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How Pumping Helped Me Cope With My Child's NICU Stay and CHD

Two years and eight months, well over 2200 hours of actual time… that’s how long I exclusively pumped for my son.

I didn’t start with a certain end point, I just kept going until it seemed like the right time to stop. I didn’t do it because I enjoyed it (I didn’t), or because “I hate formula” (I don’t) or because it helped me loose weight (it didn’t). I did it because I could and I didn’t know what else to do.

You see, my son was born quite sick with a complex congenital heart defect at 35 weeks via a very complicated cesarean-hysterectomy. We both were critical. It was a very painful and difficult birth and recovery, both physically and emotionally — for both of us. My new son was in the NICU fighting for his life. I was bedridden and helpless, so I pumped my heart out, it’s what I did. It was a way to direct my anxiety and panic into something with a purpose.

And I just kept pumping.

I pumped while he was transferred to the children’s hospital, as his health declined after his birth. I pumped in the following weeks and months at his bedside when he was too fragile to hold. Then I pumped once he finally made it home with a feeding tube. Eventually, I learned to pump on the way to therapy and doctor appointments, even across the country for second opinions. I just kept pumping as there was always a reason: cold and flu seasons, additional diagnosis, two open-heart surgeries, weaning off of the feeding tube and countless sedations for procedures and testings.

Every time I thought I would stop I just had to keep going — for him. I’m not a doctor, therapist, expert, nutritionist or surgeon, he has and needs all of those things. I am his mother and this, this I could do. I had to do it. I was up bleary-eyed and emotional in the middle of the night regardless, so why not pump, too? In surgery waiting rooms I could stand up and declare, “I have to go pump!” instead of staring into space and spiraling within my own thoughts about what was happening down the hall. I pumped then washed and sanitized parts with an authority and rigid routine. It gave me a purpose, direction. I meticulously measured output, consumed or frozen, to the milliliter. Why? Because this was one thing I could control when I felt completely powerless, unable to help my own son.

I pumped for so long because it became ingrained into my routine, it really didn’t seem so hard anymore (most of the time). I pumped through weddings and funerals, parties and holidays, concerts and sporting events, in airports and taxis, training for and running a marathon. I would pump in front of friends, family and strangers. I didn’t care, I pumped everywhere and anywhere I needed to.

And now, I am done. My son decided the time was finally right, he no longer takes a bottle and refuses any and all milk from a cup. There is no reason to pump any longer. His medical journey is very, very far from over. I do dread our next hospital visit. There will be no milk to give him during times of fasting and while coming out of anesthesia. What will I do in surgery waiting rooms? I don’t even want to think about potential weight loss or cold and flu season. It is time though, I will have to find a new way to ground myself while fighting with and for him, every day.