Last night I didn’t pump. This marked the first day since April 3, 2014, that I didn’t pump. That’s 404 days of hooking myself up to a machine eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and finally one time per day. A rough estimate says that my pump and I (okay, my two pumps and I) had no fewer than 2,380 scheduled meetings. Countless pumping “parties” in the pump room at the hospital, late night rendezvous (yes, while the babies were sleeping!!), early morning encounters, mid-day “breaks” in the Ladies Room at work…my pump and I. So I should have rejoiced at my ability to move from one day to the next pump free. Thirty-six hours without the twenty minute interruption that almost always felt like an inconvenience. Last night, at 9:00 pm, when I started getting ready to pump (I had gotten down to once a day for the past few days), and I thought, “Hmmm…maybe I don’t really need to pump…” I should have been ecstatic. But you know what? I cried.
Let’s be clear: there is nothing emotional about pumping. It isn’t the same as nursing (duh). My pump and I do not have a connection. Every time I was pumping (especially in the early days before I went back to work), I was painfully aware of the fact that I WASN’T nursing. I wasn’t snuggling one of my little loves. There was no mother-daughter/son bonding going on. And trust me, anyone who chooses to pump for as long as I did is someone who wishes she could be nursing instead. Most days, my pump is an uncomfortable nuisance. A necessary evil. But it is certainly not something I looked forward to doing. So why the tears?
Perhaps my fellow preemie mamas can relate. Or maybe any mother who nursed or pumped to provide her babies nourishment for as long as I did. But there was a time (65 days, in fact) when essentially, the only thing I was able to do for my tiny, much-too-early trio, was to provide them with my milk. I couldn’t regulate their body temperature for them, I couldn’t provide the pressure and oxygen they needed to breathe, and I couldn’t nurse them because they hadn’t learned how to suck. I rarely changed their diapers, I held them for a maximum of 2 hours every two days, and I didn’t get to take them home with me. But I was able to pump. And pump I did. And when your newborn is only eating 2mL of milk per feeding, even with eight feedings a day, it doesn’t take too much work to provide.
Multiply that by three, of course, and increase their feeds as their little bodies gain ounces, and eventually pounds, and it’s a bigger job. But those of you who know me know that I rarely back down from a challenge, and so every three hours (unless I was snuggling a baby in the NICU, then I might go four), like clock-work, I pumped. That means I woke up in the middle of the night to pump. While Henry, Jack, and Sophie were three miles away at Beth Israel. I am not telling you this (most of you probably already know this) because I think I deserve any sort of special praise for what I did. Waking up in the middle of the night is what a lot of mothers of newborns do. And I know many of my fellow NICU mamas were doing the same thing when they went home at the end of a draining day at the hospital. But it helps to explain how committed I was to pumping.
I was lucky. I am not sure if my body sensed I had three others to feed, or if I trained my body to provide what we needed, but I had an abundance of milk. A deep freezer full, in fact. All dated and labeled in neat little containers. Milk management was a significant part of our daily routine, both when the babies were in the NICU (Will was affectionately known as “The Milkman,” for the deliveries he made every morning and evening) and after they came home. I still wish I simply could have nursed, but since I couldn’t (or didn’t), this felt like a pretty great alternative.
There came a time, as you might suspect, when my trio, healthy, home, and growing, starting eating more than I could produce. With a twinge of bitterness, I supplemented with the special preemie formula the hospital had recommended. Still, even after I went back to work, I was determined to provide as much as I could. Part of this is because I am competitive. Even if it’s just with myself. But I also felt a connection to those early NICU days, when all I could do was pump. And I knew that Henry, Jack, and Sophie benefited from every ounce of milk I produced. So I pumped. Before work, after work, at work. And last night, when I decided NOT to pump, I cried. These little “babies” are nearly 14 months old. And as I had been weaning gradually, only one third of the trio had been getting my milk once a day for the past few days. But still, there was something decidedly sad about acknowledging that this chapter in my life (our life) was over. There hasn’t been a single day since these babies were born, that I didn’t provide them (at least one of them!) with nourishment.
It’s worth mentioning the fact that our triplets, born 12 weeks too soon, barely over two pounds, were home two weeks before their due date. Without any lingering complications from their prematurity. After a remarkably uneventful (albeit long) NICU stay. I don’t have an explanation for this, and neither do the doctors. Clearly we were blessed, and we were lucky. But several people have suggested that the milk they received in those early days kept them healthy and growing. Henry, Jack, and Sophie, born at 28 weeks and via c-section, missed out on the antibodies of their full-term counterparts. And still, they reached one year of age with fewer than five viral infections between them. Maybe it was my milk. Maybe it was our luck of the draw. Maybe it was the obsessive hand washing (okay, it was probably the hand washing). But starting today, May 23, 2015, Henry, Jack, and Sophie will be building their immunities on their own. And I will no longer be chained (by however thin a tether) to my pump. I remember crying on the phone with insurance in the hallway outside the NICU, explaining that I NEEDED a hospital grade pump, and PLEASE could they provide one. I remember fighting with the rental company in March, explaining that YES, I still needed it, and YES, it was a medical necessity. And last night, I cried on my couch because I no longer need that pump.
I had already told them I could return it on June 4th. Two months ago, I told the woman at the courthouse that I could finally serve my jury duty on June 8th. She said, “Are you sure you’ll be done pumping then?” I said, “I sure hope so!” And I did. I would much rather spend time with Henry, Jack, and Sophie than sit in my bedroom pumping. And not having to coordinate pump breaks at work with my complicated and ever-changing schedule makes my life SO much easier. So I am ready. But I am sad. And I know I will have plenty of opportunities to provide Henry, Jack, and Sophie with the things they need in the next few years. Somehow, I’m not sure any of them will feel quite as personal as this did. But, who knows? In any event, I guess we are all ready for the next adventure.