For six months the door of our freezer has been filled with jars of frozen breastmilk. They’ve been stacked up there since Catherine was born and was unable to breastfeed right away. It is long since expired so I spent some time yesterday thawing it and pouring it down the drain.
It was somewhat of a spiritual experience for me. I cycled through several emotions before I was able to come to terms with what I was actually feeling.
As the first ounces of milk hit the bottom of the sink I was thinking about waste. What a waste of good milk. Why didn’t I try to donate it to sick kids in Africa? If Catherine didn’t need it couldn’t someone else benefit from it? I also worried- what a waste of time! I spent 15-20 minutes, 8 times a day for two weeks, pumping milk with my rented Symphony breastpump– and she barely even ate any of those hundreds of ounces. I felt like it was alot of work for a product that went unused. Catherine would take in some of the milk in her feeding tube, and then a bottle, but it wasn’t all that much. By the time she was able to start nursing, at at 8 days old, we already had a freezer full of milk!
While I was pumping in those first few weeks I had envisioned bringing that milk into the hospital daily for the baby to drink and then pumping more for the next day. I don’t know how I could have thought that she would eat near as much as I brought her! I blame post-partum exhaustion for the lapse in rational thinking!
Once Catherine came home I was breastfeeing exclusively. Whenever she needed to eat, I was there. There was still no need to use the milk that I had hoarded. If I needed (or wanted) to be away from her I had the more portable Harmony pump to get through a feeding or two.
What, then, was the point of all that work? Obviously not the product; Catherine consumed maybe 10% of the milk that I pumped for her. The benefit from all the work came through the process.
Throughout my pregnancy I had planned to breastfeed. No one ever assumes that they’ll be in a position where that isn’t possible. In order to (eventually) take Catherine home and nurse her I HAD to pump as if I was feeding a baby. The milk was important to deliver to Catherine, but even more so was the practice of pumping. It ‘tricked’ my body into thinking that I was nursing and kept my milk supply up. In other words, I had to do some hard work then to glean benefits now. How many times in life, in any situation, do those words ring true?
This experience reminds me that no matter what I’m doing, whether I think it is a waste of time or energy, may have an amazing outcome somewhere down the road. It would have been so easy to stop pumping and switch the baby onto formula. I’m so glad to now have the experience of nursing her-which I would have lost had I made a different decision.
As I finished dumping the last of the milk I was struck by one final revelation. How blessed am I -are we- that Catherine is home with us and healthy? She might have had to stay in the hospital longer and have needed that milk. She might have had trouble learning to nurse and I’d still be pumping for her now! As sad as I was to “waste” that milk I was overwhelmed with joy for the baby girl that didn’t need it.