My journey with my sweet baby girl revolves around two facts: that I am a first time mom and I am a nurse. My pregnancy was amazingly uncomplicated, as was my labor. Presley was born on July 11th, 2011, one minute after midnight. Because I was a nurse at a Childbirth Center, I was very patient with the two hour recovery process that happened in the middle of the night. Because I was a nurse, I was eager to get Presley skin to skin and start breastfeeding and make sure I had a good latch. But because I was a first time mom, I really wasn’t sure what I was doing. It’s incredibly easy to be the one telling people what to do – how to obtain a good latch, how to sooth your baby, how to carry them – but when it’s your baby, you suddenly become a sleep-deprived mass of cluelessness. But I was a nurse, and I was supposed to know how. And so the nurses at the hospital assumed I knew how. And I pretended I did. I was great at pretending I knew how. For the first 24 hours.
Our first night home with Presley was serene. I felt like this maternal goddess – tired and happy and full of wisdom. And then this tiny, discrete little threat popped up, literally. It turned out I wasn’t paying attention every time Presley latched on. So about 38 hours into motherhood, I had blisters on both of my nipples. Breastfeeding became a test of will. She would latch and nurse perfectly, and I sat there crying because it just hurt. As much as anyone could imagine someone sucking on an open wound would hurt. But I was determined. I would alternate positions and use nipple cream every hour. And in the middle of all of this, my milk came in. I felt relieved – until I felt full. And then I felt engorged. For weeks. And because I was a nurse, I knew how to treat it. I took warm showers and did all of the things you were taught to do. But because I was a first time mom, I had no idea how much it hurt. Or how helpless I would feel when after a shower I became this dripping mess. So I got a doctor’s order for a pump, and I started pumping after Presley nursed, which was great. This also helped me to build up a supply for the day I dreaded – the day I had to go back to work.
Don’t misunderstand me – I love my job. However to leave my baby girl and go spend twelve hours in the middle of the night with other moms and their babies was not something I was looking forward to. But it had to happen. Since I was new at my job I didn’t have a ton of time saved up for maternity leave. So two months after P was born, I went back. Everything was set – I had found a daycare that did overnight care, and was on the way to the hospital. I had bags upon bags of frozen milk stored, and I would pump every few hours at work. But slowly, my frozen stores started dwindling. This stressed me out like nothing else. I would set my alarm for every three hours, and make sure that if Presley wasn’t eating, I was pumping. I had in my mind that if we had to start supplementing her, I would have failed. So I pumped and pumped and pumped. But eventually, in the middle of the night, Nikki the caretaker ran out of milk, and had to give Presley formula. When I picked her up that morning, I was amazed at how disappointed I was in myself. I mean we had gone months before even introducing formula – Presley was getting ready to start eating solid foods. But for some reason I couldn’t shake that I wasn’t doing my part to feed my baby.
Eventually I came to terms with my limitations, and continued to pump at work, but also made sure the box of formula was in the diaper bag. About six months in, we were in a good rhythm. I had enough loose-fitting tops so I never had to worry about what I was wearing when we were out and Presley needed to eat (I’m all for public breastfeeding, but I’m also a private person, so I always tucked her under my shirt). Presley only occasionally needed a bottle of formula at Nikki’s house, and on days after I worked, I tucked her into bed with me and nursed her every few hours till we both fell back to sleep. And then Presley’s teeth came in. I had heard from my mom friends at work that this was the defining moment – the moment you stop or push through till they self-wean. And once again, I was determined. I was going to follow the WHO recommendation of feeding her for a year (it hadn’t been changed to two years at that point haha). And because I was a nurse, I knew how to reinforce that biting when she ate wasn’t acceptable. But because I was a first time mom, I wanted to swear every time she ate for the next two weeks. She figured out pretty quickly that mama would take away the goods if she bit me, but it felt like a long time.
I’ve always said that Presley was a miraculously easy kid. That was definitely the case with breastfeeding. Once we got over the biting phase, the rest of our breastfeeding journey was very smooth. And then slowly, around her first birthday, she just started nursing less. She was sleeping through the night, so I would pump only once or twice during the night. And by fifteen months, she had completely weaned herself. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I could wear whatever I wanted, and do whatever I wanted on my breaks at work, but I felt sad. I felt like something truly special had ended. Once in a while, I wish she would still nurse. Of course now she’s two and won’t sit still for anything. But I loved that moment – the moment you’re nursing and look down at this sweet little face, and they’ll look up at you and smile and keep nursing away. I feel very blessed to have been able to nurse Presley for as long as I did. It made me a mother, and it made me a better nurse. Now when my patients are crying at three o’clock in the morning, I can honestly tell them that right now is the tough part, but that it will get easier. And when it does, it will be amazing.