While most new moms are fawning over their precious little bundle while breastfeeding (or bottle feeding), I sat for the first few months of J's life expressing 2 hourly, washing and sterilizing pumps and bottles and syringes and then for 45 painful minutes every 2 to 3 hours I would hold my screaming, writhing, jerky baby and try syringe down as much breastmilk as I possibly could.
I would dread feed times, the screaming was unbearable, it was like I was pouring hot lava down her throat, she would choke, vomit, scream, go blue and by the end of 45 minutes I was sobbing and she had had a measly 10mls.
There were days and nights were I literally wanted to grab her face and scream "eat child! Eat! Or you will die!!!" I had very little support and almost no help. My husband slept in the main room as he had to be up at 4am for work so I slept on a little single bed with a newborn who did more screaming than sleeping, I had no idea what I was doing, I was alone, scared, frustrated and was running out of steam.
The expressing was difficult in the beginning, I think the reason it was so difficult was because I so desperately wanted to breastfeed normally, I tried at every feed to get her to latch and she latched once or twice but then end up screaming, I tried laying down and feeding, all the different latch positions but latching seemed to upset her terribly.
My pump schedule was hectic when we got home from the hospital, I had just enough milk and wanted to keep it that way so I was expressing every hour to 2 hours, in between I had to wash my pump, storage bottles, and her syringes, sterilize it all and start again. To make matters more complicated, I just did not respond well to electric pumps, so we invested in the Philips Avent manual pump, which I responded to REALLY well, so I have been exclusively pumping using a manual pump which seems to be quite rare in EPing community.
I eventually managed to get her to latch onto the NUK prem teats once or twice, but she would get so tired and end up having very little milk. We ended up walking and bouncing her while feeding to Kerri Hilsons "Pretty Girl Rock", it was the only way to get any milk into her! At that stage I was barely getting half the required amount into her.
At 5 months I managed to get her to drink from the NUK size 1 teat, it took about a month to get her consistently drinking from a bottle without us having to syringe feed her, we have been using that same sized teat ever since.
By the age of 6 months we had been in and out of hospital 18 times for poor feeding and dehydration, that was almost every 2nd week, the pead would hook up the IV and leave, no tests, no exams, nothing. She would pass it off as me being "high strung" and baby picking up on my emotions, sometimes I wanted to just punch her in the face, of bloody course I was high strung! My baby was barely drinking or sleeping and all she ever did was scream, I'd love to see any person on the planet hold their composure while dealing with everything I was on top of pumping every 2 hours around the clock.
We eventually changed pediatricians but I was still feeling despondent and irritated because he didn't know how to help either other than to advocate for formula or push for feeding tubes. I literally tried everything, including watering down my breastmilk, to adding chocolate nesquick to it just so she would drink.
One of the doctors thought perhaps it was my milk, so he tried to feed her formula, he couldn't even get the bottle into her mouth, the smell of the formula sent her into full out screaming mode, we ended up having to buy a sample of almost every single formula on the market, eventually the pead got a whole 15mls into her but it ended up making things worse as she vomited up thick, yellow bile, so we decided to stay away from formula and continue to provide J with the milk that was perfectly designed for her.
During the feeding struggles I felt very alone, no one could get J to drink, we had the first pead try a few times and she would just hand J off to the nurses and get them to try and eventually I would be handed back a full bottle and a screaming baby, the sister at Storks Nest actually took J for 6 hours one day while I slept on the couch in the clinic room, she couldn't get more than a few mls of milk into her either and suggested we consult with a different pead and try for a gtube, our new pead tried but got so flustered he didn't even check on us in person at evening rounds, I had our domestic worker try, my mom, my sister, my step father, my husband, friends, everybody had a turn and no one could get her to drink, it became such a difficult task that people would be so scared to fight with this tiny little girl that it ended up being ONLY me who could sit for hours trying to get her to drink. It was draining!
Fluids became such an issue with me because I was so terrified of her being admitted again and having to hold her down while they poked around to get an IV in that I started keeping a "fluid diary" on every single ml she took, I thought it would help, that maybe she was really taking more than we thought but in the end it just scared me more because at one stage she was meant to be getting up to 700mls of fluid a day and she was taking between 200 and 250mls.
Around a year I had settled nicely into a pumping routine, it had become a way of life instead of a task, although I still longed with every fiber of my being that she would latch, she was just not interested.
At 14 months she was admitted for a stomach bug and that is when we discovered she had a Class 4 lip tie and silent reflux and a new diagnosis of sensory processing disorder, all things the delivering pead, lactation consultant and storks nest sister SHOULD have picked up at the many, many times I frequented their offices desperate for help.
We eventually got her mouth properly assessed and found she had a class 4 restrictive upper lip tie, a submucousal posterior tongue tie and 3 buccal ties, she also has a high arched palate with poor suck reflex. All of these things should have been picked up!
For me breastfeeding via exclusively pumping became one single act I felt I had control over, it was exhausting, stressful and demanding, but it was in my control, and when you feel like you have lost control of everything else in your new role as a mother, it becomes something that you will fight for tooth and nail.
At 22 months I dropped down to 2 pumps per day, in a way it sort of felt freeing to not be tied down to a pumping schedule and luckily I was able to maintain my milk supply at 2 pumps per days for over 2 years.
I have a love / hate relationship with my pump, I feel lost when it breaks and need to replace parts. Its a part of my body, its hard to explain but I'm sure other EPers might know what I'm talking about when I say that it becomes our most precious yet hated possession.
January 2014 marked 3 years of exclusive pumping, looking back it has been a journey filled will late nights, fear, hardships and tears, but it is also a journey of dedication, self-growth and pure unadulterated love, and its a journey I wouldn't change for the world! Hoping for a few more years so we can get J over her issues with food!
*UPDATE: On July 22nd 2015, I officially weaned due to PCOS and insulin resistance related supply issues, I was able to provide breastmilk for 54 months with enough stash to make it just past my daughters 5th birthday, she is still struggling with feeding and sensory issues and has a diagnosis of ARFID which we continue to work on in the hopes that in the future she will develop a healthy attitude towards healthy food.
Exclusively pumping is HARD, but then again, nothing in life that is worthwhile doing is ever easy.
Pump On Mumma