When it came to breastfeeding my unborn babies, my prediction was “I’d like to; I’ll try.” It seemed an awfully maternal thing to do, and I wasn’t all that confident in my maternal instincts. But when my identical twins were born nine weeks early, all of the predictions went out the window.
They were born on a Monday afternoon, after a 2 week battle with severe preeclampsia. The next day when the lactation consultant wheeled a breast pump into my room – a foreign-looking yellow device that looked like it required a commercial license to operate – and cheerfully stated it was time to start pumping, I looked at her like she was crazy. When she squealed and clapped and practically dove after droplets of colostrum on my nipple with a syringe, I assumed she was certifiably insane. Granted, I was still high on magnesium sulfate, but still. This woman was nuts if she thought that I could keep this up in my condition. Luckily my husband was paying attention, and he displayed an unforeseen amount of dedication to learning how to disassemble, wash, and reassemble my pump parts.
Although my pregnancy took an unexpected turn, my milk production did not. It came in exactly on day four, just as predicted, mere hours after I politely declined to sign the form permitting donor milk. “I can do this,” I told our neonatologist at my girls’ bedsides. But it was myself that I was really talking to. Each night I sat in my hospital bed and dialed up every cliche tip on helping milk production. “I am such a cheese ball,” I groaned, as I scrolled through recently taken photos of my tiny girls while breathing deeply and listening to piano renditions of Radiohead on my iPod. But sure enough, the milk came in right on schedule, either a testament to my body’s natural processes, the pep talk I gave myself, or maybe those cheesy techniques really worked.
Once home, I suffered the same breastfeeding struggles many women face, including most preemie moms, only there were two of them: Are they eating enough? Why are they eating so often? Why do both of them seem to prefer the left boob? Granted in the NICU I had nicknamed that one “The Big Producer,” but that is neither here nor there.
As I lamented my frustrations to my moms of multiples group forum, one piece of advice came up again and again:
“Trust the process,” the more experienced moms said. “Keep trying. They’ll get it. In the meantime, give yourself a break with a bottle in the middle of the night.”
Easy for you to say, I thought, as I settled reluctantly into my couch with my giant nursing pillow and a DVR full of Lost episodes. My girls at this point were a little over 2 months old, but only a couple of weeks adjusted, and had only been home from the NICU for about a month. Nursing was frustrating and taxing, and I had no idea how I could keep this up for my goal of 12 months.
Trust the process.
I wanted to roll my eyes every time someone said that to me, but deep down I knew that as long as my body was fed, hydrated, and rested (ha!), I could physically produce the milk. My girls just needed a little practice.
We visited a lactation consultant, who did a feed and weigh, verifying that each baby was, in fact getting enough milk to grow. She followed up with me regularly for weeks and ended up being worth her weight in gold for my breastfeeding confidence and all around well being.
I set smaller goals. Instead of looking a daunting 12 months out, I told myself I would make it through today. Then the end of the week. End of the month. Eventually I told myself I could nurse for four months, then six, and so on. Meeting the smaller mile markers along the path was so much more encouraging than running on a hamster wheel that never seemed to stop.
Trust the process.
Four months in it finally clicked, and we found our stride. Six months in and we were pros. I hesitated so start solids, because breastfeeding was so effortless at the point. And it allowed me to watch back-to-back episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. Shortly after they turned a year – past my initial goal of 12 months – my girls were simply stopping by for a snack, then quickly on to bigger and better things across the room.
I commit to things almost to a fault, and breastfeeding preemie twins was no different. I viewed quitting as failure, which I now know it certainly is not (only one of the many, many things I have gotten wrong as a parent). But making myself miserable by trudging through it wasn’t good for any of us. I needed to change my attitude and my outlook. I needed to trust that my girls and I could be a team.
Trust the process.
Now I’m not naive enough to think that simply believing in yourself will solve everyone’s breastfeeding struggles. I’ve unfortunately witnessed several friends and family who wanted so badly to share that experience with their babies, but could not, for one reason or another. But I do believe that a little trust, a lot of support, and knowing when to ask for help can get mothers through just about any situation.