From the first day Stephan was born I started expressing breastmilk for him. Being born at 35 weeks, his cheek muscles and sucking reflex was not fully developed at birth, so it would take a while for him to be able to feed on his own. Pair that with the low muscle tone that comes with a Down syndrome diagnosis and you have yourself a challenge.
I started pumping out the first night in hospital, I was extremely excited about this, I had always heard of the benefits breast milk has for babies, especially babies who end up in NICU, and this was the only thing I could do for my little one to help him at this stage so I couldn’t wait to do it.
There I was 8pm sharp, as ordered by the nurse, and ready to open the dairy farm. Much to my surprise the first 10 or so pumping sessions provided nothing but a few drops of liquid gold as they called it. As I handed the bottle over to the nurse, I couldn’t help but feel defeated. How would they even collect this from the bottle, the 5ml or so was all stuck in the neck of the pump, I was failing my son, I thought.
Another 5 sessions passed and eventually I summoned the courage to ask the sister the question that I had been obsessing over for the last 24 hours; was I doing an okay job with the pumping? Could they even use the few drops I was giving them? She came up with an idea to show me how much I was actually giving him. We will hand express into a teaspoon and then collect the colostrum with a syringe, this way, none of it will get lost in the pump system.
Finally, I could see the amount I was giving my son, and it gave me the first boost of confidence I needed to keep on going. As I produced more, I grew more confident and prouder. I was addiment to give Stephan this little bit of me to help him recover and come home.
After being spoiled by the hospital’s industrial pump, I headed home excited to make more milk for my baba. Then it hit me, when I was preparing to bring Stephan home, I had imagined breastfeeding and maybe occasionally pumping out for him when I would not be with him, so I wouldn’t need an expensive pump, just a single manual pump would do. So, there I was for the first 3 days at home with Susan, my manual pump. She fast became my worst enemy. Pumping with Susan was horrible, I could only pump one breast at a time, which meant 40min of pumping and only having one free hand. I had the luxury of having a choice of 3 settings, tickle, pull, or rip your nipple off. And in the background, I was building biceps the size of, well, milk jugs. And of course nodding off occasionally meant I would stop pumping and lose track of how long I actually pumped for! I quickly realized that if I wanted to keep doing this, I would need to make it a whole lot more pleasant for myself.
Enter Katinka. Pump number 2. I went from slumming it to winning the forking lottery! Katinka was a sexy little compact pump. Not only was she electric, but she was also portable which meant I could pump on the move. She emptied both breasts in 20min which meant I could wake up, pump out and wash her in 30min, then head back to bed! She was perfect.
I got to know my boobs pretty well in the next few weeks, what my average pump per session was, then per day then per week. I dealt with engorged breasts, blocked milk ducts and even came up with funny names for them when they weren’t doing their part (Lazy Lucy and Slapgat Susan) -and when they became too full, they would be called OHB and NHB (old hard boob and new hard boob) -and when they became painful for whatever reason they would simply be SOB.
People kept complimenting me on how great it was that I was expressing milk for Stephan, how brave and inspiring it was. And too this day I find it weird, why was this the exception and not the rule?
The pumping sessions became less exciting and more daunting later on. Mostly because they were so terribly lonely. I would always wish that I could sit wherever I wanted and pumped out, but believe it or not, people aren’t as excited by boobs when they are doing a job as they are when they are just chilling there looking perky and pretty. I kept thinking how much easier this would be when my baby was actually home with me, I would feel less like a cow and more like a mama.
I remember dreading getting up at 2am and sitting in Stephan’s room alone, staring at all the toys he is meant to be playing with, the clothes he is meant to wear, quietly crying.
I remember accidently spilling breastmilk for the first time and breaking down because of it.
I remember staring at my husband’s nipples and thinking how useless they were, wondering what he would do if I connected him up to Katinka in the middle of the night, just to see his reaction when he woke up!
At this stage I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to breastfeed. Sucking on a bottle exhausts Stephan and getting milk from a nipple is a lot harder than getting it from a teat. The Doctors have recommended against it. Still someday I would love to try, just so I can say I know what it feels like to feed your baby, staring into his eyes and him into yours, feeling that bond. Maybe one day I can close the dairy farm for good and just feed my baby the way God intended. But for now, we remain open for business, pumping out and giving baba what he needs to grow strong!