cut holes in a sports bra to hold the pumps in place was a revelation. I had hands again! Pumping time became time that I could also feed Elizabeth or read on my nook, or just relax. It sounds crazy, but when you’re used to it, it becomes routine and I even fell asleep attached to the pump a few times. Thank goodness I had a Spectra and it automatically would shut off!

After 12 weeks, your supply is pretty well established, so that was when I started dropping pumps. When I went back to work, I was pumping as soon as I got up, three times at work, on my drive home, and then twice more at home in the evening. Some nights I was up until midnight to fit in the 7th pump. I dropped to 6 pretty quickly. Then, 5, and held steady there for a while. Probably around the 6 month mark, I dropped to 4 – wake up, 2 times at work, and before bed. I didn’t go below 4 pumps because I saw my supply drop. Then, 9.5 months after Elizabeth was born, I hung up my pump parts for last time. I had enough milk in the freezer to get her to 12 months. 2400 ounces. All told, I estimate that I pumped between 10,000 and 12,000 oz of breastmilk.


Pros and Cons

As with everything in life, there are pros and cons to exclusively pumping. I thought I’d list out some of my personal pros and cons.

Pros Cons
  • I got to split night feedings with my husband
  • I didn’t worry about her taking a bottle at daycare when I went back to work
  • No concerns about nipple confusion
  • Built in reason to sit down and relax or hide during family functions
  • I knew exactly how much milk she was getting
  • Any pain I had wasn’t directly associated with my daughter, so my bond with her was SO MUCH BETTER than when I was attempting to direct nurse
  • I was able to pump for 9.5 months, then stop and still give my daughter breast milk until 1 year.
  • You’re constantly worried about keeping pumped milk cold
  • You’re constantly concerned about finding an outlet in a private area to pump (until you get a cordless pump!)
  • There’s not a lot of in person local support for EPers, sometimes not even from IBCLCs
  • You’ll have (hopefully) well-intentioned people telling you that it really is better to direct nurse and that there’s a special bond that only occurs when you DN (I call bullshit).
  • SO. MANY. BAGS.
  • A lot less convenient to go places

Products I Used

These are some of the products I used that worked well for me:

Spectra S2 – my at work pump, since it needs to be plugged in and I was at a desk

Spectra S1 – my at home pump – a rechargeable battery = mobility!

Freemies – I can’t recommend these when you first start pumping because they fog and it’s hard to ensure you have the right placement, but once you have the hang of it, I think they’re great, and make it so much easier to pump in front of guests.

Lactamed Simplicity Hands Free Bra – so simple, and easily worn over your maternity bra

Palmer’s Cocoa Butter – magically healing and smells like chocolate!

Coconut Oil – lubes flanges well to prevent friction

31 Bag – stored all my crap and looked cute.

Car adapter for my Spectra

Ibuprofen – decreasing swelling to help clear clogs to prevent mastitis

Sunflower Lecithin – thins the milk to help clear clogs to prevent mastitis

Lactation Cookies

Mother’s Milk Cardamom Tea

Blue Gatorade

In Conclusion

Exclusively pumping was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I don’t regret it, and there are aspects (like the built in excuse to go binge on Netflix during family events) that I do miss as we enter this holiday season. My breastfeeding journey may not be the storybook direct nursing experience I had thought I wanted, but EPing was a curveball I ended up being thankful for.

 


 

More about the LIFE AFTER BIRTH PROJECT

More about the BIRTH STORIES PROJECT 

More weaning stories at the LAST LATCH PROJECT

Photos: Bergen Howlett