Today’s Warrior Mom guest post comes from Chasity Boatman, who blogs at Every Child is a Blessing. She writes about exclusively pumping, and how it healed her.
By Chasity Boatman
When I brought my newborn son to my breast to nurse for the first time, I wanted to cry. Not because the moment was so beautiful, but because the pain was excruciating. The experience was nothing like I had read about in breastfeeding books, nursing blogs, or heard about from Le Leche League meetings. Breastfeeding is nature’s way of feeding a child, but I quickly learned that natural didn’t mean easy.
For the next month, I dreaded my son’s hunger. He would cry and reach for me, and I would want to turn away from him. I wanted to hand him off to someone else and leave. I felt guilty for my mental anguish over a beautiful act between mother and child. How wretched of a mother was I for dreading feeding my son from my breasts?
I was certain that I wasn’t doing something right. So I called lactation consultants. I asked questions online. I did as much research as I could. I couldn’t find anything to explain the burning pain and negative feelings I was having while nursing.
It wasn’t until a meeting with my third lactation consultant that I learned I had an unusual hormone imbalance that caused pain when my milk let down. My heart shattered. I felt like my body had failed me in every way imaginable as a mother.
During this time, I was also experiencing panic attacks and flashbacks to my emergency C-section. I dealt with spiritual anger, hatred toward my body, depression, anxiety, and OCD. I felt like I was falling apart at the worst time. I wondered if I should have become a mother. I worried that my son would hate me for being unable to care for him in the ways that I wanted to. I wouldn’t leave my house. I didn’t sleep properly. I had constant, irrational thoughts. I began to have suicidal idealizations. I simply couldn’t mentally handle my traumatic birth, postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, and failing at breastfeeding. It was all too much.
I still had a desperate need to nurse. When others recommended formula, it only made me more determined to breastfeed. I knew that those people were trying to ease my mental burden, but they just didn’t understand.
One day, I found on a thread online about exclusively pumping. At the time, four years ago, the topic wasn’t widely discussed or supported in the breastfeeding community. I didn’t have a plethora of information to work with, but for the first time since my son was born, I felt encouraged. I decided to try it.
For the next three months, I pumped every two hours. The nights were hard and sleepless. Everything I did revolved around my pumping schedule. I pumped in the car, in my college classes, and anywhere else that I needed to. I didn’t care what anyone else around me thought of me pumping, because I was so proud of my body.
Producing 50 ounces a day while pumping was the most healing experience for me. I felt an intense amount of relief and pride in my body. I no longer felt as broken as I once had. Not only did I produce enough milk to feed my son in a way that no longer physically pained me, but I produced enough to donate to others.
Over my year and a half of exclusively pumping, I donated more than 2,000 ounces to other babies through Human Milk 4 Human Babies. I was blessed to meet five incredible mothers who all had their own struggles. One mother couldn’t produce breast milk because she had a double mastectomy. Another mother was feeding an adopted child. Two mothers simply couldn’t produce enough breast milk to keep up with their child’s needs. The last mother had inverted nipples and her child could never latch properly to breastfeed. Being able to help other mothers and babies with my breastmilk was something I deeply cherished. Even at a year and a half, I was pumping every four hours simply to keep my supply up so I could keep donating milk to others. That is, until the day came that my son weaned himself from my milk.
My own struggles as a mother made me passionate about educating other women.
Despite what others told me, exclusively pumping can be an alternative to nursing. I helped mothers learn how to increase their supplies. How to use their pumps properly. Tips and tricks on how to practice self-care while pumping so they didn’t feel distant from their families. I started speaking at motherhood conventions about it and blogging about it regularly. When I was exclusively pumping, most mothers I talked to believed that you either nursed your child or gave them formula. So I was able to give mothers another option that many of them had never considered before or even knew about.
I look back at the time that I exclusively pumped with such fondness. It was the first time in my motherhood journey that I felt strong and accomplished. It was the first time in my motherhood journey that I felt joy. Exclusively pumping is not an easy path, and it’s not for everyone, but for me it was a healing and loving path, especially during a time when I was dealing with the demons of postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum OCD. Every mother’s story is different, and there’s a power in each one.