Reading that first line back makes me laugh. I didn't think I would ever be celebrating a breast pump. Now don't get me wrong...a big part of why I am celebrating is that I will most definitely get to give the old one the grand farewell it deserves by running it over with the minivan, or throwing it off the roof, Letterman style. This will bring me limitless, if fleeting, joy.
Sam, my breasts and I had a pretty rough start, with lots of set-ups for failure. We had no immediate skin-to-skin time after birth, no chance to nurse, no room-in, no lactation consultant. Sam got wheeled down to the NICU and I stayed behind. Pretty soon thereafter, I went home while Sam stayed behind. Sam's low tone made his suck weak, and he could not even get his bottles down. His NICU stay was largely based on his inability to eat enough for the doctors to be confident that he would gain weight. *We could have worked on nursing in the NICU until he proved he was getting enough, or we could give him his milk via bottles and go home. We chose home.*
And so it was that my love-hate relationship with my pump was born, eight hours after Sam was born.
I knew that breast milk was the best for any baby, and Sam was no exception. I read about all the specific benefits breast milk, and nursing specifically, has for a baby with Down syndrome. I read about the tiny ear canals and possible infections, I read about energy draining heart conditions, I read about constipation, and I learned about how breast milk could help with all of them. So I pumped milk, and fed Sam with a bottle. We tried nursing, but with little idea of how much success he was having. We rented a scale from the NICU to gauge it better, but after several attempts where he weighed less after nursing for 30 minutes, I was sure this wasn't the way. I had many times that I wanted to quit in those early days, especially as I spent so much time pumping and so little time enjoying Sam.
We finally saw a lactation consultant at a local birthing center, who was wonderful. She told us she had faith that Sam could nurse exclusively (the first to tell us this!) and gave us some tips to encourage us both. After that we made good progress, with Sam nursing several times per day, but never getting enough to go without a bottle. The feeling of actually nursing my baby, however little, was one of the most fantastic feelings in the world. Given the circumstances, I was proud of what we had accomplished. But the pump was and still is a huge part of our life. It has been more than 10 months now, and I am still at it. I think back to 6 week postpartum me, and want to pat her on the back and thank her for not giving up on our nursing relationship.
A wise mommy told me "Nursing is a labor of love, and pumping is no exception." I would say pumping is doubly so, as it lacks the instant gratification of the incredible feeling of love and warmth that rushes over the nursing mother. The rewards are there, but harder to find, and more long-term. Still, I cling to my love and its labor.
*I have stolen these words from a friend who just brought home her twins from a NICU stay.