I don’t know what 2019 holds, but this is where my re-telling ends. This is where we officially let Oaklee be Oaklee. Our story, these days, is not much different than the stories of other 18-month-olds… and that feels pretty good.
For every minute I sat alone with my pump, every time I washed the pump parts, every discomfort I felt in having an oversupply of breastmilk, every tear I cried through our breastfeeding battle, I found redemption in the opportunity to not only feed my child, but her NICU roommates as well.
By Christmas, we’d landed in a much better place. Still not on the growth chart, Oaklee was maintaining her own curve.
Let Oaklee be Oaklee.
Aside from the Haakaa breast pump, I was only pumping once or twice a day – only when Oaklee was taking a full feed (roughly 125ml; approximately 4.25oz) by bottle. In just under 6 months, we finally made it to the place I’d anticipated starting. Oaklee was an exclusive breastfeeder; I was a part-time working mama who could potentially only pump 6 times per week. This is what we fought for.
We’d come leaps and bounds in nursing since Thanksgiving. I’d made the commitment to be done with the battle by the end of the year, whatever that looked like. And then I charged forward, trying any new thing to get Oaklee to nurse better.
I can’t say which one thing it was that helped us turn a corner. In retrospect, my husband and I are shocked by the determination I had, and often attribute the progress to that. However, I’d been determined for almost 6 months – if that were all we needed, it seemed like things would have changed earlier.
When the nurse practitioner entered the room, she immediately began by telling us Oaklee’s growth wasn’t terrible. While she was still not on the growth charts, she had picked up a bit of speed, making an encouraging curve. She looked me in the eye as she questioned, “I’m guessing you chose not to do the formula, right?”
On Thanksgiving, I finally acknowledged there had to be a definitive end point to the breastfeeding battle. I simply could not go on in the phase I was in for the sake of my mental health and my relationships with my baby and my husband. Knowing my current process was not working, I had three alternative options…
I wanted to roll over in the middle of the night, pick up my hungry baby, breastfeed her and set her back down to sleep. Instead, I was going downstairs, pumping, washing pump parts, storing breastmilk, heating a bottle, waking my sleeping baby and giving her a bottle. There are tons of women who do this, some even do it by choice, but it is not what I wanted.
After 10 months, we could clearly say 2017 was a year of disrupted plans. Our pregnancy went wonky, we cancelled vacations, I moved into the hospital, our baby came three months early, we had to wait 69 days to take her home, I delayed my maternity leave until she did come home, and then we were faced with the decision to proceed as planned or to make some significant, longer term changes in order to best accommodate the cards we were dealt.
The nurse practitioner did a basic assessment of Oaklee’s development and size and immediately suggested we put Oaklee on a high calorie infant formula, adding, “I can write you a prescription, so it would be free,” as if the cost would be the only thing that might have held us back and not the overabundant flow of breastmilk I produced, or my natural maternal desire to breastfeed, or, you know, the fact that I was sick of intervening with God’s plan.
By the time we got to that September due date, Oaklee had been in the hospital for 69 days and home for 18 days. She’d grown heaps since being home. She weighed about 7.5 lb – which seemed huge to us considering she started at almost a third of that weight. While we were still frantic and trying to figure out how to take care of a baby, let alone, a long term NICU graduate, Oaklee was doing great.
In these first weeks at home, I largely spent my time pumping, washing pump parts, sorting ounces of breast milk, mixing bottles, giving bottles and cleaning bottles. We were at the beginning of our bottle-to-breast journey and I was already getting burned out.