Happy Mother’s Day to all our mama readers!
Today’s guest post is appropriately mama themed and comes to us from Roxanne Halpine Ward, a Philadelphia-based writer/editor/yogini. You can check out her thoughts on yoga and fitness, writing, and life with her husband and Yoga Baby over at Rox Does Yoga.
As a new mom, I love breastfeeding my daughter.
But as a working mom, I hate pumping.
First there’s the practical problem of lugging the thing around. It’s too heavy to carry on my 20-minute walk to the train station. I solved this for a while by putting a big basket on my bike, but then it got too cold to ride. Now my husband drops me off at the train, then takes the baby to daycare; at night he picks the baby up first, then me, so if my train runs late (and it does), then I’m inconveniencing the entire family, because I can’t just walk home with the pump. Now one of the straps on my pump bag has broken, making it awkward even to carry it the four blocks from the station to my office. Maybe I should mount wheels and a handle on it, like a piece of luggage, so I can drag it? The milk commute sucks.
But worse is the way that pumping makes me feel: like a cow, or worse, a factory worker. Because after all, a cow doesn’t actually care how much milk she produces. A factory worker, on the other hand, has quotas. She starts out strong, more than meeting her goals every day, and even has some to freeze for later, but then things start to go downhill. She’s just not putting out the quantity she used to. She institutes an early morning manufacturing session before the baby is awake. She watches her frozen supply dwindle, wondering what happened. Is there something wrong with her equipment?
The fact is that the female body is designed to breastfeed long-term when the baby is by the mother’s side. When you separate them for 50 hours a week, it throws a wrench in the whole system. As soon as I went back to work full-time, regardless of how good things seemed then, I was setting myself up with a clock that would, eventually, run out, no matter how many herbal supplements I take, teas I drink, lactation cookies I bake, or endless bowls of oatmeal I eat (and I used to love oatmeal).
It would be so nice, so freeing, to be able to stop pumping. But my baby is fat and healthy – do I really want to change things when she’s so obviously thriving? And even though she spends her days at a daycare center/illness incubator, she’s been sick far less often than we would have expected. If it’s the antibodies in my milk that have kept her well, do I want to take a chance on changing that? Shouldn’t I make the sacrifice to keep pumping for her, no matter how hard it may be for me? There are plenty of women who persevere under far more difficult circumstances. Mayim Bialik, for instance, nursed her younger son till he was four despite what must be a fairly grueling television filming schedule. All the breastfeeding advocates and support groups will say that I can keep doing it, but every woman’s body is different, and so is every woman’s schedule, lifestyle, and situation. I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle here, and I can’t keep struggling and worrying and trying new remedies and blaming my body anymore. To be honest, my body is a champ for making it this far.
Last week, my whole family got hit by a stomach bug. Breastfeeding really helped the baby through it, comforting her and providing the fluids she wouldn’t take from a bottle. But the physical strain and dehydration of being sick hit my body hard. Production is at an all-time low, and I don’t know if it can recover.
My daughter just celebrated a birthday: eight months old. I’m thinking I might celebrate by leaving the pump at home. I want to breastfeed my baby for as long as she wants, and I’ll do it as long as I can, as long as my body lets me. But I think it may be time to be done with the pump.