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Farewell, Pump

Such a familiar site. The breast pump against the backdrop of my son's face on the mousepad at work.

I had a breast pump retirement party last weekend. Okay, we were actually all gathered together for a different reason, but in my own mind, it was my pump retirement party and I drank an extra glass of wine because of it.

I have a love/hate relationship with that pump. I dreaded pumping at first. I thought it was going to hurt (it didn’t), and well, it was awkward. In the very early days of breastfeeding, it felt a little strange just having another human being hooked up to my boobs, but hooking up a machine was even worse. I felt like a cow (and have since garnered a lot of empathy for those poor cows who are hooked up to machines everyday). I used to go into Gavin’s bedroom to pump, shut the door (for fear that my husband would never find me attractive again if he saw my boobs hooked up to a machine), and get on the computer or read a magazine. If I wasn’t so paranoid about Gavin waking up to eat to a mom with [what I perceived to be] empty boobs, I might have enjoyed the 20 minutes alone.

But really, I dreaded pumping. I had to find clean parts, assemble the parts, make sure it was working correctly, find the perfect location so the cords could comfortably reach, find a position where I was comfortable but still leaning forward to extract all possible milk (btw, it is impossible to find such position), and hope the pump wouldn’t wake up Gavin. Then when it was over… store the milk, label the milk, disassemble the parts, clean the parts (maybe sanitize them), put the pump away, and then hope that Gavin would sleep for at least another hour so he would have some milk to drink when he woke up.

It is exhausting just remembering all of that!

However, that pump gave me some freedom.

I could go to the grocery store without the constant worry that Gavin would get hungry while I was away. I could catch a lecture and dinner with my friends (yeah, because I go to lectures in my free time! Such a nerd…), or I could go out on a date with my husband.

I would like to say that I enjoyed having pumped milk because my husband could help me with the feedings, but that would be a lie. My husband gave Gavin his first bottle at 3.5 weeks old, and I cried. I couldn’t believe my baby was already old enough to try the bottle. And even worse, he didn’t just need me. Anyone could feed him a bottle. I felt almost obsolete. Yet, we had to practice with the bottle because I had to go back to work in a few months, and we needed him to take the bottle.

My love/hate relationship with the pump followed me to work. I pumped three times a day for twenty minutes. I could barely get into a project before it was time to pump again. My friends were always waiting for me to finish pumping before I could go to lunch. I always worried if I was providing enough for the next day. I was always excited if I provided too much – that meant that maybe I would have enough for storage. Inevitably, some breast milk-tragedy would always strike, though, and deplete my extra freezer milk.

More evidence of pumping that is lying around my office.

Whoever coined the phrase, “Don’t cry over spilt milk” was obviously not a mom who pumped because a mom who pumps knows that there is plenty to cry about. Each ounce that soaks into the carpet is one less ounce going into her baby’s belly, ten more minutes she has to spend pumping, and some useful block of time that she has to waste hooked up to a pump. Or it is one less outing she can take alone.

Yes, pumping at work was a pain. But it meant I got to work. Or maybe it meant I had to work. What if there were no breast pumps? In my idealized daydreams, no breast pumps would mean that moms would stay home with their babies – maybe companies or the government would provide programs that allow moms to stay home and feed their babies. Or maybe babies would be welcome in the workplace. The reality, however, would look much bleaker. Breastfeeding rates would plummet or women might be forced to stay home. The breast pump is a tool that allows me to exercise my right to work. Women fought hard for me to have this right.

So I pumped, and I worked, and I continue to make use of my degrees that I am still paying off.

As my baby got older, I gradually decreased the amount of time I spent pumping at work. There even came a point when it didn’t matter if I had any frozen breast milk or not because I was usually not away from him long enough for him to need a bottle.

My babysitter and I tried to give him some cow’s milk when he reached a year, but he wanted nothing to do with it. So I kept pumping. I actually think this was a self-fulfilled prophesy. I was never a fan of cow’s milk, and I am afraid it would upset his stomach (though he seems to eat ice cream just fine). I didn’t really want him to drink cow’s milk.

So I kept pumping.

Then he reached 18 months old. He was still nursing at night, in the mornings, in the evenings… pretty much any time I was home with him, so I knew he was getting enough nutrients. I began to only pump about 3.5 ounces while I was away from him. I was sure he could live without those 3.5 ounces for eight hours. I would make up for it when I saw I was home in the evenings. He was still not drinking cow’s milk, but he would eat plenty of cheese, yogurt, and other nutrient-dense foods (oh, and ice cream).

It was really my babysitter who needed the most convincing. She loved the time that she spent giving Gavin his bottle of milk. She would hold him and he would get

The box from the second pump I had to buy after I dropped my first one when Gavin was 12 months old.

sleepy. He was still a baby in her arms and she didn’t really want to give that up (and I can certainly understand that!). She reluctantly agreed that he really didn’t need it. (And I’m pretty sure she is now making up for that time with an ice cream Drumstick instead but I’ll let her get away with it).

So I finally retired the pump. And I drank an extra glass of wine to celebrate.

Although I dreaded pulling out those pump parts everyday, it was still bittersweet to retire my pump. It was one more step towards weaning. Though not intentional, my baby is now getting used to not drinking breast milk on demand, and I guess I’ve gotten used to him growing up too fast because I’m not crying about it this time. So many milestones have come and gone in the past 18 months that this is just another signpost that proves my baby is becoming a “big boy.” (Okay, now I might cry).

My pump is still sitting in my office, plugged into the wall, as if I’m going to use it again. Actually, as I was writing this, it occurred me to that I can now pump at work and get a freezer stash going again. Maybe my husband and I could take that overnight date in the City like we’ve been talking about.

Or, maybe not. I think I’d rather pack it up.

See you later, Pump. I’m sure we’ll meet again during those early newborn days after I have the next one (assuming I’ll be so lucky). I’ll dread you then like I dread you now. But part of me will still be thankful that you give me some freedom while providing my baby with my milk. Maybe you aren’t as bad as you seem.

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Published in Breastfeeding