“My babies are sleeping under the same roof…“
Approximately 36 hours after the approximately 36 hour NICU stay, we were discharged to go home. By that point, we couldn’t wait to get out of there, but the 36 hours between the NICU and home were not exactly uneventful. It’s not as though we were bored.
Both sets of grandparents had come to meet Win while he was still in the NICU. Post-NICU discharge, we spent two more nights at the hospital. By night two, a little problem had escalated and robbed us of really any sleep at all.
On the 22nd, we had three groups of visitors – some friends and two of our siblings/spouses. Somewhere in the midst of visitor group two, my body decided it was going to feed an army. I had had a breastmilk overproduction issue with my daughter but, exclusively pumping at the time, it was relatively easy to manage and resolve in time for her to catch on to breastfeeding at six months old. This time around I was set on skipping the exclusive pumping bit. Win had been doing great with nursing any attempt he’d made since birth. But then this.
It’s not uncommon for a mother’s milk to take a few days to come in (especially in the event of a premature birth). It doesn’t even usually come in regulated in the perfect amount for baby at the perfect times he/she needs to eat. But in literally a matter of an hour, on day two, I found myself uncommonly engorged. I was swollen, rock hard to my collar bones. I was recovering from a surgery that extracted a 7lb baby from my body, but I was begging for pain meds that could alleviate the situation in my chest. We called on the lactation consultant (LC) who began putting together a plan for me. We strapped diapers packed with ice to my chest, which I wore during visitor group three because I couldn’t fathom attempting to suck this up for the sake of my pride.
The level of engorgement was beyond belief. The LC acknowledged that this was one of the worst cases she’d ever seen. I began worrying that this might cause irreversible damage to a part of my body I would be relying on so heavily in the many months to come. Could I actually pop? I needed to get this under control fast.
After our visitors left, I began a power-pumping approach – 15 minutes pumping, 15 minutes icing, 15 minutes pumping, 15 minutes icing. I was encouraged to do this for hours until I began to see progress. The LC feared that if we didn’t remove the milk, I would face a more serious issue – mastitis. I’d briefly experienced mastitis with my daughter, and while I did not want to land there again, I also knew from my experience with my daughter that my body tends to quickly replace every drop of milk I remove.
Breastfeeding works by supply and demand. If you’re fortunate to be able to breastfeed well, your body will supply the breastmilk your baby demands. So when we introduced our middle man, the pump, it was as if I was asking my over-eager body to supply milk for the demands of Win and the pump. I dutifully did as I was told for approximately one hour. Not only was I experiencing excruciating pain, but I was also dealing with extreme doubt. There was no way this approach could work for me.
I eased up on pumping that evening, only pumping when I could no longer handle the pain and needed even just the mental relief of withdrawing milk from my overstuffed breasts. We closed our eyes that night in failed attempts to sleep many times. Around midnight, I woke up from a three to five minute slumber in a panic attack. My chest hurt so bad, but I couldn’t sit up to communicate it because my incision was also painful. And so I sobbed, my breath escaping me in exhaustive shallow blows, my heart pounding, my body sweating. I thought I was going to throw up, but I didn’t want the muscles that had just been rearranged to make way for a baby to have go through those motions.
Once calmed down, I decided the hospital was not the place for me. I’d taken care of engorgement on my own before, and I could do it again. I needed to be home. I needed to be away from the LC who didn’t know how to handle my situation, the nurses who woke us up for various checks, the bed that wasn’t mine. I needed to be able to relax – to be comfortable. If I could just stick it out until the morning, then I would become another cog in another wheel.
And I made it to the morning. We had the pediatrician circumcise Win and approve his discharge to go home. We pushed our nurse (one I’d met during my stay two years prior during my pregnancy for my daughter) to get my discharge going. And then we, our baby, and the 100 or so ounces I’d already pumped were off. We drove home and were soon reunited with our daughter.
Being home didn’t immediately alleviate my engorgement. I continued to ice and pump when necessary, but it gave me hope. We were a family of four. But now our life as a family of four could begin. My babies were sleeping under the same roof. We were home. Again.
In the stats:
Gestational Age: 37 weeks
Actual Age: 3 days