On September 6th, our little bitty munchkin turned 6 months old. We didn't take photos to celebrate because the poor thing was fighting a miserable cold and running a fever so she basically slept all of Labor Day weekend away, but I did a little mini personal celebration in my head because you know what else Adeline's half birthday meant?
I DID IT.
I made it 6 months breastfeeding. And let me tell you - it was probably the hardest thing I have ever done. I've hinted at it before on the blog that I didn't really want anything to do with breastfeeding when I was pregnant, so making the decision to give it a fair shot and then actually managing to keep it up was kind of huge for me. So huge, in fact, that I decided I needed a blog post all about it tooting my own horn. It's long, and it probably mentions boobs more than you were planning on reading about today. You're welcome.
Here's the thing. I never really had boobs to begin with - we're talking barely-there A-cups on a good day. And thanks to teenagers being total assholes, this meant that I got made fun of a LOT growing up. The most notable of the ridiculing would be when I was called "board chest" by a guy for the entire summer leading into high school (he later asked me to homecoming and I laughed in his face, so there's that at least), but he was far from the only one that took note of my body skipping over certain parts of puberty. So fast forward a decade and a half later to when I got pregnant, and I can assure you that I wanted nothing to do with spending literal HOURS a day with my boobs as the center of attention. I actually asked my doctor at one appointment if boobs as small as mine could really manage to sustain life and was honestly shocked when she said yes (and also grateful that she didn't laugh at me for asking). It didn't help that everywhere you turn these days there's an article or a blog post or a friend or a total stranger reminding you that "breast is best!!!" and formula is frowned upon by basically the entire world. Let me be clear - this is bullshit, and the only person that should have any say whatsoever in how you feed your baby is YOU, but I digress. I still read all the articles even though they made me feel like garbage for even considering formula. I smiled and nodded when people gave me their unsolicited opinions about it all. At one point when I was feeling somewhat optimistic about the whole thing, I signed Dan and I up for a 3 hour long breastfeeding class and then threw a major temper tantrum the morning of it because I changed my mind and did NOT want to go. We still went, I was a huge brat the rest of the day because of it, and later on I told Dan that while I understood the benefits to both me and the baby, it was ultimately my decision on whether or not I was going to even give it a try.
And then Adeline came 5 weeks early and landed herself in the NICU.
One of my favorite moms that Dan works with told me a story when Adeline was a couple months old about how she once described motherhood to a friend by comparing it to when you see a lioness being fiercely protective over her cubs. She explains it much better than I'm doing here, but the point is that the second I saw my baby being wheeled away from me to go get hooked up to a bunch of monitors I got REAL protective and immediately didn't care about anything else except doing whatever I could possibly do for her... and at that point, it meant accepting the fact that I was going to be spending a LOT of time with my boobs in the future, because I knew that breastmilk was the very best thing for her. I couldn't hold her nearly as much as I wanted to, I couldn't stop her from needing to spend a whole day under the lights for jaundice, I couldn't avoid the tests she had to get, I couldn't take away the feeding tube that ran through her nose into her stomach, I couldn't take her home. But I could pump, every 2.5 hours around the clock, to get as much milk as possible to go into the feeding tube and do exactly what I never thought it could do - sustain life.
One of the benefits to the extra time in the hospital was that I had lactation consultants available to me several times a day, so by the time we got home Adeline and I had sort of established latching and I was starting to get a handle on what worked for us. We also never had to deal with nipple confusion since she had to take bottles in the hospital, which I hear is a blessing in disguise. We were cleared for straight nursing by the pediatrician a couple days after getting home (instead of having to measure milk precisely into bottles to know exactly how much she was getting), and that was that. I was a breastfeeding mama, and I couldn't believe it but for the most part, I didn't totally hate it. Funny how life surprises you sometimes, huh?
We have definitely had our ups and downs - like how around 7 weeks I was all "check me out we totally have this breastfeeding thing down, I'm a rockstar mom" and then Adeline suddenly decided she had no clue what she was doing anymore and would freak out and throw her head around unable to latch until we were both in tears. There was Easter at my gramma's house when she was just a few weeks old - I went upstairs to a bedroom to nurse and thanks to my previously mentioned teeny boobs, between my shirt and my bra and her fancy dress there was just too much in the way and the poor thing couldn't actually reach so I had to basically strip the 2 of us down while she screamed bloody murder with my entire extended family downstairs. She also peed all over the futon while I was changing her diaper after that which I can assure you did a serious number on my mom ego. Then there was going back to work and getting into the routine of pumping at the office. My VERY FIRST day back and the VERY FIRST time I pumped at work I was having one of those few and far between moments where I felt like "I can totally do it all! Look at me with my career and my baby!"... and then when I went to pull my nursing bra back up I realized the pump had been leaking the entire time and my bra was soaked. I texted Dan in a panic and he had to interrupt Adeline's nap to pack her up in the car and bring me a new bra in a grocery bag so I could change. I mean, come on.
At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if all of our neighbors have seen me half naked since I basically spent my entire maternity leave without a shirt on because it's just easier and who's actually looking to make things any harder when you have a newborn, am I right? I've also nursed Adeline in a few parking lots, in a mall, in a random alley in the city (in the car, don't worry), and in a booth at a Houlihan's, so there's probably a lot of other random people that have seen my boobs as well... and you know what? I don't really care. It has (somehow) worked for us despite all of my pessimism about it, and for that, I am really really proud. Between the special bras that get in the way, and the nursing covers that don't work, and the nipple cream, and the pads to make sure you don't leak while out in public, and the pump that makes you feel like a cow being milked, and everything else that comes along with it, I think it's sort of obnoxious for anyone to insist that breastfeeding is totally "natural," but it IS pretty incredible, so there's that.
So here we are at 6 months - I've officially made it the standard amount of time that the American Academy of Pediatrics majorly suggests, and in that funny way that things work out I'm not in a terribly huge rush to quit. I made a deal with myself that at 6 months I wouldn't beat myself up anymore if I don't have time to pump twice at work or if I want to go to bed before pumping at the end of the night, and I'm slowly starting to adjust to letting go a bit and have gone out a few evenings leaving Dan to do bedtime with a bottle. Adeline has had some formula here and there since I went back to work and doesn't mind it, so we've gotten into a pretty good routine of just going with what works day to day. But I adore the time I get to spend with her nursing in the morning and at bedtime - even more now that I am back at work and only get to see her for a short time each day during the week - and it is so incredibly clear to me that it's a huge comfort for her, which has been really encouraging for me as a new mom.
Oh, and - I can't possibly end this without a MASSIVE thank you to the hubs, who has been the biggest encouragement through all of my ups and downs with breastfeeding, and who has also probably filled no less than 1,000 cups of ice water for me since I literally become parched the second I start nursing or pumping and NEVER remember to get water beforehand. I won't hate you if you say "I told you so."