08/01/2014 11:36 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Nursing My Baby From Miles Away

When I was pregnant with my first child I knew I couldn't control everything that would be happen but I was certain that I would nurse her. Of course I had heard that some mothers had trouble breastfeeding but I was certain that there wasn't anything that couldn't be overcome when it came to nursing. After all, none of us would be here if mothers found feeding their babies to be an insurmountable hurdle.


Immediately after my daughter's birth, having no idea what I was doing, I tried to nurse her as I had read I was supposed to do. I placed her mouth in the proper placed and assumed she was doing what I thought every baby was born knowing how to do -- eat. A nurse checked-in on us every few hours and asked if the baby was feeding. I said yes, and the nurse walked away after checking the appropriate box on her chart without ever asking any follow-up questions or actually watching us nurse.


Sometime on my daughter's second day of life, a new nurse expressed some concern that my daughter was behaving like a "normal" newborn. Since she was my first baby I had no idea what normal was or what she was doing differently. Slightly alarmed, but also too exhausted to care much at that point, I kept on doing what I was doing. I still assumed everything was fine until I was told that my daughter would not be going home with me, but would be going to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for observation. There, 48 hours after her birth, we discovered that she had not been nursing and in fact had not eaten at all since she was born. My heart dropped thinking I had failed my baby in the one area that was supposed to come naturally and that she depended on for her very survival. I hadn't fed my baby for two days.

A hospital-grade pump was quickly wheeled into the NICU and I was instructed on how to use this enormous machine that was noisy, hurt a bit, and made me feel like a cow on a factory farm. Nevertheless, I dutifully pumped every four hours like clockwork because that was the closest I could get to nursing my sick baby, who couldn't latch, had a hard time sucking, and who, we later learned, had a rare genetic disorder. So, even though I slept miles away from my daughter for the first two weeks of her life I was able to nurse her in my own way.


Once home from the hospital two weeks later I made the Breastfeeding Center of Greater Washington my second home and got tons of invaluable advice from Pat Shelly, otherwise known as the Boob Whisperer for her ability to get any baby to nurse, even babies how had been adopted. Pat helped me keep my sanity during the months of waking up twice as often other parents of newborns, once every four hours like clockwork to pump and once every few hours when my daughter woke up to drink my expressed milk from a bottle. Still, I kept up hope that my daughter would nurse and during the day traveled with my adorable Bebe Au Lait nursing cover everywhere to attempt nursing whenever my daughter was hungry. Eventually, with Pat's help, I was able to get my daughter to latch on and nurse. I was so relieved, but she stopped gaining weight and the doctors and Pat both agreed that the sheer effort of nursing was not good for my daughter and she was probably using more calories than she was taking in.

So, I joined the ranks of Exclusive Pumpers. I put my nursing supplies at home and, afraid I would stop producing milk without nursing, pumped and pumped and pumped. When my kitchen freezer became full of breast milk I bought a dorm-sized freezer to store more. Then another. When those freezers were also full I started donating milk, to a local mom who wasn't able to produce enough of her own and to a family across the country who had adopted a child from China and who sent me Christmas cards with progress updates on their daughter for years.

I bottle fed at home and in public, where I received numerous comments from insensitive strangers about how I was doing my daughter harm by not nursing her. These comments made me tear up every single time as my own feelings of failure as a mother, no matter how ill-placed, surfaced and I had to refrain from shouting our story at these nosy passers-by who knew nothing of our story.

Although this experience was light years from how I had expected to feed my baby, I still liked to think that I was doing the best I could for her by providing her with what the NICU doctors called "liquid gold." I liked to think that even though we were often miles apart, I was still nursing her, although it was in a very non-traditional way. In the end, I was able to give her breast milk for 13 months.

My daughter's younger siblings, however, both nursed like champs from the time they were minutes old. I won't lie and say I wasn't thrilled to put the pump away for good.

I am pleased to say that my younger daughter is already practicing for the day when she is Mom.


This article is part of HuffPost Parents' World Breastfeeding Week series. Read more here.