I have three sons: 7, 4, and 1 1/2.
I was unable to breastfeed any of them longer than eight weeks. I have what is called Hypoplasia/Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT), which means it is incredibly difficult for my breasts to produce a meaningful amount of milk for my babies. It is considered a ‘primary lactation failure.’ I didn’t learn about this disorder until after I had had my third son. Three kids and I still somehow blamed ‘not trying hard enough’ for not being able to breastfeed. My breasts never increased in size, and I was never able to yield a full bottle’s worth. Ever.
With each son, I would drink the teas, change latch position, have them checked for tongue ties, meet with lactation consultants, talk with mama friends and mentors, tearfully consult with my provider, my son’s provider … and pump.
Pumping, with a hospital grade pump, was the only way I could give my children my milk for any amount of time at all. After 30 minutes pumping on each side, I would have cc’s, not even ounces. It was so little, but meant so much.
“But not all mothers can breastfeed. We are here to support those who can and kudos to those moms who choose to feed their children even if breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally to them.”
I speak, at least in part, for the women who can’t. Who long to be able to. Who want to steal any extra amount of time that will preserve that part of motherhood.
But first let me backtrack.
When I had my first son, it was before Tricare did prescriptions for breast-pumps. However, we were at a base that had an on-base lactation consultant and a loaner closet of hospital grade breast pumps. This is the only reason I was able to give him eight weeks of breast-milk. It is such a painful feeling not to be able to do something natural. This was all before I understood that this circumstance is simply how I was made.
I feel like in the olden days, having three boys would have made me quite the desired birther. I feel very queenly with my many male offspring. But a wet-nurse would have been vital or my kiddos … well, they would not have made it. It’s jarring to think that without technology, my breastfeeding experience would have been infinitely harder than I know it to be.
When I had my second son, it was still prior to Tricare covering pump rentals. Only this time we were at a different base and there was no lactation consultant who did home visits, no loaner closet of free hospital grade breast pumps.
So determined to feed my next baby myself, I bought a Medela Pump in Style secondhand from a neighbor. It was expensive; even used it was a pretty serious blow to the budget. And while it is a great pump (I highly recommend it), for me and my body and my body’s problems, it was not the hospital grade I needed. So my milk giving time dwindled to only two weeks.
For my third baby, I simply continued to use the pump I had and resigned myself to only a few weeks of giving my child my milk. I didn’t have the money to spring for the pump I needed and I didn’t realize that prescriptions for breast pumps were a new and upcoming aspect of Tricare.
Through my struggles to breastfeed my babies, I felt unimportant and ultimately unsupported by my medical insurance. Pumping is an amazing way to remain close to your baby, even if, like me, it’s only for a short period of time.
Being able to still nourish their little body, even if not exclusively, can be so consequential. Not just to the baby, but to the mental health and emotional well-being of the mother. I never felt like a lesser mom to use formula, I had to do what I had to do. But I felt devastated every time I could no longer supplement with breast-milk and give my baby a part of me.
For my first son, it was all new and hard, but after learning more about my body and its limitations, a free and easily accessible hospital grade pump for my second and third child would have ultimately lessened that feeling.
It genuinely brings tears to my eyes to think of how easy all of this is for this next generation of mothers … not the mothering part, that’s still soul-suckingly hard, sorry ladies. But the fact that The Breastfeeding Shop has a prescription form all ready for you to print and give to your provider, a selection of pumps from the small and portable to the hospital grade big guns like I needed (you can’t get that through a Target), and an easy step by step process.
My husband and I may be done having kids, but we may not be. And I know if we decide to have a fourth that my breast feeding time will be limited. However, I also know that with a good pump, I can preserve that time, and with it my joy at being able to mother in that specific way, a little longer. And that is beautiful.