Rather than trying to record things in date order I might try and group stuff together depending on the theme. Expressing milk was a massive part of being a preemie mum so here a few of the most memorable moments.
After both boys were born I was told by a midwife to start expressing as soon as possible. I guess with Alfie in the first 48 hours or so everything was so dramatic and all about seeing if he would make it through each hour that no one spoke to me about expressing until about day 2 or 3. As soon as I realised there was something I could do to help I got straight on it. I was encouraged to express next to the incubator and smell something that had been next to him to encourage milk production. I was told to do it for around 30 minutes every 2-3 hours 24 hours a day. We were shown the milk kitchen, how to label and store milk, how to wash the equipment and where the yellow pumping machines were kept. It became a routine, almost a weird mindfulness task, if you weren’t pumping then you were probably washing the equipment up or walking around the corridors trying to find a spare machine. Tom was amazing and helped with all that he could. Our hands quickly turned to pieces through all the constant washing, drying and gelling. I felt panicked when ever we left the hospital to get some food or buy some clothes – we had none of our own stuff as Alfie stayed in Bristol for the first few months. This was because as soon as we left, it was nearly always time to get back to express. Setting the alarm through out the nights was a killer, waking up to a machine rather than your baby was totally unnatural and surreal.
When we were transferred to another Bristol hospital due to potential heart surgery Alfie needed, there was a whole new system to get used to. No one expressed by the incubators which was sad, instead there was a small communal expressing room we called the milking parlour. I found this really exposing at first. My milk supply was terrible, after a 30 minute session I would fill a couple of centimetres in 2 tiny bottles. When you are sat opposite a mum who has so much milk she needs to use the largest size bottles and then they are spilling onto the floor it was pretty soul destroying. Breast milk was gold to our babies fighting for their lives and the fact that I couldn’t produce enough paired with the fact my body had gone into premature Labour was devastating – I felt like a useless woman, where nothing in my body did what it was supposed to do. I was in a real darkness in the first few months and would even find myself staring angrily at pregnant women in the supermarket or a breastfeeding mum in a cafe. A real low came when one morning I arrived on the ward to find the freezer not working. No one had clocked this or checked it and it must have been off for a fair while. Everyone’s milk was still frozen apart from mine as I had so little in each bottle, around 30 or so bottles of my milk, hours of expressing were all completely ruined. I completely broke down, I think Tom had gone back to work by then so all I could do was talk to him on the phone until he arrived for his regular weekend visits. I had a meeting with the Matron who weekly apologised to me but that was that.
On a lighter side of things, the positivity that came from communal expressing was the bonds formed between the mums, I befriended some lovely women, we would sit and laugh and chat, passing round chocolate whilst expressing. The funniest time was when we were all getting a bit rowdy and giggly and started talking about the doctors we fancied or bitching about the nurses we didn’t like. The parents sitting room was next door and after about 10 minutes of saying the most filthy and inappropriate things I got a text from Tom who was sitting with the other dads saying ‘we can hear everything you are saying.’ That shut us up!
Getting transferred to our local hospital in Devon, again freaked me out as there was another whole new system to get used to. This time the expressing stations were in changing room like cubicles with a curtain around them – about 3 in the room and some trashy magazines in each one. No one talked to each other but you were massively aware of the unknown mum behind the next curtain as you heard all the intimate sounds you create from using those machines. I found myself pining for the community feeling back in Bristol, I tried to strike up a chat a couple of times but it was just bloody awkward to be honest so I found myself reading articles about a woman who married her cat or a man that had 50 affairs whilst trying to squeeze out any drops of milk that would come. I started to resent this and felt like I was spending too much time away from Alfie. I always felt connected to him though, I will never forget the time I was mid pumping when I sudden feeling of fear and terror came over me, I started uncontrollably crying. I still had another 10 or so minutes left to pump but I knew something was very wrong. I ripped off the equipment, didn’t bother washing it and ran down the corridor into the ward. Sure enough all Alfie’s machines were going off, there wasn’t anyone directly by him in the room, Tom had also just appeared. We ran and shouted to the next door room where a nurse came running. Suddenly the resus trolley was there, loads of people in the room and they were doing CPR. Me and Tom held each other crying and watching while we were told he might not make it. Some how, some how he did, that amazing beautiful boy of mine did make it.
When Rohan was born I felt like a bloody scholar in the subject. I found myself back in the same milk kitchen washing and labelling bottles like a pro. I found comfort in chatting to first time preemie mums that were shell shocked as I was able to show them where to find the soap or give them tips on helping with milk production. The facilities had really improved since Alfie as well so each mum could comfortably express by the incubator in lovely relaxing chairs. It was emotional coming back and seeing the same lovely health care team that had repeatedly saved Alfie’s life, now do the same for Rohan too. My milk supply was still crap but I kept going, trying all the tricks – eating oats, fennel, horlicks, trying to stay relaxed ha! I had a bit of mastitis at one point so I was putting cabbage leaves down my bra. I was storing the cabbage in the parents kitchen. One evening I went in to get a new leaf from the fridge while a dad was in there microwaving his dinner. ‘Is that all your having for your dinner?’ He asked as he watched me pull one leaf off the cabbage and return it the fridge. ‘Yes.’ I replied. ‘I’m trying out a new diet.’
I am beyond happy that I will never ever have to plug myself into one of those dreaded machines again. I know they were doing an amazing thing but I came to hate those yellow beasts as they just seemed to ‘laugh’ at me especially in the early hours of the night. Ha ha they would say – I’m not your baby, I’m a stupid machine that you have to use instead….