Thursday, 19 June 2014

:: liquid gold ::

Today Théo had his last bottle of my milk. It's one of those bittersweet moments - part of me wants to keep persevering and the other part says to just let it go and move on, and give myself a break in what is a busy season for us in this present moment. About a month ago he suddenly decided he didn't want to feed from me anymore. So bottle it was, and after a few days some formula was bought as a back up if I didn't have enough. It's been hard to express regularly, so over the last week there has often been more formula milk provided than my own. Then yesterday I accidentally dropped my little manual milk pump on our tiles and the tiniest piece broke off that pretty much rendered it useless! Agh! I'd already been considering letting it go, so I conceded defeat and the decision was made.

Minutes later I noticed an article my friend posted on her facebook wall that is heartbreakingly beautiful about a mum who had her twins at 27 weeks and how expressing milk was such a huge part of her daily routine in those early weeks and months. For her it was something she could do to help her tiny, fragile babies, when so much else of the responsibility of their care was being done by the medical teams. With premature births there are so many different situations that it's rare that we can almost completely identify with each other's experiences as parents. However, on the other hand we share so much in common from the general Neonatal experience, such as the sound of the alarms that monitor our babies' vital signs, to the smell of the antibacterial hand-wash we slather on each time we go into the Unit or during cares. The feeling of anticipation as we wait in our armchairs in hospital gowns, waiting for the nurse to gather up all the tubes and wires along with our precious, tiny little babies and gently transfer them onto our chests for kangaroo cuddles. And, among those shared experiences is one that I think many mums probably identify with if it has been possible: providing our own milk for their babies. When they are born this small they simply can't breastfeed initially, so breast-pumps become our new best friend :o)

I think it was during the very first days that I heard the term 'liquid gold' - probably referring to the first drops of milk that come after birth, also known as 'colostrum.' It was never a question in my mind that I wouldn't at least try my best to give my own milk to our babies. And so, in those very first hours following the birth of our girls four years ago, after our little 700g babies were whisked off to the Neonatal unit, a nurse wheeled in a breast-pump and my journey of providing for my babies began. Like the mum I mentioned earlier, I knew that this was one thing that I was solely responsible for and could do! So religiously for months I expressed my milk with a determination that didn't like to consider defeat. One good thing about having such tiny babies was that they were only drinking 0.5mls every 3 hours during their first days, and that only if they were doing well, so I had some time to stock up and keep ahead of them ;o)
It was a huge part of my daily routine. Before visiting the girls I would always go first to drop off my labelled bottles of milk to the storage centre in the basement of the hospital, before going up to the unit. At one point, when the girls were a few months old, I checked how much I had stored there to give me an idea on whether I needed to push myself a bit harder to stay ahead and was quite shocked to hear that I had eight litres !! I guess routine, combined with my tendency to stick stubbornly to something I feel is important, plus all the chocolate croissants and other Swiss goodies I convinced myself were necessary (!) had all helped. The ladies suggested that maybe I started storing some milk at home so they had more space for others! Shortly afterwards, the combination of the little freezer in our hospital apartment breaking down twice, a transfer to another hospital and a new routine that meant it was harder to keep up expressing meant I finally had to concede defeat with Elise and let her go onto formula. In my mind it was such a hard thing to let go of - even though she was over four months old! I knew I could push myself harder, but I also knew I'd done my best for her and had to recognise that and let go. I have no strong opinions on whether or not mums should breastfeed or give formula milk because I know every situation is so different and trust that every such decision has been made so carefully. But for myself I literally had to remind myself it was ok and that formula milk would not hurt her! And of course it never did! By that stage Amélie was home and I was feeding her myself, which I managed to keep up with until she was nearly 8 months old.

When Théo arrived so many memories resurfaced. This time around, though, I was just relieved that he was big enough to feed straight away and we wouldn't have to buy as many bottles as we had had with the girls! Like with the girls, even though he was born at term, I felt such a sense of responsibility to provide for him and that determination to keep at it for as long as he needed me. So it took me by complete surprise on the morning just a few weeks ago when he suddenly refused! I persevered for days but he persevered harder in his resistance! So today is the end of an era once again. I'm thankful to have been able to give him my own milk until now, and now it will be formula.  But, he doesn't look like he's going to suffer, does he?! ;o)

I guess it's like that for us mums in many ways, and not just terms of feeding our babies. We want to give our best. Sometimes we push ourselves hard and expect too much of ourselves to reach certain goals of providing well for our children. It seems to get harder with this information overloaded world in which each day it seems that we hear of something else we should be avoiding. I think sometimes we just need to sit ourselves down and remind ourselves we're doing our best, we make our decisions as well as we can and that is truly good enough. And then we need to congratulate ourselves for all that being a mum involves and all we give. It's the biggest, craziest, most sacrificing and demanding, but most precious role I've ever experienced and most days I feel like I'm going more backwards than forwards. But we continue because our love and determination and vision of what we want to provide is stronger than defeat.


  1. Biggest, hardest, most painful job in the world, with the best rewards and moments and joys xx Bittersweet these moments xx

  2. It's the end of a era but a new one is starting, one just as important but just different. He looks wonderfully content.