A Personal Adventure Into Parenthood

The Milk Mafia and Other Tales from a Monday in the NICU February 17, 2012

After that busy and stressful weekend, Andrew, Vaughan and I settled into a somewhat regular routine of visits and appointments. I would head to the hospital after my noon pump session and walk to St. Jo’s to perch on my stool next to Vaughan’s isolette.

A note to be made here was that I always tried to pump at home as much as humanly possible, not because I was shy or weird about pumping in public (childbirth will definitely cure you of any illusions of feminine modesty you may have), but at this time I thought there was only one pump room, with one pump, for a NICU full of Mommies squeezing out that liquid gold. Anyone who’s pumped or nursed before knows that if you miss your time it becomes quiet painful, almost to the point of tears and you’d step over your own mother for 10 minutes alone with that ugly green machine. The sign-up sheet for the single room was almost always full and it used to stress me out. I’d spend the 45 mins around my pump time watching the door like a hawk, and when it was empty,  darting in before my opportunity was lost and it felt like I had a 25 pound weight crushing my chest. Considering my pump times were 2 hours apart this added up to a lot of stressful hours watching an ugly laminated door as opposed to my beautiful son.

Now why all of the anxiety towards making sure I made my times you ask, besides the threat of engorgement? Well that 1st Monday in the NICU I received a visit from Michelle, the resident LC (also know as a lactation consultant, or milk goddess). She approached me as I sat by Vaughan’s bed and asked to see my equipment and my log book. She checked over my various bottles, lids, labels, cords and attachments before flipping through my orange notebook. The room got very quiet as she looked over my times and amounts and followed up with ‘Is this it???’. I must have looked like a 6 year old getting scolded for sneaking cookies before dinner and I decided silence was my best weapon…wrong! She began peppering me with questions: How often are you pumping? How much are you getting? What are your daily totals? Any signs of infections? Etc etc etc. It was probably the most personal version of 20 questions I’ve ever played but her heart was in the right place.  I answered that I felt fine, no infections and I was pumping about 400 mL a day and pumping every 3 hrs or so and every 4 overnight. You could practically see the steam coming out of Michelle’s ears. She pulled out her pamphlets and very sternly told me that I needed to pump every 2 hours, absolutely no exceptions, even over night for the next 14 days. This time period is essential for setting up a solid milk supply that will last your child for the whole time you’ll be breastfeeding or pumping. She then told me that I should be recording my amounts down to the mL, bringing in frozen or refrigerated milk daily and make follow up appointments with her on a weekly basis. There was no way to say no to this lady, so I frantically agreed to anything she said. It felt like I’d just become a huge disappointment to her, my husband and my son and I was desperate to make it up. Therefore for the next 2 weeks I became attached at the hip to that Ameda Elite. Opening night of Andrew’s play? We went home between the show and cast party so I could have some private time with my plastic tubing! I didn’t want to hear that stern voice again when she checked in the following week.

Bless her heart though, Michelle was right…I went from a halfhearted 400 mL/day to a 1.7L/day dairy cow and eventually both the NICU and my home freezer ran out of room to store all of that nutrient rich milk. Three cheers for me and my pump!!  I definitely recommend following that schedule for anyone thinking of pumping or even nursing. It’s a huge time commitment especially when you’re dealing with hormone changes, mood swings, new baby excitement/anxiety but it was totally worth it. My supply never went down until the day I decided to start weaning.

Another exciting moment from that first Monday was when the resident NICU doctor decided to try their hand at removing V’s umbilical line. They thankfully asked me to step to the side because it was not a pretty sight. Like an open sore, the umbilical cord dries up over time and for most kids falls right off. Well V’s was stuck to his lines and getting it unstuck and the lines removed wasn’t pleasant for him, the doctors, nurses or Mommy. It became a team effort as two residents, the regular doctor, and three nurses all threw their hats in the ring. There was blood,  towels and gauze all over the place, and if I hadn’t known what they were doing I would have thought something serious was going down in that isolette rather than a ‘simple’ line removal. V screamed his tiny head off (he sounded kind of like a kitten, so cute/pathetic at the same time) and flailed his arms but at the end of a very long half an hour he was finally minus some of the colourful attachments that had been getting tangled around his little legs. One more step in the right direction! Each little bit of progress he made lifted our spirits. We were a little less anxious as we went home for the night, and a little more hopeful that one day, hopefully soon, we’d be a complete family of three, at home, where we all belonged.

Daddy came to visit after work and before rehearsal and we finally got to give our little man his Pooh Bear layette. What a hit!! V must have been excited to finally have a permanent snuggle buddy because he nestled right in. Over the next 6 weeks the layette was sometimes used as a rolled support, a blanket or, just for comfort. Even at 17 months it is his favourite toy. We actually have 7 rotating Pooh Bears, just in case one bites the dust, but more on V and his buddy later. For the moment we were just glad that he had something with him that was ‘his’ and for comfort when we couldn’t be with him.

You can't see him very well, but the yellow blanket on top of our little guy is actually part of his Pooh Bear layette!

Obviously it is emotionally crippling to see your child alone in their isolette and have to leave them there, but to top it off, the NICU is also incredibly impersonal. It’s all white walls and beeping equipment, not your typical newborn nursery covered in animals or flowers. The only thing Vaughan wore at the beginning was a diaper and he was always wrapped in hospital receiving blankets, sucked hospital soothers and bathed with hospital washcloths. All of those cute things we had at home were sitting in his empty room just waiting to be used…and all of those clothes would be waiting for a very long time. Newborn sizes go from 5-8 lbs and at under 3 lbs even preemie clothing was a suffocation risk, so our little man went naked. We could have brought in our own clothing and blankets (and we did later on) but the NICU is a crazy busy place and sometimes your personal clothing, even when clearly labelled, has a tendency to become part of the public clothing pile, never to be seen again. We weren’t ready to take a chance on something we might later regret losing, so at that time we stuck with the ugly blue and pink blankets.

Having done our parental duty in spoiling our umbilical line-free little guy with his first toy we headed home for the night and I ended my day the same way it began, spending quality time with my pump!