Last Friday, Sweet Pea turned 18 months old.
18 freaking months. Quite a few milestones here: she’s a year and a half old, which means that now I can stop counting “months old” and just start saying “a year and a half” or “almost two” further down the line when someone asks how old she is.
I’m not quite sure how I feel about this. I involuntarily lost track of how many “weeks old” she was when I started counting months, so I kind of wish that this is how it happened this time around. But I won’t go around saying “she’s 21 months” because that just sounds silly to me. It’s like fractions and the lowest common denominator. You’re not gonna say you have 28/8 of a pizza – you have 3 and a half pizzas. Reduce, reduce, reduce, and make it less complicated. 17 months was a prime number, so like, what was I supposed to do, right?
Last Friday also marked 18 months of our breastfeeding journey. Well, maybe the first week didn’t count, since I definitely was NOT breastfeeding for the first several days (the boobs took a while to get in the game), but never ever did I expect to get this far.
I didn’t think I would get past the first month.
I remember taking the prenatal breastfeeding class with my awesome support person Shoshana, and learning all the different holds and how to get the proper latch. Armed with my stuffed “Bear in the Big Blue House” bear, I mastered the football hold, cradle, cross-cradle, and left that class thinking “Man, I got this.”
Then Sweet Pea came along, and we got about a minute of skin to skin contact before she was whisked away to the NICU. She was born at 6:48pm, and I didn’t see her again until 11pm, tucked away in a little plastic bubble. She was hooked up to so many tubes and wires that I wasn’t even allowed to hold her.
Strike one: she didn’t latch on shortly after birth.
The next morning, the nurses let me hold her and they encouraged me to start breastfeeding. Right away, they were impressed by how I put her into position so effortlessly, and said I was a natural. I tried to get Sweet Pea to latch, and she did… kinda.
Latch on, suck, latch off.
Latch on, suck, latch off.
“Is she getting any milk? Do you hear her swallowing?” they’d ask me.
“…I think so?” I said. I learned that if you hear little clicks, it means they’re swallowing. But are the clicks I’m hearing the right clicks?
I started pumping with no reassuring results. 15 minutes this side, 15 minutes that side, and I was lucky if I had 5 ml. When I was discharged from the hospital with my baby left behind, I set a timer for every 3 hours to pump. We’d visit the hospital every day and leave around 8pm – so at 9pm, 12am, 3am, 6am I would pump and be back for 7:00.
Finally, on the fourth night, I was able to pump a whole Snappie container full of colostrum – 70 ml! I was SO excited to bring it to Sweet Pea and finally feed her a substantial amount of this “precious gold” that everyone was talking about. I handed it over to the nurse that was on duty that day and she warmed it up in their machine. Then she popped a nipple on top of it and placed it on the chair in front of me.
I went over to pick up Sweet Pea from her magic bubble, and got all set up in the nursing chair. Horseshoe pillow on my lap, baby in hand, shirt slung up and over my shoulder. All ready.
Then I tried to adjust the chair that the Snappie was sitting on. When I hooked my foot around the leg of the chair to bring it closer to me, I saw the mini bottle wobble, fall to the floor and a puddle of milk spilled out from the opening. The nipple wasn’t screwed on. She didn’t screw it on at all.
In the moment that I saw hours and hours of work and precious resources completely wasted, I don’t think I ever wanted to strangle anyone so badly in my entire life. “How could she be so lazy and not completely screw on the top completely? Why did I trust this incompetent woman with the one tube of breastmilk that I was finally able to accumulate so that I could finally feed my daughter?”
I was enraged. I started bawling. I was literally crying over spilled milk. And the most awkward part of it – I was trapped in the chair with a baby on top of me, Dan was in the cafeteria, and my calls for the nurse went unheard as she wasn’t even in the room. The only thing that garnered any attention was my colourful text to Dan as I’m pretty sure I sounded like a crazy woman.
The good news is – I made more.
It took a lot of blessed thistle/fenugreek pills, Guinness beer, lactation cookies, chugging mint-ginger-and-cucumber-infused water, overextended pumping sessions, escaping a near-decision to pump exclusively, and selling my soul to become a human pacifier but by jove I did it. My supply finally regulated and I was reassured by all of Sweet Pea’s gulping and milk-drunk pass-outs that I was exactly where I wanted to be.
Aside from all the health benefits, it’s convenient and free which no doubt has made life a little easier. I’m so grateful for being able to breastfeed. I know that there are women who truly can’t – despite what the lactation consultants say – so I feel lucky that I made it to 18 months and counting. Even though it doesn’t look like we’re stopping any time soon, I’m glad to say that I’ve been able to be away from her overnight and for hours at a time, something that looked bleak at the 6 month mark.
If you’re where I was 18 months ago thinking that it’s not gonna happen or that you’re slowly losing faith in yourself, hang in there. I know how stressful it is and it’ll get better, whether you end up breastfeeding or not.