Breastfeeding has ended....although it never really began. I always imagined what breastfeeding would feel like, the joy of producing something so valuable for my child. As in pregnancy, being the sole provider for your baby but now, with child born, being the life force for your baby to thrive. Offering the one thing in the world so pure and nutritious, feeding more than her belly but her soul, part of me, once again.
When we arrived after transferring to the NICU, I was under the impression that we would not be here for long, that this was precautionary and almost unnecessary. I looked at the other families with sadness, feeling so bad that their child was sick, not understanding the severity of our daughter. I felt nervous, uncomfortable, afraid to make eye contact with the other parents, their babies. Little did I know....
Our baby was the biggest in the NICU, looked like she didn't belong, and in my heart, she didn't. Ruthie Lou was never "sick" to us, she was healthy, strong, she was a fighter. And all those things continue to be true, regardless of her diagnosis. She wasn't sick or unhealthy. She was born with something out of her control but she didn't know that. She kept on, courageous, oblivious to science that she shouldn't be here. To her, science was irrelevant. She had a job to do and she was here to do it, despite what the doctors said, despite what we knew that job to be.
My vision of giving birth was beautiful, greeted with my baby being placed on my chest, searching for my breast, to offer the first external physical bond we would fulfill. When that didn't happen, they rushed her away so fast, my heart breaking, I needed to be ready the moment Ruthie Lou was, to feed. So, after loving my child over an isolette, I asked to pump, I needed to get my body ready, ready for nursing. The first night of pumping was awkward, lonely in a room with a curtain....and a pump. Separate from my baby, separate from the world. Not much happened that night, I don't know what was supposed to happen, but not much did.
The next day, I was determined. As I entered the room, I felt slightly more prepared for what my body was made to do. I needed to be ready when Ruthie Lou was for me. I refused to let her down, no matter what it meant from me. Breastfeeding is sacred, an honor for mother to bond with child and I desperately looked forward to providing that, no matter what.
As I left the room with my 5 mL syringe full of colostrum, I have never felt more proud. I did it! I created this for my child! I could do it! Now I just needed her to be ready....
As the days continued on and the pumping took me away from my daughter into that closet of a room, I felt trapped. I told myself, it was worth it, Ruthie Lou would need this when she was awake. I needed to keep going. She was fighting, doing her part, I needed to do mine. The one thing I had control over, the one thing I COULD do for her, I needed to stay focused and healthy for her.
I was a pumping machine. I was a milk making machine. I was so proud to give my bottle of milk to the nurses, although I don't think anyone was as excited as me. My body's alarm was set in the middle of the night, I would wake up, pump, clean, store the milk, the gift I produced for my child. I ate, drank, slept for the sole purpose of being able to produce milk for Ruthie Lou, it's what kept me going when I wanted to give up. I would do anything for her, ANYTHING. But at this point, pumping was the ONLY thing I COULD do so I continued all day everyday.
As the days went on, I couldn't fathom going into go into that room to pump anymore. It kept me from my baby and I never wanted to leave her. My husband and I had a routine in order to share Ruthie Lou. I would pump and he would clean the supplies, that way pumping didn't take ALL my time from her. But it did take my time, time I would never get back, time I thought I could make up later, but it didn't happen. Finally, I realized (or was told) that I could pump bedside, although it was a hassle, it was better than leaving her. Once I even successfully pumped with Ruthie Lou on my lap, the closest I would EVER come to breastfeeding her my milk. It was the best moment for me and I hope a special moment for her.
She loved my milk. Although I was never able to put her to breast, we would do her "oral care" several times a day and give her my milk from a sponge. She would suck, pucker, appear to swallow my milk at first, later it just sat in her mouth. I loved oral care because it "woke" her from the depths of her slumber even if just to suck, I craved these reactions, these interactions of mother and daughter. It fueled my spirit knowing that she loved me and was aware of my presence.
As we were given our own room and Ruthie Lou's terminal prognosis, pumping became futile. It was pointless. She would never eat the amount that I had created, there was plenty for her in the time she would have with us. I wanted to give up, so I did. But my body said no way. I think the mastitis was a gift from Ruthie Lou, another blessing bestowed upon me to take care of myself, to make my body continue to move forward, to make it possible to have the energy to continue on and be present for my daughter. Had I not gotten sick and forced to eat, drink, sleep as I had been for two weeks now, my body would have given up, would not have had the energy, the calories to wake up and get moving everyday.
The mastitis was another blessing from Ruthie Lou and continued to be for the next three weeks as it would recover on one side and trade to the other. Antibiotics were a part of my daily routine, just as eating and drinking water had to be to aid my recovery. But along with that came energy, clear mind, sleep at night and presence during the day. I was able to be present for my child. Everyday even though I was exhausted, even though I knew my time was limited, even though my heart was so desperately breaking, I was clear for Ruthie Lou.
When Ruthie Lou moved to George Mark Children's House, I had limited my pumping schedule to the degree that you can while trying to pump mastitis and clogged ducts but I still was not done. I still found the joy in oral care and offered milk to Ruthie Lou several times a day, hoping for the same reaction, the instinctual reflexes that we had seen in the beginning. Sometimes we would get it, other times she was just so tired and weak, her mouth barely forming around the sponge. But we continued on, offering her my love, my milk and some moisture to her dry little mouth, it was all I could do for her.
I began to despise pumping, the one thing that brought me purpose before, now controlled me and I could not get it to stop fast enough. I had wanted to donate my milk, offer it to the moms in the NICU who could not produce, as I had an abundance. Even through all the stress, the separation, somehow my body continued producing, holding in to the hope that I would be ready for my baby when she was ready to come home. But in the end my body just couldn't give up, it didn't know that it shouldn't produce anymore, just as Ruthie Lou couldn't give up, didn't know that she wasn't "supposed" to be here. Try telling Ruthie Lou that....What is science anyways?
Now home, grieving the loss of my child, I am ace bandaged and iced waiting for my body to realize what my mind is protecting me from acknowledging. My baby is gone, I do not need this milk anymore. And as I force it to stop, I mourn the loss of that also, I never breastfed my baby. My only nightmare about Ruthie Lou since the day she was born was that I never breastfed her and for that I am so heartbroken. The only thing that gives me solace is that, should we be so fortunate to have another child, at least we will share that first, together. The joy after your baby's birth when they place your child on your chest and he/she searches out your breast...at least we will share that first together.
I mourn the loss of my milk along with the loss of Ruthie Lou's body. Breastfeeding has ended....although it never really began.
I am mama of three beautiful babes; two sons whom I have the privilege of raising and my daughter who lived for 33 sacred days.