A Week of Nursing Dangerously: a brush with low supply

 This was something I needed, and something my son needed from me. He couldn’t be nourished by the frayed, exhausted bits and pieces of a mom held together with bobby pins and dried spit-up.

I’ll never forget the feeling the feeling when my son turned four months, and I began to realize how much less milk I was making – or at least, I haven’t forgotten it yet because it was only about two weeks ago.

The dwindling supply debacle was perhaps a few weeks in the making. I had gone back to work less than 2 months prior, and slowly but surely, the weight of being not only the primary source of income in my household but also the primary source of food for my son was starting to wear me down. I needed time to relax and recharge. I needed time to be a mom. Just a mom. Not a supermom or a Wonder Woman like I had been trying to be. Just a mom.

So, I asked my husband if we could go away and have a relaxing trip to the lake close to where I grew up, only about 2 hours away from our current home, so I could get away from the heat, let my son see the ducks the way I had as a baby, and simply be. Grudgingly (because this meant that he would be driving), my husband agreed. This was all on a Saturday evening.

Monday morning, he texted that we were, in fact, not going after all because his grandmother had just informed him that they were coming over, and while I said that anyone was more than welcome to come with us, my husband declared this a non-option. There would be no “Just a mom” weekend, despite the fact that I desperately needed it. There would only be a weekend of me passing around my son and entertaining, then going back to work on Monday.

I was exhausted. The fatigue, plus the emotional strain of trying to explain that being able to put aside all these other demands on my time and energy to simply be a mom to my son was a need rather than a want was getting to me. I was losing sleep. I was in no mood to snack and chug down fluids the way I had been for months. More than once, I felt like my fatigue and anxiety were just exploding. I wanted so much to return to the feeling I had during maternity leave, when people recognized that I was still recovering and that I needed nurturing too – now, the people who still treated me with that same kind of nurturing were precious few.

By Wednesday, my freezer stash of breastmilk was gone, and mornings were a painful, aching routine of trying to squash every last drop of milk out of my breasts, which were losing steam being subjected to what felt like incessant attempts at “power pumping”. I’d start my workdays in tears,retreat every 2-3 hours into the tiny pumping room to try and pull every last ounce that I could, bring it home to baby, and get back to work in time to scarf something down at my desk.

Even worse, we had done the unthinkable – we had done a trial run of supplementing with formula. I felt such an overwhelming sense of shame at even considering it, but I wanted desperately for my son to go without, just because of what I felt was a shortcoming on my part. The doctor confirmed that it would be fine, and that he “should be able to start solids within the month anyway”. And then his eczema flared up with a vengeance. He started fidgeting like I had never seen before, and crying at night like I had never seen before. We stopped the formula. All of it stopped. We considered asking the pediatrician to recommend a different formula, but I no longer had it in me to experiment with my son and risk the same thing happening.

Thursday, I felt as though I had hit a wall both physically and emotionally, no matter how much support my friends and loved ones were trying to provide. I had already panic-purchased every single thing I had ever heard could increase milk supply. Fenugreek. Gatorade. A Pink Drink from Starbucks. Mother’s Milk Tea. Oatmeal. I thought if I tried every single thing, maybe my body would give me kudos for trying and bring back those days of needing to double up on nursing pads and sneak out of meetings to pump because my milk was leaking out.

Instead, all I got was a raging, upset stomach that left me more dehydrated, more disappointed in myself, and more desperate. It was at this point when, while talking to a friend and fellow nurse who worked on a labor & delivery unit, I was first seriously presented the idea of a nursing vacation. A nurse-in weekend. A Boobymoon.

“You can’t fix tired by working harder,” she told me. And I was bawling. Being given explicit permission to rest was something that felt unreal. So I put my foot down. I made it clear that this was something I needed, and something my son needed from me. He couldn’t be nourished by the frayed, exhausted bits and pieces of a mom held together with bobby pins and dried spit-up.

I took an extra day off, and I spent the weekend at home with my son, with my grandma there to support me. I spent lazy mornings bra-less and with no other plans except to let my son nurse and cuddle with me. We FaceTimed with my mom and played peek-a-boo with my sister. I snuck off between feedings to pump off what was left, then promptly resumed my place at my son’s side, watching him sleep and letting his tiny hand squeeze my finger. I even had the time to brace the minefield of cutting his nails during his morning nap.

But something even more amazing happened. I cut my own nails – not in the, “make ’em short so they don’t scratch the baby” way, but actually trimmed into nice, neat curves that I hadn’t seen in a good while. I took a bath – a twenty-minute hot bath as opposed to a ten-minute shower with my ears perking at any sound that even resembled a baby needing something from me.

I took a walk to the park with my son in his stroller and was told by complete strangers that he was a beautiful boy and that I was taking such good care of him. I’m not sure if the woman taking her grandson to the park that day realized how badly I needed to hear it from someone who I didn’t think was obliged to tell me so.

And slowly but surely over the weekend, when I felt rested and actually alive again, my milk supply started to creep back up. By Tuesday, when I went back to work again, I was able to prep two bottles of just breastmilk for my son in advance, and create space in my day to feed him myself as well as bring home what I had pumped. I was able to snuggle with him in the morning and enjoy his just-woke-up smile in stead of tethering myself to my pump while trying to get ready.

Reaching the brink of running out of milk (or at least feeling like it) was a terrifying learning experience. I learned that not everyone will understand the importance of rest, and that still, unapologetically and assertively, you must take it. I learned to listen to my heart and to my body when they scream out for me to hit the reset button for a while and go “back to baby”. I learned that being a mom – being a working mom and a breadwinner – means that I will always be pulled in a hundred different directions, and that my sanity depends on my ability to get back to center when I need to.

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