No More Crying Over Spilled Milk

I loved breastfeeding. I know many women feel differently, but after a painful learning process with my first son, I found the experience amazing. While pregnant with my third baby, the last baby we would have, I could not wait to hold her close and nurse her for many months to come.

After successfully breastfeeding my other two children I was surprised at the difficulty my daughter had trying to nurse. The nurses would all say, “Oh, you have nursed before but she has not. It will happen.” When the difficulties continued I was told I would need to find another way to feed her. I asked for a breast pump and I would pump while my husband would finger feed her with a syringe and tube to encourage her to learn the ropes. We laughed at the craziness of it all and assumed this would all be short lived.

When we returned from the hospital I tried my hardest to get down to business and provide for this lovely new life I had brought home. I had successfully nourished two other children and fully intended to do so with number three. Oh, but the stress! Baby losing weight and mama losing her mind.

Six days after my daughter was born it was finally discovered that she was born with a cleft palate that had gone undiagnosed. It was official, part of the relationship I’d dreamed of for nine months was over. I would never be able to nurse my baby. I couldn’t believe how much it broke my heart. It still does. I can’t believe I have tears left for it after all this time. This mama’s desire runs deep.

With a heavy heart I returned to the breast pump. Like a good friend it quietly took its place and gave me what I needed. It listened as I cried and cried and cried over what I would never have. It didn’t judge and never failed.

After my resentment toward pumping waned I began to look forward to it. I purchased a hands-free bra and was able to pump while reading, drinking tea, and in complete moments of domestic efficiency, fold laundry. I started to realize that this not only gave me time to pause in my day, but also an excuse to give more responsibility to my husband. If the baby pooped, the kids needed something, or there was a fight to break up I always had an excuse. “Get daddy,” I’d shout. “I’m pumping and just can’t get to that right now.”

When I made the decision to stop pumping after 13 months I assumed I would have been thrilled, but the decision to let it go proved harder than I thought. The hours I spent collecting milk for my baby had played a big part in our lives. It allowed her to thrive and helped her heal after the surgery necessary to repair her palate. I came to realize that weaning is weaning and for me it was hard.

It still stings when I see other mamas nursing their babies, that chapter of my life was closed before I was ready. Yet, I did find many moments of bliss once the Medela Symphony and I parted ways. Books were free to hang out on my bedside table! Goodbye to nursing bras! Look at all the time I’ve added to my day! Best of all, no more crying over spilled milk.

Jessica is a DONA International trained postpartum doula and owner of Fourth Trimester Madison, www.fourthtrimestermadison.com. She has been married for over 10 years to someone who makes her laugh every day and reminds her not to take herself too seriously. Together they have three children- Logan (2006), Liam (2008) and Kate (2011). She grew up in northern Wisconsin but has called the Madison area home since college. She can be found reading cookbooks but not cooking, saying yes to more volunteer work than she has time for (and loving it), on a Netflix binge, or with her nose in a book.

16 COMMENTS

  1. This is exactly how I first felt when we heard our little man was diagnosed with a cleft lip and possibly palate at our 20 week ultrasound. I was heart broken thinking I would not be able to nurse my first born child when I had my mind set on breastfeeding since I decided I wanted to have children. Well when our beautiful boy was born on March 26th, 2014 the doctors right was checked for his palate and there was no problem with it. He nurses like a champ and makes this mommy happy as can be every time we do!

  2. I can semi relate…my youngest is 3 1/2 he weaned himself around 9 mo….I knew he was our last…it was VERY hard for me to stop (i just don’t think I was producing enough :()…I still, probably in almost a creepy way, look at mom’s nursing…My mind brings me back to my nursing days and I get teary eyed knowing that I will never nurse again 🙁 I do have to say though WAY TO GO MAMA ! 13 mo pumping that’s AMAZING! That’s the only part I can’t relate to…pumping never worked for me 🙁 I am just in awe at mom’s who selflessly solely pump…ahhh reminiscing

  3. What a beautifully-told story! Thank you so much for sharing. It is always helpful to hear mamas’ experiences and how they adjust to what they must face.

  4. Thank you for telling this story the way you did! Many women face all different types of hurdles during breastfeeding and/or pumping, but I have yet to meet a woman who has regretted working through these hurdles to nourish their child in this way. I’m glad you were able to find the positives in this situation and share with others who may be facing similar challenges!

    P.S. You are a wonderful, dedicated mama!

  5. Jessica- so well said. My girls were born early and with being premature and the stress of making sure they were eating enough, I was never able to nurse them. I pumped for 10 months, and although it was probably the most freeing day, it was also a really sad and difficult day for me. Thanks for a great post. 🙂

  6. Exclusively pumping is so incredibly hard, on so many different levels. I also exclusively pumped for the first 4 months until my baby learned to nurse, and I still have tears when I think about how physically and emotionally hard it was to lose that relationship that I thought I would have with my newborn (and also can’t believe I have tears left for it after all this time). You did an amazing selfless thing for your baby to be so dedicated pumping for 13 months. Way to go mama!

  7. I was born with a cleft-palate in 1981, hardly any of the doctors or nurses knew what to do that he hospital I was at. My mom said I also did not eat for the first week of life because the team had no resources on what to do with a baby like me. Great job at providing breastmilk for your sweet girl! What a gift!

    • Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your experience, Brenda. I feel so lucky to live in a time and in a place where there are so many wonderful resources!

  8. Thank you for sharing. My daughter was also born with a cleft palette. We had feeding problems among multiple other immune & anxiety (yes, anxiety as a baby) issues. Just curious if you’ve experienced anything other than not being able to breast-feed your baby girl? My daughter is beautiful, but puzzling. By far my most challenging of 4; but nothing the medical community can pinpoint.

    • Hi Sarah,

      Thanks for reaching out! For us, the only issue to go along with the cleft was the feeding issue. I hope you find the answers you are looking for, not knowing can sometimes be the hardest part!

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