I’ve been back to work for three part-time weeks now. Most aspects of my job are how I remember it. I have the same colleagues, the same job responsibilities, the same stress. My desk hasn’t moved. It’s comforting to come back to something so familiar and (for the most part) enjoyable.
But now, I have a new constant in my day. Four times a day, I lock myself in a vacant office, peel back my nursing tank top, and pump for fifteen minutes. When I was pregnant and imagined breastfeeding, I pictured the experience I had during my maternity leave. I thought that each feeding would take place in a warm room, with my baby nuzzled up against me. Even though I always planned to return to work, I never really imagined myself in this empty office, tethered to a humming machine.
Yet, here I am, four times a day. During my first week back, I thought I needed to write a love letter to my pump. After all, it was helping me to feed my child in the way that I want, without endangering my income. It may not be comfortable or warm, but it is my new reality and I just have to learn to like it. But after the week I’ve just finished, I’m just as likely to throw the damn thing against the wall.
On Friday night, I had very little sleep before a long Saturday at work. So, when I produced very little milk from my pumping sessions, I blamed my sleepless night. Surely, my milk would be there when I needed it. I didn’t work again until Tuesday. I fed Nora throughout the weekend with no problems. On Tuesday morning, I pumped before going to work, as I do every work day. (I have to replace five feedings, so I pump once at home and four times at work.) I pumped and pumped…and pumped,but nothing came out. I had dribbles of foremilk, when I knew that my breasts were relatively full. The longer I pumped, the more I panicked. Was there something wrong with my supply? Was I becoming unable to use a pump? Was I going to make myself late to work? Any nursing mom can tell you that fear and panic do not make for a good letdown, so I packed up the pump and took it to work. Lest this sound like a rational decision-making process, it was preceded by a good fifteen minutes of ugly crying.
Luckily, my husband stays home with Nora during the day. We made a plan to have him meet me at work for the next pumping session, before his play date with a friend. (As a side note, I am so lucky to have this flexibility with our child care arrangements. If we had to work with a daycare, I don’t know what I would have done.) With my afternoon pumping sessions, I still couldn’t pump enough milk. Not knowing what to do, I made arrangements to pick up a different brand of pump at Amma Parenting Center. I was hoping and praying that there was a defect with the pump, rather than an inexplicable drop in my milk supply or an aversion to the act of pumping.
That evening at Amma, as I was shelling out beaucoup bucks for another pump, the salesperson reminded me that my pump should have a warranty. I would have to call them the next day, since their service hours ended at 5:00 PM Eastern time. I bought the back-up pump and kept it sealed, in case I could get a quick replacement pump through the original pump company. On Wednesday, I called the pump company. They walked me through some troubleshooting steps and determined that yes, the problem was with my pump. (A cool trick I learned: remove the hose connector from the pump, plug the little hole with your finger and turn the suction on high. If your pump makes a squeaking sound or a labored sound when pumping, there is something wrong with the motor. Good to know for the future). They offered to send me a new pump, which would arrive in…2-3 business days. Seriously, pump company? What working mom can afford to wait 2-3 business days for a new pump? Luckily, I only had to ask once for a quicker delivery method and they agreed to overnight me a new pump. (I wonder how many moms refuse to argue and get the shaft on delivery times?)
For the next two days, I tried to use the half-working pump. I dropped the morning pumping session, to avoid terror-filled freak-outs before my day started. I learned early on to pump one side at a time, to maximize the pump’s remaining suction power. So, at some sessions, the pump worked too well and it felt like the pump was trying to devour my nipple. At other sessions, the pump barely worked at all and I was left with full breasts and no expressed milk. The challenge was that I had to figure out another way to get the milk out. Let me just say, there is nothing more frustrating than having full breasts and no way to relieve them. I tried using the manual pump that came with my electric pump. It was pretty useless. I was much more effective at simply hand expressing into the bottle. Even though it got the milk out, I felt ridiculous squeezing out just enough milk to relieve engorgement, in my work clothes. Most effective, of course, was when Aaron brought Nora over for a pumping/feeding session…as long as Nora was hungry. The one feeding that we hadn’t timed well was completely frustrating for all three of us.
The story has a happy ending. My new pump arrived on Thursday and it works great. I was able to return my back-up pump to Amma with no problem. But this chaotic week made me realized just how tethered I am (and will be) to this pump. I plan on breastfeeding for one to two years, depending on when Nora starts to wean herself. That means that for the foreseeable future, I am completely dependent on a machine that goes ping. For a mama that’s committed to a natural and organic relationship with my child, that’s a hard truth to realize. As thankful as I am for having the ability to continue feeding Nora my own breast milk, I don’t know if I will ever truly be comfortable with my pump. Maybe I should name it.