In honor of world breast-feeding week I want to take this opportunity to speak on the topic of the many challenges of being a new mom, especially a mom who is balancing breast-feeding while going back to work! My breast-feeding journey over the last five years has been interesting. My journey started with my son five years ago and he was great at nursing. I started working hard at pumping extra milk for when I went back to work — which meant even less sleep — I would pump in the middle of the night after nursing.
Unfortunately, I made the decision to go back to work (to a leadership meeting nonetheless) at six weeks and subsequently developed mastitis. I actually developed mastitis twice while nursing my son — both times following leadership team meetings. Coincidence I think not! Pumping was a really big challenge for me as a member of the leadership team. I tried to squeeze it in during the breaks of our leadership meetings but 20 minutes to pump meant no time for bathrooms, drinks, or even taking a breathe. Then, I tried to travel, I brought a pump and tried to pump and store the milk, even pumping in bathrooms! It was so stressful. With my son I made it nine months and thankfully, probably for both of our sakes, he was no longer as interested and we were able to end that journey pretty peacefully. I was pretty content with the length of time I made it and I had enough pumped milk to help him stay on breastmilk through a year, just out of a bottle.
Fast forward three years later and my journey of breast-feeding twins begins. You want to talk about a complete game changer — nursing twins is a complete game changer compared to a singleton! (Singleton is what Twin moms refer to when you have only one baby — a term you only learn when you have twins!) I remember being in the recovery room after my C-section and I could see both of my girls were rooting like crazy they were desperately looking to nurse. I looked at my doula and the nurse and I said “they’re hungry aren’t they?” And they both looked at me with “YES!” I really wasn’t ready but I knew what I needed to do and I knew I needed to bond. With the help of my doula and nurse (remember I can’t move I’ve just been cut open across my stomach and still numb waist down) both babies get latched on. I was in the recovery room tandem feeding (feeding at the same time) two brand new 38 week baby girls.
Now some might find that to be a disgusting image. I, on the other hand, find that to be a oh hell yes image because that is hard, really freaking hard to do! My stomach was just cut open from side to side, my organs moved around, I’m still recovering from all of the drugs that were put into my system in order to do that, and I’m breastfeeding these two brand new baby girls.
The next four days were kind of a roller coaster the girls were nursing well and but there were still two of them. I continued to tandem feed them and if I had not I might never have survived those first four days. Everyone was so impressed at how good we were doing — I was barely surviving but putting on the brave face. There were some challenges early on with whether the girls were getting enough milk or enough colostrum to get to the level that they needed to on whatever the tests where. I can’t even remember what they were anymore but we were testing them regularly and doing everything we could to get them where they needed to be so that I wouldn’t need to supplement with formula. I wasn’t exactly sure why but I felt very strongly and intuitively that they needed to keep getting breastmilk. Call it mothers intuition but it felt very, very important at the time.
After four days in the hospital it was time to leave. I barely was discharged because of the postpartum answers on the post partum quiz. I was really struggling, I was really tired, it was taking a lot of energy to feed two babies and recover my body at the same time. I cried all the way home in the car just overwhelmed, exhausted, and worried.
Then we started the round the clock tandem feeding of two babies. All I can say is that it’s a blur. I don’t remember much those first four weeks other than extreme exhaustion, not really having time to bond, or hold the babies much because all I was trying to do is feed them. The doctor wanted me to pump after each feeding adding to the exhaustion — they were slow to gain back their birth weight. I tried to sleep as much as I could and get the nutrients that I needed. It was most literally the hardest job I’ve ever done. And keep in mind I went to law school there was a time where I studied for the bar and I only slept four hours a night to maximize the number of hours in the day I had to study, to prepare for the bar and that was nothing compared to what I went through with nursing twins. During those early weeks I suffered pretty severe post-partum depression, with intrustive thoughts, and extreme exhaustion. Thankfully my husband was home the first four weeks (score one for businesses who provide fathers parental leave — 2 weeks per child), he saw it, recognized it, and got me help and medication.
Then things stabilized for a while, until it was time to start trying to get back to work and I realized pretty quickly that I could not pump enough milk to make up for what my twins needed to get while I was gone. To add complexity my daughter Scarlett was refusing the bottle so when I was gone she would not get anything which meant it was up to me to get back to be able to feed her. When I finally did get them both to take bottles and ultimately after 4 months of extreme exhaustion and trying to get back to work, struggling to get back to work, I realized that something had to give.
I decided I would try to supplement with formula to reduce some of the stress and takeoff some of the pressure on pumping. This is when I discovered my initial gut instinct was 100% correct. Unfortunately formula did not provide a reduction in stress, in fact, it made things substantially worse. You see, it turns out my girls both have something called FPIES, food protein intolerance, which causes them to get violently sick from dairy. Each time we tried to give them formula a little bit of time will go by, and then they would start projectile vomiting for probably over an hour.
At one point, we weren’t sure quite sure of the cause yet and were trying different formulas. My husband decided to give both both babies formula while I was at work. Almost immediately they both started projectile vomiting everywhere. My husband was texting me ‘you’ve got to come home you’ve got to come home.’ Needless to say I was a little (or a lot!) upset that we decided to do both babies at once, again, while I was trying to work, in order to test the latest formula. I knew yelling at my husband would do no good and he looked at me and said ‘I’m so sorry this was all my fault’ and I said ‘yes it was I’m not gonna yell because there’s no point.’
Next we had to get the full official diagnosis from the many doctors and appropriate medical professionals required to get this diagnosis despite already really knowing what it was. Then, we had two choices continue to try different formulas like soy or try to continue to breast-feed and look at what other options existed for trying to get breastmilk to supplement with. The problem with the first option was that those formulas do not taste good, especially when compared to breastmilk, so in order to get the babies to take the formula I would’ve had to stop nursing them. I did not wanna do that I just wanted to supplement, I just wanted a break, I just wanted to not worry about how much I was pumping when at work, or when I was away from them.
I started on my journey to look what other options existed for getting breast milk and one of my friends from high school messaged me after seeing one of my Facebook posts and told me how she had donated breastmilk to another mother through a human milk for human babies Facebook group. So I join the Facebook group, took a chance and posted that I was looking for milk for my twin five-month baby girls. And something amazing happened, I got milk from three different mothers. One of them provided me with multiple batches of milk that she overproduced for her son. I am eternally grateful to these women. I couldn’t imagine that other women would even do that until I experienced it and that gift was tremendous for my babies. As a result I was able to keep nursing and we had the extra breastmilk to supplement with so that the babies could get enough milk as we continued on through our journey with breast-feeding.
I was not able to make it back to work in the office until January 2020. Once I did, I got braver than I’ve ever been in my whole life. I decided that I would try the Elvie pumps and I would pump while in meetings, while doing training standing at the front of the room, speaking to employees training them on topics as I was pumping breastmilk. I was so proud of myself. No one knew (except my employees) no one could tell it was just tucked inside and I was able to continue on and not be hooked up to a pump in my office unable to do the things that I needed to do, unable to participate in the meetings that I needed to participate in, and unable to be an effective performer in the job that I so loved and wanted to do.
After finally making it back to work you all remember March 2020 when COVID hit and we all went home and frankly that might’ve been the best thing for my journey with my babies because being at home meant that I could easily step away for 20 minutes feed them and come back to a meeting or even listen to the meeting while feeding them. And I can tell you there were times where I was tandem feeding my nine-month-old twins holding my phone over their heads responding to conversations on leadership meeting calls providing my input, providing my perspective, all while feeding my babies.
Given my babies challenges with formula and transitioning to other milks it took a while to transition them. Ultimately they transitioned to ripple which is a pea protein milk and so my breast-feeding journey continued until the girls were 18 months. I never in my wildest dreams imagined breast-feeding twins until they were a year and a half old and doing so lovingly, joyously, and seeing them grow healthy and happy. But I made it I made it through all of it. I made it through the early days. I made it through getting back to work. I made it through coming home and nursing regularly in between my responsibilities. And I made it through the final transition when my babies stopped nursing.
All of the pain, all of the clogged ducks, the mastitis, the fevers, the exhaustion, the self-sacrifice, that goes into breast-feeding is one of the most transformative experiences I’ve had in my life. The choices that I made or simply the choices I made in my life situation. I am grateful that I was able to make them and I’m grateful that I was able to do the things that I was able to do. And I’m even more grateful for the other women who helped me to do what I needed to do for my babies.
I also want to say there’s no wrong way to feed a baby. In fact, if I had been able to feed them formula that probably would’ve been much easier than what we went through. Any way that works for you, any way that works for the mom, is the best way whether that’s breast-feeding, whether that’s pumping and bottle feeding, whether that’s formula, whether that’s donated breastmilk, whatever your situation is, however your baby gets fed is the best way!
I want to conclude by saying for those mothers, especially working mothers, who are trying to balance wanting desperately to breast-feed their children, wanting desperately to still perform their job, you are not alone. It is hard as hell, it is overwhelming, it is exhausting. But you are strong, you are amazing, don’t give up, do what works for you, and trust yourself. Trust yourself to know what the right decision for you and your baby in that moment is for you! And don’t be afraid to put a pump in and pump in front of the room! You won’t be the first and you won’t be the last, we can do this, we can do this mamas if we do it together! I honor your sacrifice, your incredible role as a mother, and all that you accomplish in life as a result of this journey.
Keep on, Keepin’ on!
If anyone needs support, advice, or just words of encouragement — please reach out to me! I survived my journey with tons of support from other mothers and you need to know we are here to support you too!
You can reach me at Contact@jessicatietjen.com