The Fine Art of “Expressingism”
OK so I’ve completely made that term up but I think after a year of being chained to a breast pump I’ve earnt the right to make up new words.
So the breast pump, what can I say? What can’t I say! it was a nightmare, a contraption that ruled my life for a year alongside the demands of a firstborn. Not only was I having to deal with the trials and tribulations of being a new mum – I had not only a newborn but a preterm newborn….with reflux! Trying to get my head around all things baby was hard enough but then I had to also plan my day, the whole 24 hours of it, around a machine! Now I know it was my choice to express….well initially it didn’t seem like a choice but to be honest it wasn’t a choice for me, it was my duty.
Please don’t think for a moment that I am condemning anyone who hasn’t expressed because they weren’t able to breastfeed right at the start because I am not. To me, it felt like there was no choice but to start my life as a mum attached to a machine because I was trying to do everything I could possibly do to help my son in his first few weeks of his premature life. There was no question when asked if I would express some colostrum off, it had been explained to me that it was either start introducing breast milk and see how nature could quickly take over and work its magic (my interpretation not their words) or have to wait for a few weeks for his organs to mature further before they could introduce formula, in the meantime he would be pumped with a solution to help fatten him up, and there was no telling how he would react to all that was bring forced into his tiny little body. This wasn’t a choice, of course I was going to try and express, 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…it was my duty as his mummy, I needed to make it up to my son for failing him already. I would never have forgiven myself if anything had happened to him and I hadn’t given everything I could possibly give.
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. For something so natural it felt far from normal watching this “liquid gold” pour out from me…I mean come on, why were the flanges (that word again) almost clear? Surely this is where the technology in plastic development and molding should’ve made them opaque, no??
So my days before my son came home were spent in 3 hourly intervals, 3 hours between each draining session, 3 hours where I would lose another shred of dignity and begin to care less and less what other people saw or thought, 3 hours where into the night I would attempt to lean forward and prop my head against the drawers so a) gravity would be more on my side and I could be finished faster and b) I could catch a mini cat nap as exhaustion was soon closing in on me. The latter resulted in being rudely awoken when I would feel the warm dampness spread across my thighs as milk overflowed from the bottles and I was creating a pool of chaos…not what you need at 2 am knowing it would start all over again at 5 am.
I was fortunate enough to be blessed (or maybe I was cursed) with an abundant supply of milk. My body continued it’s bovine transformation from where I mooed during labour to developing the traits of a fresian cow. 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 not a chance my tiny baby was going to make even the slightest dent in the ever growing milk supply. The store was soon taking over our fridge and freezer. 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 4 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 one side, only to have to flip over and do the other side – usually as he had just drifted off to sleep. I expressed until my nipples resembled puckered blackberries, I expressed in the back of the car on a road trip down south – that gave some nosy onlookers a shock that’s for sure. I expressed until my body no longer produced a drop of milk – as it was in the throes of growing baby number two.
When I look back on what I did for a whole year for the love of my boy, 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 physically do meant every time I reached a milestone 1 month, 3 months, 6 months I raised the bar and said “just a little longer….you’ve come this far”.
But not only did I provide my son with what I believe to be the thing that 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 in order to give back and do my part for others in need.
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 think back to the year I spent attached to a machine, a year where I gazed upon the sweet face of my eldest whilst he jumped in the jumperoo because mummy couldn’t play and I 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, it’s my duty as a mum…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!