“This is not how motherhood is supposed to go. I’ve pleaded with God for the life of my child before she was even born because I knew the fight she would face, and I didn’t know if she could win. I never allowed myself to believe we’d be going home without a baby, but that possibility was a reality we prayed against time and time again.
“So now, here I am, complaining about feedings when her life was spared for moments such as these. Some day, we’ll be past this phase. We’ll laugh about how chronically Oaklee spit and how stressed we were about her weight gain. We’ll face different stresses – ones that feel more pressing than these. But wow, is this current phase hard. I had no idea that having a preemie would play out like this. Her prematurity defines her for far longer than I’d imagine for a kiddo who seems rather normal. “
Thanksgiving 2017 – we had so much to be thankful for. In a year where we feared we might lose our baby, we got to snuggle her tight on Thanksgiving amongst our families and in our own home. We were immensely blessed, and we knew it, but the dark clouds of the breastfeeding battle were low and relentless. It was a storm we couldn’t see past, and so we made the Thanksgiving Commitment.
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:
- Quit – allow myself to dry up and use up the milk I’d stored up in our freezer to get Oaklee through the flu season.
- Exclusively pump – the route I’d technically already been taking but so deeply dreaded committing to.
- Pursue breastfeeding like it’s our only option.
While everything inside of me wanted to take option 1 and avoid option 2, I headed toward option 3. On Thanksgiving, I nursed Oaklee every two hours instead of every three hours, giving her six opportunities of nine total feedings to learn, to bond, to eat without the pressure of needing to not fall asleep before getting full because she could eat again in two hours. In a day that was full of family and food, I slipped out of the room every two hours to try again and again and again.
In the six breastfeeding attempts, she nursed anywhere from 4.5 to 13.5 minutes at a time, for a total of 52 minutes. Not everyone breaks down their baby’s nursing habits mathematically. In fact, I’m not certain I know of anyone else who has done that, but literally every feeding of Oaklee’s since birth had been tracked and charted and calculated and analyzed. We knew the number of minutes or milliliters necessary to get the results the doctors wanted to see.
So let me put it this way:
In a span of time where Oaklee should have eaten four times, I fed her six times. If you divide the 52 minutes by four feedings, rather than the six we actually did, she was doing approximately 13 minute feeds. Per the NICU suggestion, 15 minute feeds were considered full feeds. We were significantly closer than we were even two weeks ago by feeding more frequently for less breastmilk as opposed to less frequently for more breastmilk.
It seemed as though this may be a glimpse into what the issue actually was. Was Oaklee hungry enough to eat the amount she needed to eat? Absolutely. But breastfeeding is hard for the baby too, and especially one who’s known more bottles than breast and is still the size of a newborn despite being five months old. She simply couldn’t eat until she was full because she was too small, too tired, too premature.
On Thanksgiving, I committed to taking new steps – feeding Oaklee more frequently, wearing her more often, and dealing with my firehose letdown so she didn’t have to take it – to get Oaklee to be a breastfeeder by the end of the year. And if that didn’t happen, that would be the end. That was the commitment part. I had to commit to giving up if that was going to be best for us – if that was going to help me be a better mom, a better wife, and a better person.
There was an end goal in sight. An end that would either mean no more breastfeeding attempts or pumping – or – no more fruitless breastfeeding attempts. Which would surface, only time would tell.
In the stats:
Birth weight: 2lb, 12oz
Last known weight: 9lb 11oz (11.9.17)
Adjusted age: 5 weeks, 5 days
Actual age: 21 weeks
Days in the hospital: 69
Days home: 79
Appointments since home: 14