On the (eighth and) ninth day of Christmas, the NICU gave to me: nine dads kangarooing, eight moms a-pumping, seven monitors chiming, six nurses charting, five needle sticks, four brain surgeries, three minute scrubs, two blood transfusions, and a micropreemie in an isolette.
I’ll start in order. I was super impressed with myself for thinking up day eight. The original verse is “eight maids a-milking,” and my verse is “moms a-pumping.” Lol. Anyway, pumping in the NICU is almost like a rite of passage for preemie moms. I don’t even remember my first couple pumping sessions because I was so out of it on magnesium. My first memory of pumping contrasts sharply with what I thought my first time feeding my baby would be. I pictured me, in a hospital bed, relatively healthy and not sliced open, with my baby, as we both learned how to do this thing called breastfeeding. Mr Minion would be in charge of bringing me snacks and stuff.
Instead, I got a hazy couple of days post-surgery, where I was confined to bed due to my epidural and magnesium. The very first time I actually remember pumping was at like three in the morning a couple days after Little Miss Minion had been born. I was on a very erratic medication schedule, since I spent pretty much every waking minute in the NICU, and my pain meds had long worn off. Looking back, this was a serious error on my part. When you are pretty much disemboweled, albeit gently, you want to remember to take your pain meds. Anyway, so I’m in agony, unable get out of bed by myself. Mr Minion and I tried to set the pump up in my bed, but the angle was wrong and I couldn’t change it because of the blinding pain. So he had to pretty much pick me up without opening my incision and help me hobble to the small couch he slept on. I was freezing and shivering aggravated both my incision and my back. I had been sitting and sleeping in pretty much one position for days now, so my back was very tight. I remember crying because I was in so much pain, and I was so tired and all I wanted to was sleep.
The NICU had given us access to their Snappies, which are sterile milk collection tubes that hook onto any pump. They have measurements along the side, because everything that CAN be measured in the NICU IS measured. Where most books and things I had seen measured the amount of milk a baby needed in ounces, these containers measured in milliliters. I would pump and pump and pump and send off containers with five, seven, two milliliters. Mr Minion would come back from dropping them off and tell me that the nurses were so impressed with my output. He would also stop in and see Little Miss Minion during these midnight milk drops, and then report back to me with how she was doing.
I remember being so determined to breastfeed. It was the only thing left of my “birth plan,” if you can really call it that. The nurses said she wouldn’t be big enough to even attempt it until she reached about 34-35 weeks gestational, so about a month and a half old. In the meantime, I kept pumping. Soon, she was mature enough to start getting my milk through a tube in her nose (nasogastric tube). They started her off with 2 mls every four hours. Then, they upped it to 4 mls. Then, 9mls. My milk supply stabilized and they started freezing it. Then they told us to start freezing it at home because I had an entire shelf in the freezer. One day, I was talking to one of the nurses about how afraid I was about my supply, because I still wasn’t making the amounts usually made by a full term mom. She laughed and walked me back to the freezer, where Little Miss Minion had three big tubs full of snappies.
Kangarooing is one of the best parts of being a preemie parent. Kangaroo care is when the baby is placed on the chest of the mom or dad, skin to skin, and then lots of heated blankets are arranged over the baby to keep them warm. Kangaroo care is proven to regulate heart rate, breathing, and is the only way to really hold your micropreemie for the first few weeks. It can be a little challenging to work around tubes, wires, oxygen supports, but it’s pure bliss. It helps dads to bond, helps mom to produce more milk, and helps everyone to feel more like a regular family. The first time Mr Minion and I each held her, it was in kangaroo care.