First Mother’s Day gift

Yesterday, we received an unexpected package in the mail. It was from Chris’s friend, who sent me an early Mother’s Day gift. It was a package of assorted specialty teas, and her message wished me a happy first Mother’s Day. It was very sweet and thoughtful, completely out of nowhere, especially since I wasn’t actively thinking about Mother’s Day at all.

I generally think Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are bullshit holidays. They are “holidays” on the calendar to remind everyone to love and respect and appreciate their parents when most of the other days of the year, they genuinely do not care and take these people in their lives for granted. You know what would be even better than having a Mother’s Day holiday (which is on a Sunday, and as if anyone would actually get the day off if they worked on a Sunday): actually having nationally mandated family leave, universal healthcare, and for everyone, especially our government, to stay the hell out of the business of any woman who has to make the gut-wrenching decision to have an abortion.

Dropping pumps

After your milk supply regulates after around 12 weeks postpartum, hormones play less of a part in terms of your milk supply and instead, demand dictates it a lot more. Because of that, I wanted to wait until after I reached 12 weeks to start dropping pumps. Even though I was only pumping about 2-4 times a day in the first week of my baby’s life, and then six times a day in the next three weeks, I increased to seven times per day to increase the demand that would fuel my supply based on what I had read on exclusive pumping via the exclusive pumping mamas website as well as the Facebook support group. These have been my two sources of truth on EP since starting. The exclusive pumping guidelines strongly urge that in the first 12 weeks postpartum, pumping moms pump at minimum 8 to 12 times per day around the clock, every 2 to 3 hours. I knew I would never be able to do that and retain my sanity, and so my compromise to myself was seven pumps per day. Even for those rare moms who have an over supply in their first 12 weeks, if they do not pump at this frequency around the clock, their supply will likely plummet quite drastically after 12 weeks, and so their oversupply tends to be a bit of a false security.

When I reached the 13th week, I finally decided to drop a pump. Instead of pumping approximately every three hours during the day and four hours overnight, I would pump about every four hours around the clock, with a five hour gap between pumps from 3 AM to 8 AM to allow me to sleep a little bit more (yeah, like 3.5 hours vs. 3 – very luxurious as you can tell). Also, it makes sense that I would pump six times a day if my baby eats six times a day. In an ideal world, the amount I pump per pump session would match the amount that my baby needed to eat. This has never been the case, as my supply has always fluctuated throughout the day and yielded very different numbers, so every time I started pumping, it would always feel like a crapshoot as to how much I would produce. However, I have read that this is very common with most women who are lactating, as your prolactin level is constantly fluctuating throughout the day and tends to peak in the middle of the night through the early morning. The only time I could semi-accurately predict what I would produce at a given session at a given time was during the middle of the night pump as well as my very first morning pump when I woke up.

Anyway, I was really scared to drop a pump because I wasn’t sure how my body would react. I was especially scared of losing supply, but I knew that as I approached returning back to work, my eventual goal was to get down to five pumps per day as well as to cut out my overnight pump. And so, dropping at least one pump at this point made sense for me. So I sucked it up and told myself, even if my supply drops by an ounce or so, there is really no going back once I drop pumps. Once I start dropping pumps, the number of pumps per day will only go down, never up again. I had to do this for my sanity, for my own mental health. I really need to start getting my life back again and not constantly focus on the number of milliliters of breastmilk that I was producing for my baby to eat. As my night nurse always says, this is only for a short time, and this will not last forever. And so, that short time is being defined partly by my return to work date, as well as my own sanity and desire to be unshackled from my pump.

So now, it’s been about one week since I took the plunge and did it. Well, I was pleasantly surprised after dropping a pump: all of my outputs at every session increased dramatically, with the exception of my first morning pump, which tends to be pretty similar to before I dropped pumps. Every other pump increased: it was like it was almost predictable at this point and very even. The amount that I was producing per session on average increased about 20 to 70mL and it ended up evening out to more than what I was producing when I was doing seven pumps per day. In fact, it was like my supply had increased over the course of the last week with just six pumps a day. I was almost matching how much my baby was eating in a single day! I could not believe it. I never thought that I could get to a point where I could even call myself “a just enougher,” But it looked like there were a couple of days where I could actually have given myself that label. I had a late start to priming my body for exclusive pumping because of the crappy advice I was given early on from the lactation consultants that I had met in person. I was not forward thinking enough at that point to think about a life of potentially exclusively pumping for my baby given her weak suck and poor milk transfer. I didn’t start doing my research on this until about a week before her one month check up. In retrospect, I really regretted not looking into it sooner or being more prepared. I just didn’t have the information early on enough to establish my supply early enough, as those first one to two weeks postpartum are really crucial in terms of establishing one’s milk supply. Timing REALLY matters here. And when I spoke with another lactation consultant through Cleo in March, I told her that my goal was to get to 75 to 80% breast milk for my baby. I would obviously love for it to be 100%, but I would be OK if it never got there; I had made peace with this at the end of January. Given my late start with aggressive exclusive pumping, she told me that 80% was a realistic goal given the trajectory I had shared with her, but 100% would be unlikely. It would not be impossible, she said, but it would be quite difficult and against the odds.

 Well, here we are looking at the data and we have achieved that in two days in this last seven day period, when I was able to match my baby’s needs 100%. We still gave her one bottle of formula on these days as we normally do because as per usual, I was scared that my supply would not be that consistent, and I wanted to save for a “rainy day,“ which could easily be tomorrow when I may not produce as many ounces. But if we wanted to, we could’ve easily given her just breast milk that day. My fear in that, though, which has always been a fear, is that my baby will get so used to having breastmilk that she will start rejecting any and all formula. And that will be particularly difficult and scary when eventually, my period returns, which will inevitably result in my supply tanking. That happens with literally every woman who lactates, and every lactating mom dreads that time. Well, fingers crossed that my period does not return until at least 8 to 9 months postpartum.

It’s funny how things turn out. It is true what they say: once you stop worrying about your milk supply and just throw in the towel and say, it is what it is; I will produce what I produce. I will make peace with it. I will drop pumps and accept whatever supply dip comes — At that point, when you least expect it, you actually end up producing more.

Well, I hope this keeps up. I only have seven days of data right now, so I am looking at the next seven days to see how consistent this will stay, if at all. Because if the next seven days look good, then after that, I will try gradually weaning myself off of my middle of the night pump. Then, I will have five pumps from the time that I wake up to time that I go to bed and actually… Have a real, full night‘s sleep for the first time since two days before my baby was born. And I am really looking forward to that happening. I really deserve it.

Chai meditation – daily calm

During the pandemic, I started supporting (in a greater number, anyway) smaller, minority owned food businesses. It was also an added bonus if these small food businesses were owned by women. One of the businesses that I discovered via Instagram that I absolutely loved was The Chai Box. It is a small chai company that is based in Atlanta and owned by a female Indian American who immigrated to the US from India when she was a young girl. I love the story behind how her business got started: she and her husband raised three sons in Atlanta and after school, when the kids would come home with their friends, she would make chai for all of them to enjoy with their after school snacks. Their kids’ friends enjoyed the chai so much that they would go home and tell their parents about it. Then, at school events or sports games, the kids’ moms would ask about how she makes her chai. A number of them offered to pay her for her blends. So initially she started gifting and selling them to these moms and family friends. Gradually it became an actual business — their family business. They source all of their tea from India, and all of their spices, which are crazy fresh, are sourced from small, fair trade businesses in Kerala, the state where Chris’s family originates. They also are all hand picked and do not use pesticides.

I especially love her chai meditation, which she does every single morning when she is not traveling for work in her beautiful kitchen. She records herself in her Instagram story making chai, always a slightly different version, and then she records the pour and insists that you make time for you. Her time to herself is her daily morning chai meditation. I watch it every single day, no fail. I actually find it very soothing, particularly the #ASMR from the heat aeration as well as the pouring of the chai into the pot and cup. I have learned a lot about chai just from following her Instagram handle and watching her daily chai meditation. She says that when you add spices to hot boiling water, you know how fresh they are if the water changes into a faint golden or brown color. And she always says that chai is not chai unless you do a double boil: first, you boil the water and add the tea leaves or spices and boil; and then you do a second boil once you add your milk of choice and let simmer. My favorite blends that she does so far are the Punjaban Party and Hill Station.  

Well, I thought about her rule of thumb that spices are not fresh unless they change the water color in boiling water. One morning this week, I decided to make chai the way I used to make it before I started buying her blends by using my Dilmah teabags, a slice of ginger, as well as some crushed cardamom pods, fennel seeds, and clove. My pot was too dark for me to see if there was a color change, but when I tasted the chai, it really fell flat: the richness of both the spices as well as the tea was really so inferior to her blends that there was genuinely no comparison at all. It was like I was knowingly giving myself subpar chai. Making chai in the morning a few times a week is like my little indulgence for myself in the midst of the massive fatigue and chaos in raising a baby: I love doing the double boil as well as the heat aeration, and that first sip always hits the spot. Even when I made matcha, which I love, a few times a week in the last few weeks, that has been nowhere as satisfying as my first sip of chai each morning when I make it. It is definitely a process, one that takes time and patience to do right, but one that I really love and look forward to.

Donating IVF medications

When I look back, I always feel extremely grateful and lucky that I only had to do one IVF cycle to have Kaia. Through all of the IVF support groups, Instagram handles, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances I know who have gone through and are currently going through IVF, I know that I am not the rule: I am the exception when it comes to a successful IVF journey. Every single day, when I look at Kaia‘s face, I am so grateful that I have her because I know others are nowhere as lucky as I have been. Even though I only had one embryo that made it, that one embryo is now my healthy baby. And for that, I am beyond blessed. I read real stories of people’s endless IVF cycles, failed transfers, zero embryos that made it through genetic testing, and sometimes, I have broken down and cried. All these people want to do is start a family or expand their family. It’s not like they are asking for much, but given the environmental factors that we are facing in a very polluted world now, our eggs and sperm have collectively been compromised. And so, some of us face more challenges than others when it comes to conceiving and carrying babies to term. And because I can relate to that pain, as there were many moments in the last two years when I wondered if I would ever have my own biological child, I wanted to be able to help others in some small way.

I knew I had a lot of IVF medication left over from my single cycle last year. I was also fortunate from a financial standpoint and that I had Chris’s amazing health insurance that paid for the vast majority of the IVF costs. The total raw cost of all of the medication that I got was likely around $15-18K. What did I pay? Only about $300 out-of-pocket. When I looked at my remaining medication that would be expiring in the second half of this year, I realized that I had about $7000 of medication that was still sealed, brand new, and never used. This would completely go to waste if I just left it in my closet. It’s illegal to resell medication, and so that never even crossed my mind for a second… Even though I am sure that people would have bought it from me, and I could’ve made a decent amount of money. For me, to resell IVF medication feels very wrong, to play on the hearts and minds of those who are the most vulnerable. And so, in the one private IVF support group that I have continue to stay in on Facebook, I posted that I would be giving the medications away for free to anyone who would be willing to pick them up from my apartment here in New York. I asked for them to follow the honor code and only request the medication if they were a self pay patient. Of course, I got a lot of responses. Some of the people who responded lived as far away as Pennsylvania and Chicago. They were willing to either come here or have a friend or relative pick it up from me who is local. All of them asked if there was any way for them to repay me. I told them I did not want to accept any money… But if they really wanted to give me something in return, then I would appreciate something sweet, maybe ice cream.

Well, these women were very grateful and thoughtful, as well. They all asked me about what flavors of ice cream I liked and what brands, and so I rattled off a short list of flavors as well as brands that I liked. And now, after having given away all of my medication to three different self-pay IVF patients in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, we now have over seven different types of ice cream that are sitting in the back of our freezer. We have Häagen-Dazs, Malai Ice Cream, Tollhouse ice cream sandwiches, and Adirondack Creamery. Is the value the same as value of the medication? Of course it isn’t. But none of that really matters to me. When I heard their brief stories of their own IVF journeys, my heart just broke. All of them have done multiple IVF cycles. One was on her fourth IVF cycle. Two of out of three of them have paid completely out of pocket… Just for the mere chance of having a baby. I have not forgotten the pain and suffering that I went through when going through the exact same process as they did. So I hope this little bit that I have done will help give them some hope for the future and help with the expenses.

My growing baby

Being a parent, as I can personally attest to now, is most certainly a full-time job, and not a 9-to-5 job but a true 24–7 job. It is the most exhausting thing I have ever done in my entire life, but now, I finally understand why parents say that it is also the most rewarding thing that you can do. As Kaia has gotten older and now that she is over 13 weeks old, she is getting more and more attentive, active, and playful. Watching her develop every single day brings me the greatest joy. It’s almost like I can feel my heart is being squeezed. She does the most quirky and cheeky things: sometimes, when I am swaddling her, she farts and I exclaim in response, she gives me a huge grin, as though she knows that what she did is stinky and silly.  Every time she smiles when I smile, my heart melts just a little bit. And last night, when I was bottle feeding her before putting her down to bed, out of nowhere, she reached her hand out to hold my pinky finger and let it stay there the entire time. And I just thought that was the cutest thing ever.

 Lately, she has been cooing and babbling nonstop during certain periods of the day when she is very awake. She particularly loves it when I am singing to her. I have captured her cooing and babbling many times, but she seems to be picking up on the fact that I am recording her on my phone. In the last two days, when I put my phone up to record her babbling and squawking, as soon as she sees my phone, she immediately stops talking. It’s as if she is saying in response, “Get that rectangle thing out of my face and let me be!“

 I suppose that is also another reminder to me that I don’t necessarily need to record and capture every single thing that she does on photo or video, but I really should be more in the moment and just enjoy her for the time and the moment itself. But I really do love sharing these photos and videos with her grandparents and some of my friends who truly adore her and look at her like a niece. At the same time, though, I want to document her growth and development. I want to be able to share these photos and videos with her when she gets older. When I was young, I always loved it when my family showed me photos and videos of me when I was a baby. Because even though I could not remember that time clearly, it was still fun to see me, myself, at a younger age. It was also fun to be able to see how others, like my cousins and brother, interacted with me as a baby. It’s almost like you are making memories of something that you don’t actually have a memory of for your child. And I really like that.

Visits to meet our baby while she is being nursed

Last weekend, a friend and his wife came over to visit Kaia for the first time. Given she feeds so often, as in every three hours, and I nurse her during the day, I am pretty open about the fact that my breasts will be out, and no, I will not cover them up. I’m in my own damn house, so I need to be comfortable. So I tend to preface all visitors with this message: Just giving you the head’s up that my nipples will be out, so hope you’ll be comfortable with that!

So they came and visited for a short duration while I nursed Kaia on one breast and had my Haakaa breast pump that pumped and caught milk drops on the other breast. I felt totally comfortable during this while we chatted. But afterwards, Chris said that they were both extremely awkward; my friend was doing his very best to look away from the direction of my breasts, and his wife was trying hard to be extremely polite, staring straight ahead as though actively avoiding my view.

I wish that as a culture, we could be more open minded and “normal” about breast/chest feeding. It’s really not that big of a deal. This is how animals feed their children. There is absolutely nothing sexual or inappropriate or questionable about seeing a person breast/chest feeding their baby in the presence of other people. If I saw them staring at my breasts while I fed my baby, I really would not care. This is human and animal nature and thus is natural. Americans need to stop being so prudish about something that is just natural: feeding one’s child.

Exclusive Pumping Mamas Facebook group

When I had told my friend who is also a mom that the baby had a weak suck, and thus nursing could not be the primary form of eating for her, she empathized with me and told me that she had a couple of friends who were exclusive pumpers and had done this for over a year with their babies. So she would reach out to them to ask for their advice to share with me. They had a couple of pieces of advice for me: dark beer, brewer’s yeast, oatmeal, and joining the exclusive pumping mama‘s Facebook group for support. Most people do not understand the life of an exclusive pumper, including those moms who exclusively nurse, and so the support that we needed was a bit unique. A lot of people do not believe that exclusive pumping moms are breast-feeding their children, as stupid as that sounds, because their babies are eating from a bottle as opposed to directly from the breast. And so, in the exclusive pumping mamas Facebook group, one of the rules is that you cannot discuss nursing or latching; one tiny violation of this, and you will be banned for life. This group is solely to support women who pump and particularly those who exclusively pump to feed and nourish their babies.

I had not even thought about joining a Facebook support group, and so when my friend suggested this, I immediately applied to become a member. Hours later, I was excepted, and there I entered into a world of support and resources that I had not had in the last couple of months that I really would’ve benefited from in retrospect. During my middle of the night pump overnight, my pump time came and went so quickly because I was so engrossed in reading all of the posts that people wrote. I related so much to the mental stress and anxiety that people expressed over their milk supply, particularly those who are under suppliers like me. I thought I had it bad when I was only pumping around 200-300 mL per day for my baby in the beginning when there were women who were only able to pump 10-20 mL per day. I actually felt seen and heard in this group of women who I had never met. I even responded to a few posts and questions, and I also posted one or two of my own questions. And people were so willing to respond and so willing to cheer everyone on. Everyone understood each other’s journey here and why we all pumped. We all understood and did not need to explain to each other the importance of breastmilk and why we wanted our babies to have as much breastmilk as possible. It felt really good to read through all of these posts because it was like these were my peers I was conversing with.

I am always making references to the pumping mamas Facebook group when I talk to Chris. It’s like some thing that I mention at least a couple of times every single day, and I’m sure he thinks it is a little annoying. I told him that with this Facebook support group, I finally feel seen. He had a quizzical look on his face and responded, “What do you mean? I see you every day!”

IBCLCs: one part lactation consultant, one part therapist

Shortly after I purchased my Pumpinpal flanges for my elastic nipples, I got really frustrated because I felt like I was spending all of my time with my breast pump and not enough time with my baby. I had increased the number of pumps per day from 6 to 7, and I had also realized that a 20 minute pump recommendation from the lactation consultant at the pediatrician’s office would not be a one-size-fits-all situation, and I actually needed to pump for about 30 minutes to fully empty my breasts. Granted, it is actually impossible to “fully empty“ your breasts, as there is always milk that is still left. But the goal of pumping is to empty as much as possible to then signal to your body to create more milk. That is part of the supply and demand process of breast-feeding.  The supply and demand process of breast-feeding also does not consider your mental health: you need sleep (rest) to produce milk, but you also need to pump (or nurse) around the clock in order to continue producing milk and at the same levels. See how those are two very different messages?! It’s pretty ridiculous, and it boggles my mind, but that is a way that milk supply works with the human body. 

I was standing in the kitchen connecting my breast pump one day, and I got really exacerbated because all I really wanted to do was hold my baby and play with her, but I couldn’t because I needed a pump. I said to Chris, “I feel like I spent all of my time with the stupid pump.“ And he responded, yeah you do spend a lot of time with the pump. He didn’t really know what else to say, and I don’t really blame him. He knew that I wanted to give my baby as much breastmilk as possible and that I was upset nursing wasn’t working out, so there was really nothing else to be said. But that response did not satisfy me, and instead, it made me feel worse. I felt like I was having a downward spiral.

Well, during that pump, the Cleo lactation consultant Andrea had texted me to check in to see how things were going. It was almost like she heard the thoughts in my head and wanted to see if I was OK. So I texted her back and told her that I felt like I spent all of my time with the stupid pump and not enough time with my own baby, and it was pissing me off. I thought I was having a baby so that I could actually spend time with my baby. So why did it feel like I was spending all of my time with an electric breast pump of all things? I felt like I want to throw the pump out the window. 

She responded empathetically and said that she totally heard me, that it was a very common sentiment among women who are exclusive pumpers or who pumped milk at all for their babies. Even if you only occasionally pump milk, you still need to spend time with your breast pump to figure out the best settings for your body because every body responds to every pump differently. On top of that, we have to remember the end goal of pumping: that is to nourish our babies with breastmilk. That was what I wanted all along, and that was what I expressed to her during our very first meeting. She told me that if, at anytime, I wanted to stop pumping, then I should stop, and she would 100% support me and my decision. But, that was a decision that only I could make. Whatever way I chose to feed my baby would fit my baby, she assured me. I told her that if I was not able to give my baby breast milk through my breast directly, then the next best thing was my breast milk through a bottle, and I was determined to make this work. I was NOT giving up. She also reassured me and said that she knew I had dedicated so much time and energy into making sure that my baby had breastmilk, that I was a warrior, that I was not someone who easily gave up, and that because of all of this, I was a great mom.

 I saw this message, and I immediately started crying. I really didn’t feel like a great mom. I was upset that nursing was not working out. I felt like I wasn’t spending enough time with my baby. I blamed myself, even though it wasn’t fair or even true, for not having a great milk supply and ultimately crappy output every time I pumped. I wanted to fully nourish my baby so badly with my own breast milk, and I was failing. I really did feel like a failure. Even though my output was on an upward trend, I still didn’t think it was enough. It didn’t really help that on social media, most of the milk supply and pumping posts you see are of women who have an over supply. That is despite the fact that women who have an over supply are outliers. They are not the norm, but let’s face it: an over supply or freezer milk stash post is going to get a LOT more engagement than a “just enougher” pumping mom or an under supplier like myself. I highly doubt that I would ever have milk to stash in my freezer for my baby. I was not even sure that I would be able to get to 50% of her needs at that point. And it really bothered me because I was really doing everything within my power to ensure she had as much breastmilk as possible. I’d had such a frustrating journey to conceive, then the tumultuous roller coaster of IVF, and now, I was facing challenges feeding my child the way I wanted. It’s like everything was a struggle for my body and me, and it really just made me angry to no end.

I thought about all of the women I knew who formula fed, whose milk never came in because they had c-sections and their bodies never got the signal that hey, their baby came out, and therefore the milk needed to come in. The women whose milk never came in never had the option to breast-feed or pump. I really felt for them, because I knew that if that had happened to me that I would have blamed myself and agonized over it for a long time; that was also a major reason I was terrified of an emergency c-section: that afterwards, my body would not get the message to produce milk. I was lucky that my milk came in on day three after birth, and that I had any milk supply at all. I owed it to my baby to try harder to make this pumping journey work. I wanted to give her the world, and it started with breastmilk. 

This obsession was taking over my life, but I kept telling myself that this was temporary, that I would not be pumping milk forever. At the end of the day, my baby is a combo fed baby: she has both breast milk and formula because my body is not producing enough breastmilk to satiate her, and I had already made peace with that. But I also logically knew that if I were to switch her to formula completely, she would end up completely fine. I mostly had formula when I was a baby and Chris had only formula, and so we were fine. All of my acquaintances and friends who had formula fed – their children were completely fine. I had to stop pressuring myself so much to produce breastmilk and just go with the flow, literally, and accept what my body was able to produce and do what was in my power to increase my supply. Anything outside of that and any internal shaming that I was doing was not going to help. Stress does not help milk supply. Lack of sleep does not help milk supply. I had to keep reminding myself this so that I would not ruin my own goals.

Andrea, the Cleo lactation consultant, was like a godsend in many ways. I was never able to have the at-home lactation consultant visits I wanted that were covered by health insurance, but I had her, who helped not just as an IBCLC, but also as a make-shift therapist in some ways. She checked in on me regularly, whether that was through text or phone, and she even reached out when we were outside of the seven-day window when I would have access to her after our sessions arranged by Cleo. She genuinely seemed like she cared, and she was incredibly empathetic and always listened before she spoke. Unlike the hospital LC or the IBCLC/RN at the pediatrician’s office, Andrea genuinely centered her care and concern around me and my physical and mental health. The best IBCLCs are just that: one part therapist and one part lactation consultant. They respect your wishes and your boundaries, and they do their best to push you to meet your goals, and when you are not able to meet your goals, they reassure you and show you alternatives. She lives across the country, and so even if Covid did not exist, she would not be able to do a home visit with me. But I know that if she were able to, I probably would’ve had a better and more successful breast-feeding journey. But it’s okay. I can’t control everything. I am grateful for the support that I have received from her to date because I know that because of her, my journey has been more successful than it would’ve been if I did not have her.

My first birthday as a mama 

Today, I turned 36. It is my first birthday as a mother, and although I hoped to become a mother earlier than this age, I would not have anything different if I had to do it over again. Being 35 and pregnant was a great experience for me. People often times say that as you get older, life events like pregnancy and childbirth become harder. A friend of mine gave birth at 34 and said that she lamented having her first child that late because she spoke with women who had given birth in their late 20s and early 30s who bounced back far quicker than she did. Well, I had a very smooth pregnancy despite having to go through IVF from age 34 into 35, and I had a pretty quick recovery from birth all things being equal. Well, my pelvic floor is still not 100%, but then again, it’s only been just over four weeks, so I still have more time that I need to heal.

Every time I look at my baby, I am beyond grateful that she is here and healthy. She is just over one month old, and when I look back at photos of her from this time last month, I cannot believe how quickly she has grown and how her little face has changed in such a short span of time. Every day, she changes just a little bit. And every day, I cannot believe that I am this lucky to have her here. I love her more than anything else on earth.

There were many times in the last year or two when I wondered if I would ever even become a mother. Perhaps it wasn’t in the cards for me, I thought. Maybe I didn’t deserve to be a mother. There was a lot of uncertainty, a lot of fear, and a lot of tears, but we are finally here and our baby is with us. 

And so, even though today is full of a lot of the same routine, with feeding, burping, pumping, and dealing with spit ups, I have never been happier or more fulfilled. Every day since her safe and healthy arrival, I have given thanks for her existence in my life. This is, indeed, a very happy 36th birthday for me.

Inefficient at the boob and one-month doctor’s appointment

Today was the baby’s one-month appointment. It had been about three weeks since we started the intensive and grueling triple feed program, and I was looking forward to getting good news that she was in fact continuing to gain weight and that we would no longer need to continue this feeding program anymore.

In addition to that, I was looking forward to doing another weighted feed, hopefully to see that she was transferring more milk when feeding at my breast. Honestly though, when we were on our way to the doctor’s appointment, I did not have a lot of hope in this area, mainly because in the last week, she had been particularly lazy at the breast and not really sucking very much or hard at all. And she was also resorting back to her old bad habits and falling asleep because she was working too hard at the breast. This annoyed me, but really, there is no way to actually make your baby more efficient at the breast. I mean, the Cleo lactation consultant had suggested that we get a referral for the baby to see an occupational therapist to evaluate what was causing her weak suck, especially since she had a perfect latch, but Chris thought this was completely outrageous and immediately vetoed the idea. So we never went through with that.

Well, my fears were confirmed: during a weighted feed at this appointment, where she ate on both breasts for about 10 minutes each, she only transferred about half an ounce or 15 mL of milk. I was absolutely mortified and frustrated, and I knew that the measurement was going to be bad because she kept falling asleep despite being hungry. That has always been such a frustration point for me: how the heck do babies fall asleep at the breast when they are obviously hungry? Isn’t the hunger supposed to keep them awake and make them work harder?? Apparently, this is not the case, and my baby is not alone in this.

Her pediatrician evaluated her suck quickly by putting her finger in the baby‘s mouth and seeing how strong she would suck. She immediately confirmed that the baby had a weak suck, and because of that would be unable to efficiently eat at my breast for the time being. The milk transfer was just poor. She suggested nursing for comfort a few times a day but cutting back on it because it was just not working out, and relying on bottle feeds, using breast milk when available and formula when there was not enough. Some breast milk is better than no breast milk, the doctor said, and I needed to make sure to pump regularly in order to protect my milk supply. She also suggested that as the baby grew, she’d only get stronger, so there *may* be hope that her suck would eventually get stronger and she’d be able to transfer more milk while nursing. So nursing should still continue if I wished.

“How can my baby be inefficient at the breast? “I exclaimed in disgust. “This baby has Indian and Chinese heritage; she is supposed to be efficient! It’s in her blood!”

The doctor and her assistant thought I was trying to be funny and burst out laughing. But I did not find any of this funny at all. I was not joking.

It made me really upset to see this happen. I had invested so much time researching and studying breast-feeding articles and blogs and podcasts and taking a class, and knowing that nursing as a primary form of feeding my baby was not going to work really crushed me. That was how I envisioned feeding my baby, and knowing that it wasn’t going to work just stung. Chris said to me that not everything will always work out obviously; I had the unmedicated birth that I wanted, and not having the breast-feeding experience I wanted is just a part of what I needed to accept. 

On top of that, nursing as a primary form of feeding your child is a bit idyllic and romanticized: when you nurse exclusively, you have to feed your baby on demand. That means that you cannot adhere to a schedule or force your baby onto a schedule: that means whenever your baby is hungry, even if she only wants to eat for one or two minutes, you have to give your breast to her otherwise it will hurt your milk supply and also hurt her growth, neither of which you want to happen. That obviously can cause massive exhaustion for any mom and lead to mental health problems. I know moms who have been successful with exclusive nursing and nearly went insane or suffered from severe postpartum depression, feeling more like cows than like moms.

So, I was not going to have the nursing experience I originally wanted. But that does not mean that my baby can no longer be breast-fed… Because pumping milk and feeding it to your baby is also a form of breast-feeding; it’s just that it is not nursing. And so that led to more intense research for me on exclusive pumping. There is an “EP” label that I was looking at that was not just Executive Platinum status on American Airlines: that is for exclusive pumping mamas. It would be intense in terms of time, commitment, resilience, and my sanity, but I was still determined to make sure that my baby had breast milk and as much of it as possible for as long as possible… And when I say as long as possible, I meant as long as my breasts could handle it and as long as my mental health was still intact. So that new journey begins now.