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Breaking Out Of The NICU and Breast Chronicles

I can't believe I haven't updated since Little Jace came home! Let me remedy that!

If y'all will remember, in the beginning Jace's doctors and my doctor told us to prepare for him to be in the NICU until my original due date, which was January 19. That would've meant 2 months in the NICU. Unimaginable. From the moment he was born, Jace was a fighter. He was off the ventilator and breathing on his own the day after he was born and his nose cannula (provided his oxygen), was taken out a week after birth. He tolerated his gavage (tube) feedings very well and increased the amount of breast milk he was getting almost daily. He passed both his vision and hearing tests the first time they were given to him. The only setbacks he ever faced were low white blood cell counts and low platelets. He had to have several platelet transfusions the first couple weeks of his life. But despite that, he never "looked" sick or acted sick. The only reason he was even screened for cytomegalovirus (CMV), is because my doctor and his doctors knew that *I* tested positive during pregnancy. He never had any physical symptoms of the virus, only clinical symptoms. His nurses and his doctors remarked on how good he looked from day one. So even though I never allowed myself to get excited, I knew deep down that he would not be in the NICU until January 19. Nonetheless, it was a bit of a shock when on the morning of December 16, I got a call saying that Jace was ready to come home. SAY WHAT!??!!! I mean, we knew we were getting close because Jace was doing pretty good with his feedings and one of his awesome nurses had told me "once the lightbulb goes off in his head, he will just get it and he will never go back to the gavage, and then he will go home". So on December 15th when he pulled his gavage tube out, his day nurse called me and told me that since he had been doing good on the feedings with her, that she was going to leave the tube out and try the bottle for each of his feedings during her shift, and that she would let his night nurse know to only put the tube back in if he wouldn't take the bottle. You guys better believe that I checked the webcam almost every hour that night to see if they put the tube in. The gavage tube never went back in the entire night. But it was still a shock when we got that call on the 16th because it did happen so fast. Like his nurse said though, the lightbulb just went off and he mastered his skill and he was coming home! So on the night of December 16, Big Jace and I went and spent the night at the hospital in what they call the "Sleep Room". It's basically a hospital room connected to the NICU where you spend the night alone with your baby disconnected from all monitors. And as happy as I was to have zero wires connected to my baby, I was terrified. From the moment he was born I knew what his vitals were at all times. I KNEW that if he stopped breathing, his monitors would let us know. So to go from that, to having him completely disconnected was scary. 

The NICU spoils you in weird ways that you wouldn't ever expect. Like, having your child monitored AT ALL TIMES. Not only by actual monitors but by highly trained NICU nurses who DON'T SLEEP while they're watching your baby. Guess who DOES sleep? YOU! Mothers. Fathers. We sleep. We sleep when the baby sleeps (or we try to). So WHO IS WATCHING YOUR BABY WHILE YOU SLEEP?? NO ONE! That's who! What kind of animals are we??? That's how the NICU spoils you. I was so paranoid to fall asleep at first because I was like "HOW WILL I KNOW IF HE STOPS BREATHING"??? Forget the fact that I did this with my now 2 year old daughter. I forgot how SCARY it is. And after him having the luxury of literal 24/7 care, of someone constantly monitoring him, knowing that he would be coming home and sleeping in a crib beside me with me asleep at night was terrifying. I almost asked how much it would be to take all of his monitor equipment home with me. But I didn't. And eventually you are so tired that you do fall asleep. And you wake up and (God willing) your baby is fine. But the fear is still always there, in the back of your mind. Even more so when you had a baby in the NICU and even though he passed all the necessary tests you're so scared that he'll come home and something will happen and you'll blame yourself and think that he would've been better off and still alive if he could have just stayed in the NICU for the rest of his life. 

The NICU is also a place where you form relationships. As happy as I was to have my baby home with me, and to not have to go to the hospital every day, I was also a little sad. Sad that we wouldn't see his nurses every day and that as soon as we left another baby would take his place. It's this weird unexplainable feeling like, since my kid is leaving, his nurses' jobs are complete and I forgot for a minute that even though we are leaving, they are not. Their days in the NICU are ongoing. And it feels weird that they're going on without you. I felt this weird possessiveness like those are JACE's nurses. And since he is finished with the NICU his nurses should be too, but that isn't reality. I don't know if anyone else with a NICU baby has ever felt this way, but it's how I felt that last night there.

Having Jace home before Christmas really was great. Having Jace home, period, has been great. He is such a sweet baby and we love him so much. It's a lot different having him as a newborn versus when Scarlett was a newborn. There's the obvious, which is the fact that I have two kids ages two and under. Scarlett still demands a lot of my time. And I find myself putting Jace down and helping Scarlett or playing with Scarlett way more than I EVER put her down as a newborn/infant. I mean, when I was home with her I never put her down. And it wasn't because she was a fussy baby. It was the opposite. She was just as happy in her MamaRoo as she was in my arms. She was a low maintenance infant. The thing was, I wanted to hold her nonstop. She was my miracle rainbow baby and I didn't take that for granted. And now we have Jace, who is my literal miracle baby. My little fighter. And I *want* to hold him all the time too, but it's not that easy this go round. I can't "neglect" Scarlett that way, I have to give her love and attention too and I, of course, want to give her those things. The last thing I want is for her 2 year old self to have any resentment towards her brother. And so far, we have done a pretty damn good job of helping Scarlett adjust to her new baby brother. And I say that because besides the first few days of him being home, she hasn't had any outbursts towards him. She loves him and wants to kiss him and hold him and she is concerned when he makes noises or cries. She understands that "mommy is pumping" and making milk for baby brother. She is an amazing little girl who despite her strong will and stubborn demeanor, shows a lot of understanding and acceptance of her new life. Of our new life. And she's showing me what I knew would be true all along, that she's the best big sister in the world. And I couldn't be happier. 

The only "negative" I am experiencing is actually just now occurring. And that is, Jace is getting to the point where I'm not making enough milk for him. Which is a good and bad thing. It's a good, no great, thing because it means he's growing appropriately and therefore he's eating more as he grows more. The bad part is, I've never been a big milk maker and I'm struggling to keep up with him. The freezer stash of milk that I had built up while he was in the NICU is now down to nothing, and I think in the next day or two I will have to start supplementing. And I HATE that. I really wanted him to be on breastmilk strictly for as long as possible, and so far he has been. But he's up to drinking about 640ml a day (a little over 20 ounces), and I'm pumping anywhere from 520-580ml a day (17-19 ounces). And that's with 8 pumps per day, which means I'm tied to the pump every 3 hours. So if I miss even one pump, my already non-adequate daily output is even less. And so we have been hitting the freezer stash and now I only have about 200ml left in the freezer. Once that is out, I will have to resort to formula at the end of the day which is when I pump less. In the mornings I can get 80-100ml per pump. In the afternoons, I get more like 50-60 per pump and by nighttime is when we are pulling from the freezer. And you guys, I'm doing everything to try and increase my milk output. Here is what I'm doing:
- Pumping 8 times a day
- Power pumping 2-3 times a day
- Drinking Milk Flow (supplement)
- Taking Reglan (prescription medicine that is supposed to promote more milk production)
- Taking 500-1,000mgs of Magnesium a day
- Drinking Ovaltine (the chocolate malt kind) a few times a day because malt is supposed to help with milk production. 
- Eating oatmeal for breakfast (oatmeal is supposed to help with milk production)
- Eating oatmeal creme pies a few times a day because some women SWEAR by it (I don't mind this one, who wouldn't love an excuse to eat Little Debbie treats)
- Drinking water NONSTOP
- Drinking the darkest stout beer I can tolerate every day at 5:00pm
- I still take my prenatals and iron supplements daily
- I have not cut any calories and I feel like I'm eating as much as I did when I was pregnant (which doesn't help in the losing weight department but I'm told not to cut calories while breastfeeding/pumping)

So you guys, I literally don't know what else to do to increase my supply. I feel like I've tried everything and I'm steadily getting the same amount of milk with a few "good" days thrown in where I make just enough so that we don't have to touch the freezer stash. But those days are pretty much over as we speak, and will indefinitely be over as he continues to grow. And before anyone asks, I have tried to put Jace to the boob because I know that babies are more efficient than any pump could ever hope to be. But no matter what I do, he falls asleep at the boob every time and I just cannot risk him not getting enough milk. He is still tiny and preemies tend to tire themselves out a lot easier than term babies. And I just don't trust that he will have the energy to drink what he needs to grow if he has to work too hard to get it. So I prefer to do the hard work so that I can measure and know exactly what he's getting. And so far, it's working. He has had steady weight gain and has not lost any weight since he left the NICU. And I know that's because he's getting what he needs (and maybe plus some) from my milk in a bottle. 

With all that said, I'm proud that we have made it to 2 months with Jace getting my breastmilk exclusively and that is with me pumping NONSTOP. Pumping is definitely a labor of love, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm sad that we will have to start supplementing soon, but I'm hoping we will only have to supplement at night and that he will have my breastmilk throughout the entire day. And what's weird is we went through this same thing with Scarlett. I didn't make enough with her either and we had to start with supplementing at night, which eventually led to supplementing during the day as she grew and drank more. Which then led to her being strictly on formula when I returned to work and my supply dried up. I'm hoping that doesn't happen this time. I'm in a very different work situation than I was in with her, and I feel very strongly that I'll be able to maintain at least 6 pumps a day when I go back to work. I guess we will see. Right now I am just trying to come to terms with the fact that we are having to supplement already and that breastfeeding/milk production have never come easily for me. I've always had to work at it, which I don't mind doing, and I need to work on not having "milk envy" when I see other women who breastfeed so easily and who have a deep freezer full of milk. I'm doing the absolute best that I can and I know Little Jace would be proud of me if he was capable of having that emotion. I know that Big Jace is proud of me and supports me more than I could ever ask for. It's even so sweet at night when we say our prayers and Jace prays for my milk supply and that I keep up with my good work. It means a lot to be recognized for what I do at the pump because some days, and in some ways, I feel guilty that I'm constantly at the pump because even though I'm doing it for Jace, it also takes me away from him AND from Scarlett. I can't hold him or get down on the floor and play with Scarlett when I'm pumping. So it can quickly feel like I'm not bonding with them during this very special time that I have home with them. But I'm letting that guilt go, and being confident in what I'm doing as a mother. 

My children are flourishing. Scarlett is one of the smartest, most talkative and outgoing kids that I know. She is healthy and sweet and nice and compassionate. Jace is also healthy. He has passed almost every test given to him and has exceeded expectations so much that he came home an entire month earlier than anticipated. I am lucky to have the children that I have and the life that I have. Whenever days get tough and fatigue wears down on me, I remember those things. I remember that Jace could just as easily not be here with us. I was lucky that he was big enough in my womb to give me signs that something was wrong and that I was attentive enough to listen to him. When I think of that, everything else, all of my insecurities, they all just disappear. My kids are HERE. And they are so loved. And really, isn't that what it all comes down to anyway? 

Thank you all again for making it through my ramblings. Sometimes I feel like I talk so much about myself and what I'm going through and I wonder what anyone else could possibly get out of what I write. But almost every time, I get a message from someone telling me they're going through the same thing, or that they've been through what I'm going through and it makes me realize what a great community of women I'm surrounded with. No matter where we are in life, we build each other up and support each other and it gives me so much hope! I love y'all!

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