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The smell of ICU and disinfectants

I don’t know why I shopped for a breast pump when I was still pregnant. I didn’t decide right from the start that I was going to pump. I just had this feeling that twins = breastpump. I had this vague idea that breastfeeding is somewhat better than giving formula and I knew for sure I didn’t want to spend money on formula if I could give my babies all-free meals. I didn’t know about La Leche League. I read on American baby forums about “lactation consultants” and thought, I wish we had something like that. I’ve wrestled through a babybook or two and it didn’t give any information on breastfeeding.It so happened that the distributor of the twin pram that we bought, also sells breast pumps. During a conversation about what extras we are going to take with the pram, I asked her opinion about the best pump. A mother of twins herself, she recommended a double, electric, 2-phase, hospital grade pump and I bought it without reading any reviews, regardless of its price and even though our wallet was already in a terrible state. It arrived with the pram when I was 4 months pregnant.

Pregnancy

I didn’t enjoy my pregnancy, one that I have cried, prayed and wished for for YEARS. The whole story behind this is in my blog . Bottom line is that I was put on strict bedrest when I was 21 weeks pregnant. I had to stay close to a hospital with neonatal facilities and paediatricians, 450 km from home. Luckily at my parents, but still, you miss home and have to deal with not being able to “nest”.

Birth

My water broke when I was 32 weeks pregnant and our babies were born via c-section. I wasn’t allowed to see my babies untill 24 hours after delivery. Since my husband had a 5 hour drive from home to hospital, he couldn’t be at the birth.When I finally got to go to my babies in PICU (NICU where booked full), I was overwhelmed with a myriad of emotions and just cried. Cried from relief that they are OK for the moment. For shocked at how tiny they were. For a huge c-section wound burning so much it brings to my knees. And for a deep desire to just to be normal for a change. I wanted to be a new, excited new mommy at home, without a huge c-section scar, without so much pain and without so much heartache.

Colostrum and expressing

A day or two after my babies were born, one nurse unceremonially showed me where the ward’s breast pump is and how it works. I expressed enough colostrum so that my babies could each have the 3ml they needed for their first feed, and a few mls left over. They were given this precious liquid through tubes thinner than a pen’s ink tube. It went through their noses to their tummies. The nurse was over the moon with how much colostrum I had.My breastfeeding/expressing education was limited to being told to express strictly 3-hourly. That’s it. I didn’t know I could express more during the day, less during the night. I didn’t know to express untill a few minutes after flow has stopped. I didn’t know about hand-expressing, let-downs, lipase or actual breastfeeding.The ward had only one pump and you had to search for it every time you want to use it. It was a weird old machine. Since I had my own double, electric pump, I started bringing it to hospital to pump.

Supply issues

4 days later my milk still didn’t come in. Unceremonial Nurse hinted at it. I felt powerless – what was I supposed to do about it? Did I do something wrong? Perhaps I took too many painkillers? Another nurse (I’ll call her Nice Nurse) came to my rescue and said to her my milk will come, my first expressions was a lot of ml’s because it was colostrum.There was another lady with newborn twins in the same ward. I once saw her marking her bottles before putting it in the ward’s fridge- she pumped two bottles full with each expression. I was jealous. I had between 30ml and 150ml per session, depending on the day of time. She looked very stressed about her babies, so I thought she deserves having so much milk and that I will just have to get over my hurt. Besides, I always had just enough for each feed, never too little, and I was sure my supply should improve with time.

Freezing milk

My baby boy didn’t have breathing problems with birth. A day or two after birth things suddenly got worse and he was put on a nasty oscillating ventilator. His tiny body was shaken 24/7. His mouth opened, but no sound could come out. He cried so much. Soundlessly. It broke my heart. I cried. While on the oscillator, he couldn’t get any milk through his tube and was only given some white liquid that went through a tube through his bellybutton, directly into a vein that used to feed him when I was still pregnant. I was on the machine for almost a week, so I froze all the milk that he was supposed to get. Suddenly I had extra milk, although it felt like insult to injury rather than an accomplishment.

When nurses advice against breastfeeding

One day when I arrived at the ward, the matron (I think she was the matron) happened to walk past me. She stopped and asked if I was OK, because I look exhausted. I told her, yes I am exhausted. I stay in the ward until 9pm. Then wash and sterilise all parts before heading to my parent’s home. My dad got relocated and my brother had to move to another university in another city, leaving me and my mom behind with my brother’s old car. My mom had to leave for work at 4:15 in the morning. So when I got home at about 10pm, I had to wash the babies’s blankets and clothing, then eat and have some tea. Then I would be just in time for the midnight expressing. I would sleep until the 3am expressing, wash and sterilise everything, then pack up for the day. I would drop my mom off at work then go to the hospital. This was my routine for so long. I couldn’t nap in my babies’s cubicle, there was no lazy boy. So yes, I was exhausted. My dearest husband came to visit on weekends and would then do as much as possible for me. Washing pump parts, sterilising, setting everything up. I only had to sit up, pump and then go back to sleep. I could marry him all over again.Minutes after I admitted to the matron that I am exhausted, I was swamped by nurses, a social worker and almost a reverend too. They wanted me to reconsider breastfeeding. They wanted me to drink Eglonyl. I knew in my heart I don’t need Eglonyl. They were scared I was going to burn out. I told them I am beyond tired, but my spirit is still fine (read my blog about Baby Blues).

Trying to fight back

I continued expressing. My baby girl continued to get liquid gold. Finally, after a week, my baby boy was breathing well enough to be taken off the oscillating ventilator and only needed a normal ventilator. He could be tube-fed again! Then our baby girl was promoted to cup feeding. Then our boy was promoted to cup-feeding. Such tiny, tiny steps, but we were over the moon for each step in the right direction. On advice from Nice Nurse, we requested that no bottles were to be given. Only cup-feeding. I am so glad we followed her advice, because afterwards I have heard of so many babies not taking to the breast at all. Either due to nipple confusion or to being “spoiled” with the easy flow of the teat versus the sucking needed to get milk sucked out of the breast.

Getting “helped” with breastfeeding

We upgraded to attempting breastfeeding. After more hints about my supply, I started drinking the damn Eglonyl. I hated it. The breastfeeding wasn’t a huge success, because I didn’t know the first thing about latching, positioning, or how to handle my prems. Their tiny little mouths couldn’t even go over my nipple! Still, I tried. We would try latching for 10 minutes, then they were cup-fed. They fed from me only once or twice and still had to be cup-fed afterwards.One day, a nurse (I’ll call her Nurse  Rottenmeier) loudly announced my failure at breastfeeding. Said that if SHE knew I was struggeling, she would’ve done something about it. So I was promptly assigned the “breastfeeding champ nurse”. She pinched my nipple hard and squished it into my babies’s mouths. It hurt. And didn’t help. They still did not develop their sucking skills enough to even lick the nipple.

Follow the rest of Petro’s inspirational story in her next blog post.

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