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:
- I do not want a c-section. God please don’t let me need a c-section
- I want to hold my little human the second he his born, and…
- 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.
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.
More about the LIFE AFTER BIRTH PROJECT
More about the BIRTH STORIES PROJECT
More weaning stories at the LAST LATCH PROJECT
Photos: Bergen Howlett