For an entire year my breast pump has accompanied me just about everywhere. I take it to work, on vacation, girls’ night out, when visiting family and friends, to the movies, on road trips, sporting events, wine tours…if I was going to be away from my daughter for more than 3 hours, my trusty Spectra S1 pump, packed inside my beautiful Sarah Wells Kelly pump bag, would come along for the ride. At first it was a nuisance, but after a while it just became part of my routine. In all of that time I only accidentally forgot it once, and luckily it was on a day where I could leave work a little early so I made it home before disaster struck.
But this time it was different. This time I left for work and my pump stayed at home. On purpose.
Believe it or not I had mixed emotions. You’d think I would be elated, finally free of this contraption that has been like my ball and chain for the past year. And a part of me was excited. Very excited. But you know that feeling you get when you leave for vacation and feel like you forgot something? Even though I left my pump at home on purpose, I felt incomplete without it. It was unsettling. I know what you’re thinking…lady, it’s a breast pump, get over it already.
But if you’re a breastfeeding mom, you know exactly what I mean.
That pump allowed me to continue my breastfeeding relationship with my daughter well after I returned to work. In fact, she’s 14 months old and we are still breastfeeding now. We’re down to 2-3 sessions per day, sometimes less depending on my work schedule, but when she wants it, I provide it. Because I can. My pump allowed me to do that. It wasn’t always easy, stopping whatever I was doing every 3 hours to hook myself up to this ridiculous device, in a variety of places (no lactation room at work). My morning and afternoon commute to and from work also usually involved a pumping session. I got so good at pumping while driving that it feels odd to just drive now.
As if the pumping itself wasn’t bad enough, add in the cleaning, sorting, organizing and storing the milk – I found this to be the worst part. Talk about tedious. And you want to know something else? A majority of what I pumped wasn’t even for my own daughter. I developed quite an oversupply, about double what she needed. My morning pumping session alone was enough to provide her with milk during the day while I was away at work. I could yield about 16 ounces at that time. So all of those pumping sessions away from home, all of those lunch breaks spent alone in a tiny room, all of those hours spent washing, drying, sanitizing pump parts, all of that money spent on milk collection bags…none of it was for us.
Over the past year I’ve donated over 6,000 ounces of breast milk to local moms and their babies and it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
So when I left my pump at home for the first time, I was also a little sad. Sad because I won’t be able to help these other babies any longer. Sad because I know that my breastfeeding relationship with my own daughter will be changing and eventually come to an end. Being able to breastfeed her exclusively for 6 months, knowing that she was strong and healthy because of what I could provide for her, nothing else has ever made me so proud.
As a first-time mom I wasn’t sure what to expect with breastfeeding when we started, and we certainly had our fair share of struggles in the beginning. Multiple trips to the pediatrician and lactation consultant for weight checks because my little munckin wasn’t gaining as quickly as she should have been. (We resolved that issue in no time!) But one thing I didn’t expect was how passionate I’d become about it all. I tend to be a bit on the emotional side (okay, okay…I cry at Hallmark commercials…yes, it’s that bad), so I thought maybe it was just me. But after attending a few local La Leche League support group meetings and reading other mom’s posts on the online support groups I joined, I realized I wasn’t alone at all.
It’s definitely not something you can understand until you’ve done it. I have the utmost respect for the members of our military and truly believe that they are making the ultimate sacrifice. And I feel like breastfeeding moms could be considered second to that. It has definitely been the most I have ever sacrificed in my life. Carrying a child for 9 months? It feels like a walk in the park compared to breastfeeding for a year (and beyond)…and I had a complicated, high-risk pregnancy involving surgery, a hospital admission, a life-threatening complication, months of injections and some bed rest, but that’s a story for another day. When you’re pregnant, sure there are some changes you have to make to your routine and things you have to give up, but there were days where I could go almost the whole day and forget that I had a little bun in my oven.
Not the case after she was born.
People would offer to take my daughter for a few hours so I could have some time to myself, or encourage me to get away for a night or a weekend. But they didn’t understand. Being away from her just meant more pumping sessions and I know some moms are exclusive pumpers (serious heroes in my eyes), but if I had to choose, I’d much rather breastfeed than pump. When you’re a breastfeeding mom, you don’t get a day off. Hell you don’t even get an afternoon off. You don’t get to drop the baby at Grandma’s and enjoy a cozy weekend away with your husband. Girls’ night out? Sure, but make sure you’ve got your pump in the car so you can sneak away halfway through. Want to go to the movies? Just make sure it’s not an extra long one. Every three hours, with the exception of one 8-hour stretch overnight (if you’re lucky and have a baby who sleeps that long), you’ve got to breastfeed or pump. Not a single day off. I have never found anything to be so challenging in my entire life, both physically and mentally.
It made for a very, V-E-R-Y long year.
My daughter is lucky she’s so cute. Just kidding, I’d have done it either way. Maybe…
So while I may not be completely done with my pump just yet, she and I are no longer attached at the hip. I still bring it along most work days, pumping once so I can send milk to daycare the following day. But she’s going to be spending a little more time in the bag while I get to enjoy spending my lunch break with other humans. I can finally take advantage of Grandma’s offer to watch my daughter for a few hours so I can actually enjoy a night out with my husband, just the two of us. Girls’s night out? Here I come…
This is going to take some getting used to.