Thursday, June 12, 2014

Our chair

Last summer, my mother-in-law re-upholstered a chaise lounge chair for our master bedroom, which she found it at a resale shop during a road trip she took several months prior.  She sent us a text when she found the chair, wondering if we wanted it and how much we were willing to pay for it.  While it wasn't something we needed, I always thought a small chaise would be a nice addition to our bedroom space and I knew that it was a good opportunity for me to learn about re-upholstery from a master.  So, we gave the go-ahead, committed to a very reasonable purchase price and, after she literally had to temporarily saw off a couple of the legs to fit it in her vehicle, my mother-in-law drove it (a long way) home.

When I left my long-time corporate job in June of last year, and since we were expecting our third child, I decided it was a good time to focus on doing something with that old chaise.  My mind locked onto a single (secret) image, a sole purpose, for the future of the chair.  It was to be my nursing chair.  It would be the meeting place for mother and child, when hunger and comfort beckoned in the night, for those first few months of co-habitation in our bedroom.   

I visited the fabric store several times, taking swatches of solids, stripes and patterns, not really knowing what I wanted.  During my third or fourth visit, a salesperson sat with me and helped me debate the merits of the various swatches I'd selected.  She explained that one of the fabrics I had chosen, only because I liked the color and texture, was known for its durability and stain-resistance.  That certainly ticked the box for being baby and spit-up-friendly, and although I didn't make that particular requirement known to anyone, I instantly knew it was the fabric I would choose. 

Once the chair was refurbished and placed by the window in our bedroom, overlooking the backyard, I was amazed that I had ever been without it.  It was the perfect size for me, my pregnant body craving even a 5-minute respite there.  Often, I would close my eyes and imagine holding and nursing my new baby boy in that chair, his tiny fingers tangled in my hair.  I hoped I could be his sole source of nourishment, his primary source of comfort, for as long as I could. 


Instead of nursing my son there, the chaise became my pumping station for the first week of Zachary's life.  I was happy to do it.  Every three hours, throughout the night, and when I happened to be home rather than at the hospital, I'd sit and pump, holding onto the promise of the nurses that I would be nursing him, directly, in no time.  A few weeks of tube feeding was the plan, and then Zachary would have the suck, swallow, breathe thing mastered well enough that we could start nursing.  By the end of that first week, my milk had helped him regain his birth weight. 

Throughout the first part of Zachary's illness, when the septic shock had him on the verge of death every couple of hours, I kept on pumping, storing up more milk for his recovery.  One time, I had started pumping in his hospital room and suddenly, there was a whole medical team of neonatologist, nurses and respiratory therapists working to "bag" breathe for Zachary during a terrible desaturation.  I closed my eyes, tried not to fully succumb to the chaos around me and continued pumping, resigned that prayer and milk production were about all I could do for my sweet, suffering boy.  After 48 hours into the sepsis, and what looked like a significant improvement in Zachary's condition, my milk supply should have been wiped out, almost completely extinguished from pure crisis, stress and exhaustion.  The lactation specialist hugged me - amazed at the volume of milk I continued to produce while Zachary was critically ill.  She was so happy that it looked like Zachary would pull through and that my persistence in pumping would help nourish him back to full health. 

Then the earth opened and swallowed us whole with the news of Zachary's brain hemorrhage and grim prognosis.  In that suffocating place of near-defeat, I pumped milk for my baby.  While weeping and grasping for a sliver of hope and light, I pumped milk for my baby.  While planning for the end of his life and at the same time, begging God for a miracle, I pumped milk for Zachary. 

God, please see my devotion, my pure love for this child.  I will not give up on Zachary.  I am holding on, holding out, for Your mighty hand to intervene here.  But I'm hanging by a thread.  Please don't take another son, don't let another beloved child in our family, die.  Please save him.  Prove everyone wrong. 

On the day we removed his life support, my pumping continued.  I had stored up 80+ bottles of breast milk for Zachary in his designated spot in the NICU freezer, by the time we left the hospital.  Pumping during that night, in the chaise intended to be my spot with Zachary, after leaving his body with the funeral home just hours before, was one of the cruelest forms of torture I have ever experienced.   


Over the course of the next week, as we planned his funeral, I attempted to wean myself.  An abrupt stop to the pumping was not an option because my milk had reached full production levels when Zachary died.  I had to pump three times during the day of the funeral, so that I could hug mourners without wincing in physical pain.  I had to try to numb my emotions so that the sight of my sweet boy in the casket didn't elicit too many instances of untimely milk release. 


The chaise in our bedroom, my temporary pumping station during Zachary's life, will never - not once - be used for its intended purpose.  I can no longer melt into it the way I did when I had hope for Zachary.  When I believed the days of pumping breast milk were temporary and would be replaced with days of nursing Zachary there.  When the promise of bringing him home was tangible, almost certain.  These days, the chaise piles with the clothes of his broken parents.  


  1. Too much loss
    you said it well
    far beyond enormous

    so unlivable
    so wrong
    so unbearable
    so much

    so much
    loss and now
    chaise without Zachary
    milk without mouth

    how how how how
    to go on -

    that is
    what no one

    you are forced
    to go on
    while it is


    Not fair, not fair, not fair my head screams
    but always
    no way



  2. Dear Gretchen,

    This is a beautiful post

    You don't know me, but your story touches me very much, because in some ways it's not so different from mine

    Is there an email address where i can reach you?