How I mastered the art of “Expressionism”

Ok, so I’ve completely made that term up but I think after a year of being chained to a breast pump I’ve earned the right to make up new words.

So the breast pump, what can I say? What can’t I say! It ruled my life for a year alongside the demands of a firstborn. Not only was I dealing with a preterm newborn….with reflux… trying to get my head around all things baby but I was having to plan my day, the whole 24 hours of it, around a machine!

Now I know it was my choice to express….but at the time it felt like a duty. Please don’t think for a moment that I am condemning anyone who didn’t do it when they weren’t able to breastfeed because I am not.

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In my case, however, when asked if I would rather start introducing breast milk or wait a couple of weeks for my son’s organs to mature enough to cope with formula, there was no question.

I wanted to do everything I possibly could to help him in his first few weeks of his premature life. I felt like that my body had already failed to keep my baby inside for the final stage of pregnancy so the least I could do was try to provide as much nutrition as I could to help him along his way.

So it began. I was introduced to the hospital grade Medela pump….I would spend many an hour cupping the two flanges (what is that word?!) and watch as my nipples were sucked back and forth and milk squirted out. It felt far from natural watching this “liquid gold” (as the nurses called it) pour out of me…

Why, I would ask myself, are the flanges transparent? Surely the whole thing would have been slightly less disconcerting had they been opaque?! So my days before my son came home were spent in three hourly intervals at the pump. Every three hours I would lose another shred of dignity and begin to care less and less what other people saw or thought.

I have no idea what my body thought I was feeding as there was no chance my tiny baby was going to make even the slightest dent in the ever growing milk supply.

At night I would lean forward and prop my head against the chest of drawers so a) gravity would be more on my side and I could be finished faster and b) I could catch a cat nap (only to be rudely awoken to the sensation of warm dampness on my thighs as milk overflowed from the bottles).

I was fortunate enough to be blessed (or maybe I was cursed) with an abundant supply of milk. At my milky peak I could produce 16 fl oz in one sitting. I have no idea what my body thought I was feeding as there was no chance my tiny baby was going to make even the slightest dent in the ever growing milk supply.

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Our fridge and freezer were full of it. But expressing was what I did and what I continued to do. I expressed through two bouts of mastitis (was I being punished for something because that was just miserable). I didn’t leave the house properly for four months as I juggled expressing and dealing with a screaming reflux baby. I cancelled play dates to express, I developed acrobatic ways to hold my boy and feed him a bottle whilst expressing.

I expressed until my nipples resembled puckered blackberries. I expressed in the back of the car. I expressed until my body no longer produced a drop of milk – as it was in the throes of growing baby number two. I did it for a whole year for the love of my boy but it was hard.

I sacrificed a lot, I cried a lot, I wanted to give up but my determination to do the best that I could for him meant every time I reached a milestone one month, three months, six months, I raised the bar and said “just a little longer….you’ve come this far.”

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Not only did I provide my son with the thing I believe made him so strong and resilient in those first few weeks, I also provided other preterm babies with milky magic. I donated 16 litres worth of milk to our local milk bank.

It wasn’t the most enjoyable time of my life but as I sit here and breastfeed my youngest and I’m having a hard day with my favourite boob limpet I reflect back on the year I spent attached to a machine, a year where I gazed upon the sweet face of my eldest ( in the jumperoo because mummy couldn’t play) and think…if I can do that for him, I can certainly breastfeed this one, this in comparison is a doddle.

Would I express again? Of course… but maybe I would invest in some hands free boob wear so I could join the 21st century in the milking industry.

And a huge tip…never think you can rush expressing by whacking the suction up. I’ve never seen my boobs so distorted in all my life as they were sucked into the funnel of the breast pump….certainly makes you jump to your feet!

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How I mastered the art of “Expressionism”

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