When I gave birth to my son, I was 22 and entirely naïve about having a baby. This served me well in some ways, and not-so-well in others. He came out beautiful and healthy – everything I wanted. In my postpartum haze, I remember him on my chest, and a murmur of words around me indicating that he wasn’t latching, an unexpected breastfeeding obstacle. I didn’t care, because he was alive and beautiful and I loved him. They whisked him away, and I come back into my memory awareness when they had moved me into another room in the hospital, and my baby was back in my arms. A nurse came in with a hefty armful of equipment and plunked it down next to my bed. “Okay,” she said. “I’m going to teach you how to pump your milk so you can feed your baby until he can latch.” I stared at her. “Why couldn’t he latch? When would he latch? Would everything be okay?” I asked all sorts of questions. He had been born 4 weeks before his due date, and they said this was fairly common with early babies. A lot of them learned to latch around their actual due date, regardless of how early they were. I specifically remember her saying “Sometimes it takes a couple weeks, sometimes it takes a couple months.” And in my head, I prayed to God, “Please don’t let this take two months.”
It took two months.
For 8 weeks, I pumped my milk and finger-fed it to my child through a small tube that I placed next to my finger. He sucked on my finger and ate in this way. I didn’t use a bottle because I didn’t want him getting used to any synthetic nipples. If this boy was going to suck on a nipple, it was going to be mine. Every day, I pumped my milk with the dual-pump the hospital loaned me. My body assumed I had birthed hefty, hungry twins, and so my breasts began producing insane amounts of milk. One day I opened the freezer and bags and bags of milk, frozen like golden bricks, poured out, skidding across the entire floor. Daily, I practiced getting my babe to latch. Every once in a while, he would do it for a split second. It was these tiny moments that gave me the strength to keep going. In my moments of despair, I cried and wondered how much longer I’d need to pump. What if I had to do it a whole year? I called the lactation angels and they came to my house, watching me train him and comforting me, telling me I was doing all the right things. I don’t remember these women’s names, only they were a light for me when things were dark. Every day I sterilized and washed, sterilized and washed. Leaving the house was difficult, as our finger-feeding set-up was inconvenient, to say the least.
Finally, when he was about 8 weeks old, he latched. I held my breath. He held the latch. A few minutes later, he did it again. For the first time in my life, I nursed my baby. The pleasure, both physically and emotionally, was immeasurable. At this point, my breasts were twice the size of his tiny head and my let-down was ferocious, due to all the pumping. The let down choked him for a couple weeks until my milk supply finally adjusted to my real baby’s need.
My gratitude was big and large. “I knew you could do it,” I told him. The lactation angels came and got the pump from my house. “We knew you could do it,” they told me.
I nursed my son for the next 22 months. I still remember it as one of the best experiences of my life.