When the hand and elbow pain gets worse

A good friend of mine had not only offered to come for a day and stay the night and help out with bottle feeding the baby, but she also offered to do a grocery run for me at Trader Joe’s. So I gave her a list of things that I wanted, and she graciously brought them all over. While she was over, we caught up on a lot of things that we hadn’t talked about since we had last seen her on the day after we came home from the hospital. She wanted to stay away given the rise in Omicron cases  and the fact that she works at a grocery store and is thus exposed a bit more than the average person.

When she was over, I realized that even when she was helping me with all the bottle feeds and keeping the baby upright after eating, I still had pretty much no free time to myself. I took one one-hour long nap while she was there, and the rest of the time, I was pumping, cleaning bottles, prepping bottles, measuring out breast milk, cleaning the kitchen, preparing food for me and for my friend…. and I was just exhausted. I wasn’t even sure if I felt like I had less to do even though I did have less to do because I wasn’t doing the bottle feeds anymore. What the hell was going on?  I could not believe it. She came specifically to help and relieve me, yet I did not feel relieved. Yes, I did prepare food for her. I did clean all the bottles that she used to feed my baby. And maybe that took up extra time. But I couldn’t believe that I still felt overwhelmed. 

Pumping had really taken over my life, and I really resented it. I resented the fact that I was able to lactate and Chris was not. It started to infuriate me that my body was the only body that was able to produce food for my baby to eat. Even though I was the one who wanted to exclusively nurse her up until the point that I went back to work, I still got angry about this anyway.  This is a huge responsibility for one person, to be a sole food provider for a tiny little human. Yes, there is formula as everyone would remind me, but my breastmilk is the best milk for my baby. How do I know this? My baby spits up less when she has my breastmilk. The baby’s face appears happier when she has my breastmilk. When she has a bottle of formula, she gives Chris a funny look and tentatively takes the nipple of the bottle into her mouth. She has even refused bottles of formula before when we’ve given her breast milk after. These are all signs that she wants mommy‘s milk and not “fake” milk. 

When the night nurse comes, Chris is able to sleep a full night’s sleep and I am not. I have to still wake up in the middle of the night to pump to maintain my milk supply. My supply has still not regulated yet, and so I was too scared to remove my middle of the night pump in fear that my output would take a dive, and I really didn’t want to do that because I already was not producing 100% of the baby’s needs. If the baby is having about seven feeds a day, depending on the day, she gets between 5 to 6 bottles of breastmilk / 1 to 2 bottles of formula. This has been huge shift for me because I have finally increased my supply to a point where I can provide approximately 75 to 80% of the baby’s needs, and this was my goal all along. We started initially with giving her only about 30 percent breast milk to 70 percent formula supplementation. I doubt that I could get to 100% at this point, but hey, you never know. I had heard stories of women whose supplies had increased at around the 14 or 15-week mark, so I did not completely eliminate that possibility from my mind. I probably got, at most, one extra hour of sleep when the night nurse is here because when she is not here, I do the baby’s last bottle feed of the night at 10 PM, and then I have to pump before I go to sleep. Then, I wake up somewhere between 2:30 and 3am to do my middle of the night pump. I go to sleep again, and then I wake up around 7:15 to 7:30 to do my first morning pump. 

I think all of this frustration and anger were really stemming from the fact that the pain in my fingers, hands, wrists, and elbows had really been at an all-time high this week. It was almost like my body knew that Chris was not going to be around, and so, why not piss Yvonne off more by ramping up the pain? The littlest things made my hands hurt. I could barely rub soap on my hands without feeling a little bit of pain in my fingers and in the base of my thumbs, and I was really sick of it. The pain in the base of my thumbs felt like a permanent bruising. Some of the pain is due to actions that I chose to take repeatedly, such as hand expression and breast compressions while pumping. But all of these things were to benefit the baby because they would increase my milk output, so can you really blame me? The rest, I was just predisposed to carpal and cubital tunnel before ever even getting pregnant. But it’s not like I could just stop pumping or stop taking care of my baby. I still had to cook because I was hell-bent on having home cooked food. That was ultimately why I prepared our freezer with all kinds of ready to eat homemade foods before baby came… Because I did not want to just eat takeout and delivery in my weeks after giving birth. I wanted wholesome, nourishing food that was not laden with excess fat and salt, which is typically what food is when you get takeout. That’s how restaurants hook you: having extra fat and extra salt to make you want more.

I just felt tired and frustrated and annoyed that pumping was taking over my life and the pain was just getting worse. I felt alone in my pumping journey. I was resenting pumping in general and wished it could be easier. My friend gave me a hand and arm massage while she was here, and I am regularly using the new Thera-gun that Chris bought, but it just wasn’t enough. I just wanted a break, a full night’s sleep, some sort of acknowledgment from the world that what I was doing was really fucking hard. IVF required a certain level of mental toughness, but exclusive pumping required a whole ‘nother level of mental toughness that I never thought I’d get myself into after giving birth. I did not want to end my breast-feeding and pumping journey with paralysis in my hands or limited mobility in my arms and then be a cripple. Because what could possibly be worse than a crippled mom?

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