Not carrying your own child means missing special moments. Like that first kick, or the flutter of baby hiccups. And while I know pregnancy can be challenging for many women, I think growing another human is a mind-blowing miracle. Of all the things cancer took from me, losing this has been the hardest to accept.
Luckily, my husband and I were able to freeze embryos pre-chemotherapy, and my sister offered to be our gestational carrier. Once we knew a baby was on the way, my fertility doctor asked if I planned to breastfeed. “I can do that?” I asked, my voice catching. Yes, with medication and pumping it could be done. I pictured myself like the mother on those breastfeeding posters, gazing lovingly at her nursing babe. I imagined lamenting sore nipples and cluster feeds with other new moms, while still smiling at the wonder of it all.
So about four months before my daughter was born, I started the medication protocol used to induce lactation: a combination of birth control pills and Domperidone, a drug for gastrointestinal issues that lists lactation as a side effect. After two months I stopped the birth control, increased my Domperidone dosage as per my doctor, and started pumping every four hours, day and night. I used hands-free bras, and pumped between meetings and social events. With bleary eyes I watched drops of my breastmilk—only enough to fill a syringe—go into the bottles. It was exhausting and slow. But I was committed. I would breastfeed, even if it meant enduring the medication’s nasty side effects, like headaches and weight gain, and spending more time with my pump than my husband.
Though it was tough, I got plenty of encouragement. People were amazed it was even an option, and sympathetic to my pumping schedule. “You’re already a great mother,” I heard more than once.
By the time my daughter was born, I could pump 10 ounces per session. And the first time she latched on, just minutes after my sister delivered her, I knew it was worth it. But that euphoria didn’t last—at five weeks I could no longer keep up with her demand. I felt like a failure, and nothing like that mom on the poster.
I sought support from a breastfeeding clinic, but still struggled with nursing. Most days I’d be on the couch sobbing, trying to get her to latch on to my nipple and the tiny tube I’d taped to my breast that would deliver my sister’s pumped breastmilk. Every time she’d latch the tube would pop out. Or my shoulders would seize from holding the bottle of breastmilk in the crook of my neck. Or she’d fall asleep 30 seconds in. Breastfeeding became a full time job—and one I began to resent. In part because of this, within a month I replaced the tube with bottles and though it wasn’t the experience I’d hoped for, things were infinitely easier.
Despite the challenges, I persevered—breastfeeding my daughter (supplementing with what my sister pumped for us) for eight months, one week, and two days, only stopping because I was no longer producing breastmilk. But “beautiful” is not a word I’d use to describe the experience. Frustrating, lonely and confusing would fit better. Yet, I’m glad I did. It was the first time—though surely not the last—I put my daughter’s needs above my own. I’ll never know what baby kicks or hiccups feel like, but I know the feeling of nourishing my child with my body. And it’s pretty mind blowing.