One of my main ‘Mummy jobs’ was to feed the girls.
When the nurses first started to give Charlotte and Esme my milk it made them sick. This was quite hard to take as I’d spent hours expressing it and I was thinking this was one of the only things I could do to help them and their bodies were rejecting it. The nurses would reassure me that they would keep going and the girls would learn to digest it. I suppose they weren’t really supposed to taste it for another three months. “I’ll let them off” I thought. It was also frustrating when the girls were tolerating my milk really well but would then become poorly and the nurses would stop their milk intake. This panicked me as I thought what if it was my fault they had become poorly; maybe I hadn’t sterilised a bottle or the breast pump completely; what if it was something I ate? This wasn’t the case but unfortunately between the pair of them, they managed to pick up many illnesses or infections that premature babies are prone to.
There was the option to express behind the fold out screens next to Charlotte or Esme’s incubator. I chose to do this once and decided to express next to Charlotte’s incubator. Five minutes into expressing, I heard the team of consultants and doctors arrive for ward round. I couldn’t believe it and was mortified to see the screens didn’t go all around the incubator. A consultant didn’t know what I was doing (despite the breast pump having a very distinct sound) and peered over the top of the screens. Bloody hell, it was a good job that I’d frantically grabbed a muslin cloth on hearing them enter and threw it haphazardly over my chest whilst trying not to get milk everywhere. I’ll tell you now it is a tricky task when you are attached to a double breast pump and your engorged breasts are in full flow. I imagine the smile on my face to the consultant looked more than a bit embarrassed. This all equalled a very flustered Amy!
Apart from that occasion I went to the expressing room. I felt like I needed a break from the intensive care unit and going to express seemed like a valid reason, however this often filled me with guilt. It wasn’t that I wanted to be away from my girls, it was needing a break from the machines and monitors and being able to stay strong and not allow my mind to run away with me about how critically ill my babies were. When Connor was at work, I often found expressing by myself a lonely place, especially if I didn’t have the energy to research interior design ideas for my house or message my friends. The realisation of what I was going through often hit me whilst I was expressing. When Connor was with me it was often a good opportunity for him to share his thoughts on how well, or not well our girls were doing and how much they’d overcome.
Other than my three weeks in the antenatal ward, I never had sugar in my tea. I’m not sure if it was the need for energy, something to calm my nerves (as alcohol was out of the question) or the craving for something sweet but every time I expressed, I needed a strong, sugary cup of tea. There were two expressing rooms on the ward and sometimes there was a queue. As the days went passed I realised that couples worked together in order to ‘shot gun’ a room when it was time to express. The mother would go to sterilise her expressing kit and collect the bottles from the milk kitchen whilst the fathers would go and claim a room. It was quite amusing watching this, especially as I became a long-standing resident. I don’t think it had anything to do with my competitive streak but even so I quickly told Connor to forget making the teas and to hot foot it to the expressing room round the corner as the one on the left had just been taken.
The amount I expressed in one go ☝🏻
Over the summer my milk supply became bigger and bigger. Many of the hospital team congratulated me on keeping on going, especially with hard times I had experienced/was experiencing. The thought of stopping expressing, even through the hardest of times, never crossed my mind. It was something I could do that was helping the girls to build their immune systems. I knew I was producing a lot of milk and was proud of all the bottles I was filling. I had no idea how many bottles the milk team had frozen for me until I was informed of a photo going around the neonatal ward of the milk freezers. A senior sister stopped me in the corridor to say I could feed half of Yorkshire with the amount of milk I had produced. Charlotte’s nurse went to find a lady from the milk team and she showed me the photograph. (Ha ha! Oh, my goodness! How ridiculous!) I had filled one industrial size freezer and was moving into the second, I had so much milk. The hospital had only three freezers for all the wards. The milk lady invited me to go and have a look. It was so funny, I couldn’t believe how much I had expressed. The sister wasn’t joking; I looked like I could feed half of Yorkshire. I think the milk team had got fed up with freezing my milk and told me to take it home to freeze. Connor started googling deals on freezers!
The milk lady suggested donating some of my milk. I discussed this with the nurses. They advised holding onto it for now as it wouldn’t be long before my girls would be able to tolerate more milk and more often and when they did the bottles would soon start to disappear. I thought this was good advice.
Connor made quite a big contribution with the milk, whether it was keeping me company or putting it into the freezer. I didn’t realise this at the time but here he talks about it from his point of view.
Alpha Males and the Milk Fridge by Connor Campbell
Time ticks slowly in the Neonatal Ward. There’s the mad morning rush from arriving, checking both girls are settled, getting the update from the night shift nurses, ward rounds and if all is well, it’s another day of waiting. You watch the second hand on the clock…tick…tick…tick…tick…and you beg it to speed up so you can get through another day. Every day that passes is another day the girls grow stronger. It can drive you crazy.
You do all you can to pass the time. Cuddles with girls, doing their cares (wash and nappy change) filling in their Journey Books (like a diary) with photos and latest update, brief chats with the other parents, coffee, coffee, coffee. But, my favourite way of passing the time was the daily battle between the Neonatal Daddies over ‘The Milk Fridge’.
This is the communal fridge where the mums store their expressed breast milk. The duty of ensuring the milk was correctly labelled and placed in the fridge fell on the daddies, BUT there was a hierarchy.
Those mummies producing the most milk earned the right to place their milk on the coveted ‘Top Shelf’. Heaven forbid if I opened that fridge door to find someone else had placed their milk bottles on our shelf. Amy was producing enough to feed all sixty babies in the Neonatal Ward AND half of West Yorkshire!! I wasn’t having it. I had no qualms about shifting those bottles to the bottom shelf and pushing them to the back behind someone else’s. I’d restock the top shelf ensuring it was full width-wise, bottles right to the front and labels on show so everyone knew this shelf belonged to The Campbells. Then, like a scene from a David Attenborough documentary, I’d puff out the chest, get the shoulder swing going, and slowly walk the long way back to our room, carrying the empty bag used to hold the milk on the way to the hospital, to ensure the other Daddies were aware of my presence and that I’d just stocked The Fridge. I effing loved it!!!!
Once back in our room I could pull up a comfy armchair, get my phone out and check today’s news whilst I waited for the next Daddy to head towards The Fridge. Occasionally I’d have a little walk past The Fridge when I could see other daddies had come out of the expressing room. I’d sometimes just walk in and wash my hands in the sink just to make them aware that they were being watched and they better put that milk to the bottom! No one dared move The Campbell’s milk from the top shelf. The newbies were fast learners and usually only made that mistake once if they were brave enough!!!
In reality, this was probably all nonsense but it gave me a game to play – something else to think about – at least for a brief time and it took my mind off the real reason I was spending so much time in this place. It was the little things that got me through the day.