No parent wants to think that their baby will be born prematurely. No parent wants to know the fact that your baby will be in the NICU, because it is just too early for them to develop outside the womb. I was 34 weeks pregnant and everything was going great except my blood pressure suddenly got too high. My OB did everything she could to keep me pregnant but ultimately, it was safer for Mason to be born.
The birth had its own set of challenges, as I assume every birth does. I did everything I could to prepare for what to expect. After giving birth, Mason was assessed by the NICU doctor and team. After they stabilized him enough, I was able to hold my baby and it was the best minute of my life! After holding him briefly, Mason was taken to NICU for further assessment. I was still in Labor & Delivery when I got hooked up to pump for the first time. No baby in sight. This started a very difficult, tiring, consuming journey of breastfeeding & pumping. I was told seeing pictures or hearing your baby cry would help your milk come in a little better. I video called my husband I could see Mason while I pumped. I only got just drops worth of milk but was very happy and surprised that I was able to get anything! From that moment I learned you have to realize it doesn’t always go as planned and you have to make the best of your situation.
I was unable to see my baby for over 24 hours after birth. Finally, I was allowed upstairs to the NICU to be with Mason. I was so nervous to meet my baby. This isn’t how it is supposed to be. You’re supposed to be excited and comfort your new bundle of joy. I remember being pushed into room 3219 and seeing this tiny 5lb boy in an incubator with monitors making so many sounds. The nurses got me comfortable in the chair and put Mason on my chest for my first skin to skin. I never felt so calm in my life. I sat there with him on me for 2 hours. I thought I was never going to leave the room.
I did my best to love on Mason and do skin to skin but still rest and find time to pump. Sometimes my husband would do skin to skin and I would pump. I always seemed to get more milk when I would pump in the NICU room versus my hospital room. The NICU was amazing and they promoted skin to skin and breastfeeding. It took 4 team members to get Mason out of his incubator and onto my chest but we did it! Again, I felt the calmest I had ever felt with him on my chest. He had so many tubes and machines but I just closed my eyes and felt our heartbeats beating together and found peace in that.
I spent 5 days in the hospital myself but then was discharged. This day hit me like no other… walking out of the hospital, getting in our car and driving off… without our baby. What a crippling feeling that was, but in the back of my mind I heard his doctor’s voice saying the best thing you can do is provide him with breastmilk. So that’s what needed to be done, this was my task & I was going to attack it with everything I had. Every day we would come back to the NICU with the milk I had pumped at home. There were a few days towards the beginning, we would walk in and they were already feeding him donor milk in his feeding tube. I was thankful they were able to give him breastmilk even if it was not from me. Donor milk helped a lot, but seeing that also made me feel defeated that I wasn’t providing enough. I always felt the need to pump more to keep up with his needs and his schedule. I would ask the nurses his feeding schedule and to let me know if my supply was low. From this day on the supply would get close to being low but then would go back up just in time. Just enough to make me worry and to get a pep talk from lactation saying it will be okay. They would teach me how to massage, about skin to skin, and how pumping even if nothing comes out helps you produce more. I had to learn to do things to help produce milk when most moms have a baby to do that job. Mason had to heal before he would be able to attempt breastfeeding.
Around two weeks old, he started showing the proper feeding cues. This meant I was finally able to nurse my baby! That first time he latched on almost immediately and was able to remove milk! Our hopes were high, Mason’s got this, and he knows what he’s doing. However, NICU progress is usually two steps forward and one step back. His feedings were all over the place and he inconsistently removed the same amount of milk. I had to muster all the determination I could to feed & provide for my son, even if his inconsistency was discouraging.
When we finally took Mason home after 30 long days in the NICU, he struggled to breastfeed. I kept at it! It took a little bit to realize he wasn’t getting enough breastmilk, and during this time I developed horribly painful blisters from nursing. This led us to MilkWorks and Christi! She made me feel understood for the first time with this journey. She not only had Mason’s best interest in mind but also mine. We had regular appointments to gauge milk intake and my supply, weighted feeds at home with a rented scale, triple feeding, two tongue tie revisions, and sacral cranial therapy. Each appointment Mason would remove more and more milk. Mason finally caught on at 5 months. I couldn’t quit on him now. We still meet with Christi and MilkWorks once a month. She helps me not get anxious with his schedule changing as he grows and has helped us know how to keep all his feedings in a day and add baby food. She helps me remember how far Mason has come since our first appointment.
When it comes to pumping, breastfeeding, emotional well-being, being in the NICU and everything else that comes with the birth of your new baby I’ve realized something… not nearly enough people talk about the challenges, the discouragement, and the vast array of emotions a person goes through. There are others who go through this, your friends go through it, and there are obviously other people having babies all over this world… but we rarely ever talk about it. Everyone will discuss the birth weight and length, why you picked the name, who the baby most resembles. Rarely do we discuss the time-consuming process of triple feeding, the possibility of your baby being tongue-tied, and or how physical therapy could possibly help with nursing issues.
I’ve learned I can’t compare our journey to others. Our journey isn’t more unique, or more important than others. The journey so far may have been filled with its challenges and frustrations, the non-stop appointments, the constant research and second-guessing of whether we are doing what is best for our son. But it’s the way our journey went. I have never worked so hard at something in my whole life; it’s what needed to be done to provide for my son.
Your body knows what your baby needs as far as milk production. Even on your hardest days, it is important to remember, there are more resources than you can imagine. Even if there are thoughts of being a failure, you can always ask for help, and there are support systems available to you. There will be hard days & even worse days, but things do get better, and you have an absolute miracle in your arms. Enjoy the time you have with your baby, whether it’s in their nursery during a midnight feeding, in the NICU with all the alerts going off, or in the car going to your next pediatrician appointment. Every moment is precious.
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