Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Three Times A Workday

This is a post about pumping. Feel free to hit your browser's back arrow now if you don't want to hear it.

Oh, and pumping? I refer to breasts. To collect breastmilk.

:::waving to those I know just left:::

Three times a day while at work, my Outlook pops a reminder up on my screen. It reads: "Now." Perhaps that is a bit uninspired of me. Perhaps something more clever should appear to mark the time I set aside each day to collect milk for my sweet child. But pumping? Pumping is not inspirational. At ALL. In fact, I can think of few things I enjoy less than suctioning my boob inside a plastic cone for 10-20 minutes at a time. I can think of few sounds as grating as the 'woosh-thump-woooosh-thump' of a pump. And yet, day after day, I hook myself up to a machine like some sort of dairy cow subjectimg myself to slight discomfort, awkwardness (I just KNOW anyone walking by my office door hears the woosh-thump), and frustration as I bemoan the slow dwindling of my supply over: a) the course of a workday, and b) time elapsed since the end of maternity leave.

So, as my husband delicately prodded the other day, WHY do I keep going? The nursling in question has his first tooth playing peek-a-boo at the gumline and he has been toying with my emotions for weeks now in a game of Today I Want To Nurse No Wait Maybe I Only Want The Bottle (aka nursing strikes). My supply is maybe 75% of what he needs daily so he's getting supplemented as it is. And, did I mention I HATE PUMPING????

And yet, here I sit, staring at the Outlook reminder on my screen, listening to the woosh-thump, and willing my body to make more milk.

Listen, I am just going to lay the truth out on the line. I do it because I think I should. Because I think it's important to provide my baby with my milk. Because I can. Because it connects me to him even while physically we are apart. Because I hate everything about formula (cost, smell, weird chemicals).

But if I'm going to be honest, there are deeper reasons. Reasons I don't really know how to express when my husband gently prods; when he reassures me I can quit pumping whenever and wouldn't it make life easier and LOTS of babies get formula and they are just fine aren't they? They are. I know they are.

The truth of it is, I don't want to give up because in some narcissistic and sado-masochistic way, breastfeeding my babies is part of how I identify myself as a mom, and come hell (and it did come, when I was nursing Luca) or high water (more like low supply...) I NEED to nurse my babies. I need to be able to say I did everything I could. I NEED to be able to look at their sweet peachy cheeks and bright eyes and think, "Yeah. I did that."

I know. It's stupid. It makes no sense. It's stubborn and foolhardy of me. And, yes, to the friends I have who didn't breastfeed, it may even seem insulting. As though I am inferring that I think less of moms who formula feed. As though I don't understand the myriad reasons why one would either choose to or have no other choice than to formula feed.

To which I say: I am not (inferring) and I do (understand). Breastfeeding vs formula feeding is an age-old debate, and quite simply not one I care to engage in. I really do NOT care whether other parents choose to breastfeed or formula feed, or both. I don't judge. I've been on both sides of this argument. I am adamantly pro-breastfeeding as long as it WORKS for mom and baby (and, sure, dad or partner counts too, but really it's mom and baby who are central to this equation). And it doesn't always work. I know firsthand. I've struggled with a LOT of issues related to nursing my kids (if you're interested, I posted about my issues when Luca was a baby here). And both of my kids have been supplemented to varying degrees at different stages of infancy. I don't think that makes me or any other mom who chooses (or has her hand forced by circumstances outside of her control) to formula feed a BAD mom. I think it's life, and it's one of the first big lessons in parenthood. Having trouble breastfeeding was my first wake up call when Luca was born. It was like the universe was saying, "Remember all those fantasies you had about what having a baby would be like and what kind of a mom you would be? HA HA HA HA! SUCKER!". And did I mention, saying it at 3 a.m. the first night home from the hospital while I cried my tired post-partum-hormonal eyes out and my baby screamed and my husband looked bewildered and a little like a deer in headlights. The Universe is a real asshole sometimes.

And yet, here I am. Two kids and two years later, and I find myself attached to a plastic cone three times a day (and usually at least once more after Romo is in bed for the night), engaging in what some might consider an exercise in futility. I don't make enough milk for my babies. My boobs are always sore to the point where my husband is forbidden from even talking about them (I refer to them as being on 'maternity leave'). I spend a minimum of an hour a day setting up my pump, pumping, and cleaning my pump parts. And that's not even including the other hour I spend putting off pumping, grousing about how much I HATE pumping, and wishing I was home with my kids and could nurse Rohan so I didn't have to pump.

But I do it, day in and day out. I hook up that machine and try not to count down the minutes until I'm done and when I stash that milk in the fridge at the end of the day, I feel proud. The crowning glory is when I am able, on a Friday, to open up a Lanisnoh freezer bag and stash a few ounces away to the freezer. It doesn't happen every week, and sometimes it's only an ounce or two. But I know how hard I worked to get that ounce into that freezer bag, and I'm not ashamed to admit my pride.

Will it all matter? When all is said and done, and my kids are sitting in kidergarten next to other kids (some formula fed, some breastfed, some a combo of both) will it really make a difference? Will anyone know that I spent hours of discomfort pumping and struggling to keep my supply alive? No. My kids will be no different from their peers who were fed formula. No different from their peers who never had a drop of anything but the liquid gold their moms produced.

But I am different for it. Someday, I will have made it through the gauntlet of newborn nursing hell, over the hurdles of nursing strikes and teething and pumping, and through to the other side. I will have passed the first of many tests I set up for myself, and that won't matter to ANYONE else I know. But it will matter to me. We parents all have our own gauntlets to run. We all have THAT THING that matters to us perhaps more than it should, which tests our limits and frustrates us, and with which we wrestle because it MATTERS TO US.

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