Elizabeth Petrucelli

Author, Blogger, Educator

Category: Exclusively Pumping

Letting Go

Exclusively Pumping Milk

It’s that odd place for me again. The time where I want to be done but it hurts to be done. It’s time to wean. It should come easily right? I mean, she’s almost two. In fact, she will be two in just a few weeks and here I am, crying over the fact that I am weaning.

Here’s the non-typical part. I didn’t get to breastfeed her. Sure, we started out breastfeeding well but then I was hospitalized for postpartum preeclampsia and she was on a bottle with breastmilk for days. I could have tried to get her to latch on again. She was only a week old but she already preferred feeding from the bottle by that point and pumping milk had been so easy for me, we didn’t push it.

Baby Girl would latch on occasionally. I have some pictures and video of her doing so. She wouldn’t completely stop until she was about four months old and I cherished those moments. They were blissful.

I had no idea the challenges we were going to face in regards to her eating solid foods. In reality, I probably would have stopped providing breastmilk for her months ago, perhaps even a year ago, if she hadn’t struggled for so long to eat solid food. She still isn’t eating solid foods well but we are finally at a place where we can wean her from breastmilk to see how she does.

Last fall, I was desperate to stop pumping. I was struggling with PMDD and wanted to try medications and supplements but I couldn’t. Well, I could, but I didn’t want to expose her to any of those medications or supplements. I know that many women take antidepressants and for some it works but there was nothing that proved they would work for me and I did not want to risk exposing her brain to the chemical changes from the medications. She will have enough challenges as it is.

So I suffered. My family suffered. I struggled in ways I won’t share here but they were not good ways. I was angry at people and short-tempered. I remember a time in Biblical School where my table-mate was opening a wrapper so she could have a snack and I just wanted to jump up and start screaming at her. Instead, I quickly left the room but it was infuriating and the sound of the wrapper was like fingers running down a chalkboard (silly that kids these days don’t know what that sounds like).

There was a particular day in December where I had a panic attack and had no one to reach out to. I tried. BELIEVE ME! I had never felt that way before and I was not in a good place at all. I called my therapist but she wasn’t available. She had left town for the holidays. Since I had only seen her once, I didn’t have much of a relationship with her. They couldn’t refer me to another therapist because they don’t manage “crises” and they don’t prescribe medication; which I felt I needed.

They told me to call her personal phone number but I couldn’t find it. I was in panic mode and I couldn’t even remember if she had given it to me. I reached out to a friend but even she couldn’t help me get the therapists number. She was on vacation herself. I even called my doctor.

They couldn’t help. This was a doctor that I was seeing privately for PMDD but alas, they needed me to come in to the clinic, which was an hour away, at 3:30pm and I needed to get my kids from school. It was impossible to ensure I made it before they closed for the holiday. And of course, they said they can’t treat over the phone and there was no one that would talk with me. If I felt it was an emergency, I should go to the hospital.

I didn’t. It was awful and in those moments, I saw exactly the mental health crisis that exists and why people kill themselves AND how easy it is for them to fall through the cracks. No one knows how to manage someone in a mental health crisis.

After some time away, I felt better and as my hormones have begun to regulate postpartum, my PMDD seems to be getting better and more manageable and I am looking forward to trying supplements to keep it at bay; which is why I was looking forward to weaning…until now.

I am ready. At least I feel like I am. Every time I hook myself up to the pump, I dread it and I hate those 15 minutes or so. I am tired of the bottles, the constant clean up, the entire counter space dedicated to cleaning and drying the pump parts and bottles, and replacing the pump parts. I especially can’t stand the noise of the pump, dragging it places with me, and the way it hurts during different times of my cycle.

But, here I am, crying because I am ready, yet not ready. I am not ready to stop giving my daughter something only I can. I am not ready to stop giving her that nourishment, the only nourishment she craves and truly enjoys. The nourishment that has sustained her. I have been that person. I grew her in my womb; nourishing her there and protecting her, and then nourishing her outside the womb through my milk. Sometimes, that was the only thing she could consume.

It’s been a slow process. Last week, I started shortening the length of pumping time and today, well…I haven’t pumped yet. And I feel it. I can feel the aching in my breasts. Breasts that long to have the milk expelled yet won’t find that relief. Breasts that will no longer nourish another child. Not only will I no longer nourish my child with my milk, I won’t be donating the excess to another baby. This is it. This is the last. This is the end.

Maybe that’s what is making this hard? I thought Timmy was last. I pumped for him for 27 months. I don’t remember what weaning was like. I think there was more joy in it then this time. 23 months is enough. I know it is and I am ready to move out of this pumping phase but it’s hard to let go.

Where do I find joy in this? I am having a hard time finding the joy in it today.

Exclusively Pumping Breastmilk – Weaning

Exclusively Pumping MilkYou have sat at my table for almost 27 months. You have been a part of my daily routine since my son was born. There were times I hated you, times I loved you, times I cried over you, times I needed you, times I resented you and I will never forget the time when I wanted to throw you out my window and crush you to pieces. We have been across the United States together, visited some amazing places together, traveled in our camper together, used on highways, in hospitals, other peoples homes, and on the back roads. We have spent over 576 hours together.

But here we are, nearly 27 months later and I am so sad that our relationship is coming to an end. I certainly never thought we would be together this long. 13 months maybe, since that’s how long of a relationship I had last time but 27 months seems like forever. I almost hate to say goodbye, really, even though I hated you for many months. I don’t love you, but I love what you help me provide.

I have provided 265 gallons of milk to my son and at least 25 other babies and 1 man, other than my husband (yeah, we can talk about that some other time if you want). It is magical when I think about it, all we have done together but the end is near and I am struggling.

Over the last week, I have gradually shortened my pumping time. I have only been pumping twice a day for about 15 minutes for around 18 months so I dropped to 10 minutes. I saw a dip in supply the first day but then it seemed my breasts caught on and pushed out the milk fast. I can still hear the spray on the inside of the flanges. Fsshh, fsshh, fsshh.

I became discouraged when the milk wouldn’t stop flowing. So I dropped the pumping time to 5 minutes and was sure I stopped mid flow. I woke this morning with a sore spot in one of my breasts but continued to stick with the short pumping time and then it happened tonight. 4 oz.

That’s all I got, even with the breast massage. No strong flow. Only dribbles. The end of my exclusively pumping journey is near.

My heart hurts. I am screaming inside to get this milk flowing again; to see the sea of golden liquid pouring from my motherly, yet intimate parts. But I know, the end is near.

The end must be near. Logically, it’s been almost 27 months, well past the American recommended age of providing breastmilk for one year. I have endured criticism from medical professionals, family and friends for continuing to provide the milk to my son. “You know, there is no medical benefit,” they say. “If you were breastfeeding, that would be really gross at this age,” they say. “You know, he is only doing that for comfort,” they say when hearing he gets breastmilk and not understanding it’s from a bottle.

Thanks for your opinion, but I know what’s best. I certainly don’t enjoy being tied to the pump. 

More logic, my pump parts will need to be replaced and I can save money by weaning, my hands free bra is so worn it’s no longer considered hands free, I seriously would like a large portion of my counter back, and finally, I am sooooo tired of washing parts and bottles.

So the end is near. I am actually at a place where turning around and trying again might bring heartache because the milk may not increase at this point. But I do worry about a few things.

Will my son sleep without the milk? Will my fertility remain? Logically, I shouldn’t be that fertile while pumping but I often wonder if this was part of my fertility renewal and I worry my fertility will dwindle even as I struggle with the decisions that come with the fertility.

So here we are, you and me. What do we do? Is it really time to say goodbye?

I was hoping I would have some special words. Words of wisdom or just a parting statement, but I don’t. You got me where I am today and I nourished my son for 27 months because of you. I was able to enjoy the looks of satiety as he drank my milk from the bottle, rejecting anything else we put in it, only accepting the fresh milk and not the frozen. I was able to see him grow and develop because of this special nourishment. I can still envision him drinking that liquid gold and enjoying it.

“I want milk mama,” is what he says now. “No sweetheart, there is no more milk,” I reply. He begins to cry, “I want milk mama! “I know, no more milk, would you like a pacifier?” I reply. He begins to wriggle and kick a bit, unable to truly comprehend what this means. No milk for now or for all time? He pushes me more, “I want milk mama!” The longing in his eyes digs deep within my soul, reaching inside to force an expression that I cannot provide.

“No milk,” I say and I begin to shush him and rock. I rock as he cries for the milk. I cry too. Because as much as I want to stop, I want to keep going. He starts to settle a bit but the wrinkles of distaste remain on his face…until sleep finds him and he becomes weightless.

STATISTICS

32,083 ounces of milk over 27 months. Roughly 250.6 gallons of breastmilk provided. I pumped for 34,568 minutes or 24 days straight.

Breastmilk Pumping Chart

Why I Chose Private Breastmilk Donation Over the Milk Bank

Nearly 20 months ago, an amazing person came into my life; my little man was born. I never imagined that I would be providing breastmilk to him for this long. My goal was to breastfeed for at least one year and just go from there but he was born tongue-tied, just like his brother and just like his father.

His father and brother don’t have any real issues with their tongue-ties but my little man does. If you want to know more about tongue-ties, click here. I am not going to go into all the details that come with this condition. Because of his tongue-tie though, I wasn’t able to breastfeed him for very long.

With his brother, I made it to six weeks and then we switched to exclusively pumping. It was a hard choice and I grieved the loss of my breastfeeding relationship but I felt good that I would be able to provide him breastmilk. I never knew if we would ever have another child but I felt strongly that I would breastfeed that child for as long as we could if the time came.

When my little one came, I was excited when he latched on just 45 minutes after he was born. I felt confident that we wouldn’t struggle at breastfeeding. Even when he was nursing constantly on day two, I didn’t think we would have any problems. There were a few indications that things weren’t going well such as the lipstick shape of my nipple when he was finished nursing and the clicking in his jaw.

It wasn’t until he bit my nipple and ripped it off that I decided I needed to stop nursing him. There is a procedure that can be done to release a tongue-tie but my husband did not want to put him through the surgery. There was no guarantee that it would help his condition. Not only did our little one have a tongue-tie, he also had an upper lip-tie which contributed to his problems.

This though, began my journey of exclusively pumping. With my first son, I was an overproducer. I had heard of donating milk but at the time, thought it was disgusting and didn’t believe anyone would really use human breastmilk. It wasn’t until I was faced with dumping my milk that I began to research human donor milk and applied to be a donor.

Once I learned all that the milk goes through, I knew how safe it was and I loved that I was helping premature and sick babies get through difficult times. I donated over 16.5 gallons to the Mother’s Milk Bank of Denver. I volunteered for them and processed labels to be sent to hospitals all over the metro area.

At the time, human milk wasn’t an option in the hospital and was only dispensed from the milk bank. Their goal was to have some donor milk on hand from the moment a baby was born and needed it. Their work paid off and human donor milk is now available at local hospitals.

While loved how rewarding donating to the milk bank felt, I also longed for a more personal relationship with the recipients. I mentioned this longing to the director and talked about milk donation pins as well as possible an “adopt a baby” program but due to patient privacy, this was not an option.

When I became an over producer this time, I applied as a donor again but sought private donation as well. With the private donation, I was able to meet babies that were receiving my milk. I did not take any payment for my milk although some women do. I gave my milk in exchange for milk storage bags (for the most part) and also donated to the milk bank.

Last April though, I met a wonderful family. Their daughter was 10 weeks old and mom couldn’t provide all the milk her daughter needed due to a medical condition. It is a rare condition and despite her diagnosis, she tried hard to breastfeed her daughter and pump extra for her when she could.

I rarely had people pick up milk from my home but I felt called to welcome them to my home and they came. I was able to hold her and witness her nursing with her mother. I usually just donated one time and never saw the recipient again, but I felt different with them and knew there would be more donations.

As months passed on, I donated more and more to them. Every time, this mother brought her daughter. Even when I was being a hermit and didn’t want company, she encouraged me to hold her daughter or at the very least, peek in while she was sleeping in the car. I don’t think there was a time where she picked up milk without her daughter. There were times when I met the rest of her children and her husband.

I had several other mothers that I donated to more than once but no one as often or as long as I donated to this family. They prayed for me and provided so much for me that I never could have imagined. They funded a beautiful keepsake of preserved breastmilk for me as well.

In fact, I had given this family my very early milk that I had pumped which was full of beautiful colostrum. It was pumped just a few days after my son was born and I had a hard time giving it to them. When I decided to make a keepsake with my milk, I asked the mother if I could have some of my early milk back. I had told her I had been crying about the fact that I gave it to her even though I was happy that her daughter would benefit from it.

That’s when she said that she too, had cried over this milk. She was crying for me because she knew how special the milk was. She gave me the earliest milk back and paid for a keepsake. I will cherish it forever. It was created by Baby Bee Hummingbirds in Australia; although I cannot support her work any longer as she has decided to preserve embryos. Embryos are human babies and are not jewelry.

In October, I had planned on “weaning.” I shared this with the family and explained I wasn’t sure how much more milk I would be able to provide, but October came and went and I was still pumping. I couldn’t seem to stop. I knew my son needed the milk. Even after cranio-sacral therapy, chiropractic work, and now food therapy, he still wasn’t eating solids well enough for me to give it up.

And here I am, at nearly 20 months, still pumping for him. But, my private donation to this family has come to an end. Last weekend, the entire family came to pick up the final donation. I didn’t know this would be the final donation but I knew it was coming. I felt that her daughter was approaching her first birthday and asked her when they arrived.

That’s when it happened. That’s when I got sad and the tears started to flow. I didn’t realize how special this was until this particular relationship was coming to an end. While I had an oversupply of milk, I had no idea how important it was for families who were receiving it. I had no idea how thankful a family could be. I had no idea that someone like me could provide something life saving to another family. I didn’t think I was anything to anyone and they showed me I was so much to them.

I hope we continue to be friends. I am sure we will in some capacity and I am so blessed to know them and to have been this baby’s milk mama. I am so honored to have been led to them and provide nourishment in a way that is so rare only few experience it. Women Marines are rare and I was one. This experience, was even more rare.

Here I am, with my milk baby. She is beautiful. She is so big now and I can’t wait to see her grow even more. Thank you for sharing her with me and allowing me to help you reach your goal!

You connected me in a way I have never been connected to someone. You are why I chose private breastmilk donation. Thank you for everything! I love you both.

– Breaking the silence of First Trimester Miscarriage


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