A couple of weeks ago, I threw out 341 ounces of frozen breastmilk. That was just the bottom shelf. I still need to clear out the top one.
It has been six months since the last of it was pumped, rendering my precious milk expired. At the beginning, every half ounce was sacred. Toward the end of my pumping days, I didn’t bother saving the milk. It sat out for hours, until I forced myself to pump again at which point I would dump the previous yield down the drain. I was so bitter. So exhausted. I’d had it with pumping. Stella had been diagnosed with cow’s milk protein intolerance and fed hypoallergenic formula through a tube for a good month, and still I pumped. The odds of returning to breastfeeding seemed grim at best. Still, it was hard to stop. I didn’t want to give up. I wanted her to have “the best.”
I’d been meaning to throw the milk out for some time now, but couldn’t let it go.
When I stopped breastfeeding, when Stella had her NG tube, I was an emotional wreck. But I was consumed with tube- and bottle-feeding my baby and completely focused on getting Stella over her feeding aversion. I never really allowed myself to think very deeply about the loss. So I never got to grieve my milk or my vision of breastfeeding and what it represented to me. I never really embraced the choice that I made–the only choice that seemed logical, the one that enabled Stella (and me) to thrive. I want to accept it completely and I’m not sure why it’s been so hard to do.
I’ve thought about this a lot lately, since dumping those 341 ounces. And perhaps the answer is simple. Formula-feeding is not what I wanted for Stella. I failed. Or that’s what it feels like. And a very small, insecure part of me wonders if there is simply something wrong with me. My milk made Stella sick. It didn’t protect or nourish her or do anything it was supposed to. I used to joke to myself, in the weeks just after Stella was born, that my breasts were being both destroyed and redeemed by breastfeeding. They were being stretched to the limit with the influx of milk, so I knew I could say goodbye to any perkiness. On the other hand, they’ve always been small and had really only been a source of ridicule from about fifth grade on, so I found it quite astounding that they had the amazing power to nourish my baby. To help her grow! For me, it was empowering. Unfortunately, that didn’t last.
I wrote about our attempt to give her a dairy-based formula. I never followed up on how it went. Let’s just say that the switch was not successful. Her intake started to drop slightly and she developed a couple of red splotches on her face. We were very quick to switch back to hypoallergenic Elecare, so we can’t be 100% sure if the milk protein was really bothering her or not. But my gut tells me something was off. It helps a little bit with the recurring thought that maybe, if I’d kept avoiding dairy and soy for just a little while longer, and kept trying to feed her, she’d have come around to enjoy nursing, and get the benefits of breastmilk without all the pain she’d been experiencing. Of course, that’s simplistic thinking, and dismissive of the severity of the issues we faced at that time. But the idea lingers.
So. yes. I’ve been reluctant to throw out my milk. I kept hoping that maybe someday, I could give her some. My brain kept whispering, annoyingly, “You know, you could add a bit to each of her bottles and she’ll get the benefits!” But it’s clear now that, no, she will never have my milk again.
Every time I read about yet another benefit of breastmilk, I cringe. Each time I read some judgmental comment or article by some zealot who equates formula with poison, I seethe. (For that reason, I can no longer read Mothering magazine.)
Perhaps that’s why I painstakingly calculated the total number of ounces. I needed some proof, some evidence of how hard I tried. I will get the final number soon, when I gather the courage to toss the rest. Maybe then I can finally let go.