I could barely hold the funnel to my breast. My hands, swollen and numb grasped as hard as they could, my body, weak, hardly had the strength I needed. I lay there, on the hospital bed, the noise of the machines sending me into a trance like slumber. Slowly the small drops of precious milk appeared, glistening in the light that flooded my room, and I felt relief relax my body. I closed my eyes, this, this was my lifeline, this was what was keeping me alive. My baby lay in neonatal, she felt like a million miles away, this was all I could do, I couldn’t walk, couldn’t hold her or care for her, but I could do this, I could give her my milk. So while my arms ached, the pain making my fingers tremble, my ravaged, traumatised body fought to give me what I needed, I would do this for her, for me.
So while on HDU and then when I was well enough to go to the postnatal wards,pumping for my daughter became my lifeline. It kept me alive, because deep down I believed I was dying, so I would stare at the clock and will myself to live just a few hours longer so I could pump again and provide another feed for my baby. It became my mission, my goal to live till the next time I had to express and it felt like the last gift that my failing body could give her. The staff tried to make me stop, telling me that with the massive blood loss and a haemoglobin of 4.1 it was pointless. They told me I would never make any milk, let alone enough to feed her just breastmilk, but I wasn’t giving up that easy. So I cherished every drop that my body gave me, like it was a magical potion that would keep my baby safe. Even after I was found unconscious in my room and at the brink of death, all I could think about was I needed to live, just a little longer to express my milk, I had to do this because soon I would be gone and this was all I could do, all I could give her of me. Every bottle I sent to the unit was full of love, I couldn’t be there, to tell her I loved her but my milk was like a message in a bottle. So I would beg for the pump and even fetch it myself. It was such a sight, me in my wheelchair trying to also wheel the pump down the ward, but I was determined nothing would stop me.
Gradually as the days passed my supply increased. It felt like a victory. I would prove them all wrong, I would do this, just wait and see. As soon as I was well enough I would wheel myself down to the neonatal unit, placing the small bottles containing my milk, in the pocket of my dressing gown next to my heart. It was like carrying the most precious jewels. Bringing my baby her gift. As I watched the nurses fill up the syringe and feed it through her nasal gastric tube, my heart would beat so fast, fit to burst. I had done that, I had provided her with what she needed, no one else just me. I was giving her life, giving her what she should have had from me, had she still been inside me, had my stricken body not failed her six weeks too soon. I would not fail again. My body would come good this time and provide her what she needed. As I looked at her small and fragile in the incubator, I willed my body to hold out and to keep going.
Soon my supply was increasing and the nurses were amazed as I kept bringing down bottles full of milk. As my baby grew stronger they asked if they could start giving bottles so they could wean her off the NG tube but I made it clear that I wanted to feed her from my breast. Again I was told we would never achieve fully breastfeeding but that I could try her at the breast and then they would offer her a top up in a bottle. However this wasn’t good enough for me, we would prove them wrong again, because I knew that she could get this breastfeeding lark, we just needed time.
When I held her to my breast I felt calm, and safe. The terror went away and the fear eased.
After two weeks I was discharged from the ward and my mission now was to be at the unit 24/7. The staff agreed to leave in the NG tube while I was trying to establish breastfeeding so that they could top up feeds if needed. So I basically moved in. Every moment I could, I placed my tiny baby to my breast. It was terrifying, I had no idea what I was doing, she still had wires everywhere and the machines would beep and go crazy, but slowly I found a way to hold her and she would open her tiny mouth and latch. It filled me with the most amazing feeling, to know that I was caring for my baby this way. When most of her care was out of my hands, this was something I could do. After two nights in the chair next to her cot, the staff knew I was going nowhere and I was given the tiny room on the unit that was only big enough to contain a bed and a tiny sink, but I was so grateful. I was just about able to walk very small distances but it meant I had a place to rest at night till I was called to her bedside. I was watched by the staff like a hawk, and she was weighed daily. Many times the staff and family suggested I be kind to myself and take it easy and add in some formula. They said she wouldn’t gain weight as fast on breastmilk and it would take longer for us to go home. But I was determined and so was my little baby. She worked so hard, and she would open her eyes and gaze at me like she was willing me on and telling me she could do this.
So it began, my breastfeeding journey, my lifeline. When we both finally went home 5 weeks after her birth my baby was fully breastfeeding, to the amazement of the staff. Together we overcame a traumatic, premature birth that nearly cost us both our lives, massive blood loss that should have robbed me of my milk and transitioning to fully breastfeeding when no one said we would. Even when we got home it wasn’t easy and we battled oversupply, awful colic, mastitis and tongue tie. But together we made it, for 15 months I fed and nourished my baby and she thrived, she put on weight and despite me being told to expect her to be behind in developmental milestones to everyone’s amazement she was instead advanced. In fact my little girl even though only tiny was walking at nine months.
For me breastfeeding kept me alive, on the days when I had no idea if I would make it, I lived to express for my baby. When I went home, when I was battling flashbacks and nightmares from the birth, when I was scared and worried about my baby, breastfeeding was my lifeline. When I held her to my breast I felt calm, and safe. The terror went away and the fear eased. Close to me, she was mine, I could protect her, nothing could harm her or take her from me. My body that had failed her, was now keeping her alive once more, giving her everything she needed. It was also saving me, keeping me from loosing myself to the terrors that sought to take over my mind. In the night when I woke and heard her crying I could run to her, take her in my arms and place her to my breast, unlike all those nights in hospital when I couldn’t be with her, couldn’t care for her.
For me breastfeeding was a beautiful gift. It is a gift that I cherish, because it was a battle no one said we could win. But win we did and I will forever be grateful for the fact that we achieved what was seemly impossible, given all the odds – a lifeline in the darkest of times.