I’ll never forget my shock on that first day in the NICU with Redmond – recovering from a C-section, reeling from the trauma of the last 24-hours – when a nurse instructed me that it was time to pump. I couldn’t understand what she meant. Pump? Pump what?
She pushed toward me a device the size of a small suitcase that was on top of a pole on wheels, handed me a bag of sterile plastic suction cup thingys, and said it was time to pump breast milk for Redmond. It’s laughable today, but I could not have been more surprised. Pregnant with my third child, trying to get through gestational diabetes, non-stop contractions for months on end, nausea and vomiting, and caring for a two and four-year old, it just didn’t occur to me that I was going to nurse another baby. After two epidurals that didn’t work well, one which led to a spinal headache (there should be another name for that thing, like “Mega-Migraine”), I felt terrified of the pain of childbirth. But breast-feeding? Simply not on my radar. I had done nothing to prepare for that: no nursing bras, no nursing-friendly shirts or pajamas, NOTHING. In fact, the day I started pumping I was wearing a sweater with high neck and a tight waistband. It was the complete opposite of nursing-friendly.
The nurse is holding Redmond’s first breast milk tube-feeding
My sister, my hero, left the NICU in search of the items I needed. The idea of leaving the hospital to go shopping was as foreign a concept to me as pumping. My baby was hooked up to so many tubes and contraptions that I couldn’t comprehend taking him home, much less providing milk for him, but I did what I was told. The nurse happily received the six drops or so that I was able to get out, showed me how to label it, and then put it in the small fridge in his room. Three hours later, she pushed the pump toward me again and said it was time. Honestly, I felt annoyed. I did not want to be bothered with pumping in the middle of the crisis, but it was my JOB. There was nothing else I could do but hold his hand and speak softly to him, so I pumped.
I pumped every three hours or so, around the clock, for the 34 days that Redmond was in the NICU. When we brought him home, we also brought home a whole bunch of frozen breast milk. Once at home, I realized very quickly that there was no way I could take care of feeding him (it was a lot of work), pump every three hours, give my other two children the attention for which they’d become starved, and take care of myself. I decided to pump every six hours and use the stored breast milk to supplement. Pumping, no matter how often, put a lot of stress on our family because for that 20-30 minutes, I could do nothing else. I couldn’t take care of Redmond, walk around, use my hands, nothing. I had one of those fancy bras that’s supposed to make the time “hands-free”, but that never worked for me. Maybe I was too sleep-deprived to figure out how to use it properly, but it was more hassle than it was worth.
It didn’t take long for my supply of frozen breast-milk to dwindle. I planned to supplement with formula 50/50 when it did. I wasn’t excited about the idea, but at least he’d get something from me.
Then one day Rick’s cousin, who also recently had a baby, asked if I’d like some extra breast milk. She had a lot more than she needed and was willing to share. I’d heard of women who over-produce and can’t use everything they have stored, so they give it away. It struck me as kind of gross, handling another woman’s breast milk, and giving it to my son.
I talked to a lactation consultant about it. She said the down side was that he wouldn’t get my antibodies, which is what helps a baby stay healthy. The up side was that he would receive antibodies from the other mother, which would give him a wider range of immunities than he could receive just from me. I liked that idea, so I accepted the donated breast milk and viewed it as the best medicine possible for my baby.
When Redmond was 14.5 weeks old, I made the very difficult decision to stop pumping all together. It simply wasn’t working for our family. Someone always needed me while I attempted to pump, and the stress of it outweighed the benefits. I shed many tears over that decision, especially the last time I pumped, and over the situation in general – but I knew it was the right decision for us. Nothing with this baby was like I had hoped or dreamed, but I still had so much to be thankful for that I dried my tears and moved on.
As my supply of frozen breast milk got low again, I mentioned to a friend that I was about to start the formula supplementation I’d been planning. Surprisingly, she said that she had more stored milk than she could possibly use and offered to give me the surplus. This time I eagerly accepted, so very grateful to God for supplying our needs through the amazing women He’d placed in my life.
One of my heroes
After that, another friend heard that I was using donated milk and offered hers as well. Through these amazing, generous women, Redmond received antibodies from four different mothers. And my, how it worked! He is healthy and thriving today.
My cousin recently became very ill and had to be hospitalized shortly after giving birth and bringing her baby home. Due to the medication she needed, she was unable to nurse. As she shared her situation on social media, I scrolled through the comments, wiping tears for her as I remembered what it was like to be unable to hold my newborn and take care of my older children, in pain and trying to pump. And then I saw the beautiful community of friends she has around her generously offer to supply her baby with breast milk until she is able to be home and nursing again. It brought back the memories of the women who surrounded us with such love and support when we needed it.
Women, friends, gifts from God to us when we are in need – our heroes who show up with their own life-sustaining, nourishing, antibody-filled, liquid-gold. These beautiful women surround the one in need and take care of the most helpless among them – wearing no capes, asking for no recognition, receiving no benefit – simply doing what they can to provide what cannot be found in a store. I am so grateful for the women who gave this great gift to me and to Redmond. We are blessed.