On a shelf in my basement are two breast pumps. They were by my side every two hours for more than six months. They accompanied me on long drives and in my co-worker's office for pump breaks when I went back to work at eight weeks postpartum.
My healthy 9lb 7oz baby boy was born via emergency C-section. When they finally handed my baby to me in the recovery room, telling me he needed to eat now given his low blood sugar levels, I didn't have enough control over my arms to hold him. Having committed to and prepared for breastfeeding, I felt like a failure as my husband signed the consent form for our baby to receive donor milk.
The hours that followed are a blur. I know I received two blood transfusions and that my son spent his first night on earth away from his mama. I know my husband lovingly fed him donor milk with a syringe. I know that once we were finally united we tried for hours to latch before a lactation consultant visited our room.
We left the hospital elated to bring our sweet boy home. But our first day home found us in a panic. How long is too long between wet diapers? A call to our pediatrician's office told us our baby had gone too long. Tears streamed my face as my husband prepped the diaper bag to go to the pediatrician. As he prepped I gave our baby a bottle of formula and he hungrily gulped it down.
During the days that followed, I met with numerous lactation consultants and tried every trick in the book to latch my boy. After days of crying while he screamed himself purple during our attempts to get him to latch, I decided it wasn't worth the heartache. From that day on my pump became my best friend.
Even though I made the decision to exclusively pump, every time I pumped I felt like a failure. I hated having to pack my pump, a bottle and a warmer each time I took my tiny boy out of the house.
A few weeks into maternity leave I finally got myself, my baby and my pump out of the house in time to attend a new mama drop-in group. I sat hesitantly in the circle and half apologized for pulling out the bottle to feed my baby while the other babies nursed.
That is when a mama across from me, nursing her baby, stopped me and said, "Way to go, mama! Pumping is hard. You should be so proud of yourself for doing this for your baby."
Women around the circle nodded their heads. Another mom went on to talk about how we should all feel empowered to the right feeding method for ourselves AND our babies, be it nursing directly, bottle feeding formula, bottle feeding breastmilk, or a combination.
Each time I went back to that new mama group, the women empowered me.
They laughed with me as I told the story of a police officer who went beet red after knocking on my car window while I was pumping in an empty parking lot.
They gave me tips on paced feeding.
They taught me ways to distract my growing boy while I pumped at home alone.
They made this introvert feel brave enough to pump anywhere and to even ask to use a car salesman's office while car shopping with my husband.
In turn, I was able to share tricks I'd learned from hours of pumping for the mamas heading back to work. I gave advice on how to set up a bottle washing station in a tiny kitchen. But more than anything, I grew as a human and learned how to lift up my fellow mamas.
Now, whenever I look at the breast pumps in my basement I feel a true sense of love and pride. For over six months I gave up feeding cuddles and hours of sleep to pump liquid gold for my boy. I stuck with my goal of breastfeeding for six months, even if breastfeeding looked different than what I had imagined.