The nurse walked in as I finished pumping. She complimented me on my fortitude, that I was still trying hard to produce milk for my son, months in to our NICU stay.
What else was I going to do? He wasn’t even supposed to be here yet. I couldn’t give him third trimester antibodies, the least I could do was give him my milk.
As she poured the fresh milk down an ng tube into his stomach, I told her my dreams. My dream to pump until he was strong enough to take my milk by breast. My dream to bring him out with me shopping with nothing but a diaper and blanket in my purse, nursing him as he needed it, like I’d done with my other two children. She nodded and looked away.
But I was sure of it. I was sure I would give him the normal breastfeeding experience I’d given my other children, even if it took until he was nearly a year old. That would be our success story.
He came home three months later, still getting most of his food by ng tube, with some administered through a bottle, but I didn’t give up.
One afternoon I counted his respirations as I’d been shown in the NICU. They were low enough. I grabbed a shield guard I’d gotten at the hospital, and I put him to my breast. He suckled weakly for 20 minutes. I was breathless and in awe.
I beamed. I’d done it. We’d done it. From here on out I was sure his lungs and mouth would only get stronger, and he’d be fully nursing in no time.
That was the last time I nursed him.
His respirations didn’t get better. A month and a half later he turned in his ng tube for a more permanent g-tube. Due to a rare kidney condition (and not prematurity) his respirations stayed high for much longer than expected. While he eats some by mouth now, he still depends on this tube as a three year old.
I continued to pump until our son was 15 months old, around the time I’d weaned with my other children.
This is my success story. We did it.
Like so many things in my preemie’s life, we never reached normal. Instead we redefined normal, and we found our own version of success.