It was a Thursday afternoon when I felt my water break. My due date was still 7 weeks away. And the cherry on top: a room full of wide-eyed 9-year-olds witnessed it.
Soon after, I found myself in the labour and delivery wing of the hospital. My midwives were discharging me from their care as an OB I’d never met put her hands in my hoo-ha and told me I was going to have a premature baby. Cue the waterworks.
Over the next week and a half of bedrest, I mentally prepared myself for a long stay in the NICU. But nothing could have prepared me for the challenges of breastfeeding I was about to face.
After my son was born, I would visit him every 3 hours in the NICU to feed him. “Breastfeeding is hard for preemies, but he’ll get the hang of it,” the nurses told me as I tried unsuccessfully to latch him over and over again. Inevitably, I would wind up feeding him through the tube that ran from his nose to his stomach. Once he got stronger, he was able to take a bottle.
And that was the beginning of the end of our breastfeeding relationship.
His latch never did improve. The bottle was just too easy for him. And by the time I realized this, it was almost impossible to recover.
Multiple lactation consultants and a supplemental nursing system later, I was exhausted and depressed. I was spending 30-40 minutes just latching him, another 30 minutes nursing him, and then 15 minutes pumping after each feeding. I was existing on 3 hours a day of broken sleep. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I accepted my fate as a pumping momma.
At the time, I thought pumping would be easier. And, arguably, it was easier than my hour long feeds followed by a pump session. But I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
If you’ve ever pumped milk before, I don’t have to tell you how insufferable it is sitting there, not moving, listening to the hum of the pump as it pulls on your sore, cracked nipples multiple times a day. Watching the milk in the bottle turn pink again even though you’ve been going through bottles of nipple cream faster than Taylor Swift goes through guys. Then washing and sterilizing all the pump parts and bottles before finally collapsing into bed.
It’s exhausting. It’s infuriating. It’s inconvenient.
And it’s the ultimate sacrifice.
You do it to give your baby the gift of perfectly crafted nutrition, ideal for his development.
You do it to know you did everything you could to support her immune system.
You do it because you believe it’s going to give your baby the best possible start in life.
You do it because you can’t breastfeed, no matter how hard you try.
And if you could choose, you’d choose to breastfeed every time.
You’d choose to have that magical bonding experience with your baby that pumping just doesn’t give you.
You’d choose to not have to pack bottles every time you go out.
You’d choose to feed your baby as soon as he showed signs of hunger instead of listening to him cry while you wait for a bottle to warm up. And you’d choose to stay in bed so you can feed him while you’re both half asleep and then put him straight back to bed after.
You’d choose to go right back to bed after feeding the baby, instead of sitting for another 15-30 minutes listening to the whir of the pump.
You’d choose not to drag your pump with you if you’re going to be out of the house for more than a few hours. Or you’d choose not to rush home so you can pump on time.
You’d choose not to stress and watch the clock when your appointment takes longer than you expected and you’re late for your pumping session.
You’d choose not to spend countless hours washing and sterilizing bottles and pump parts.
You’d choose a life of more freedom and convenience.
To all you Exclusive Pumping Mamas out there: pumping is hard. SO hard. But hang in there, superwoman! This won’t last forever. We may not have chosen this life, but the end goal — a healthy, thriving baby — keeps us going. And when it’s all over, you are going to feel so insanely proud of yourself — proud and relieved and surprisingly sappy. Because pumping is going to be one of your life’s greatest accomplishments.
And hey, when you finally wean yourself from that breast pump, why not indulge in a ceremonial and overdramatic goodbye? (My fantasies include lighting it up in a parking lot, putting holes in it at a shooting range, and shot putting it off a pier into the ocean.)
Whether you’ve been pumping for 3 weeks, 6 months, a year, or beyond, kudos to you, EPer. Your baby is so lucky to have such a dedicated mama. She’ll never understand the sacrifice you made for her, but you’ll always remember it as one of the best decisions you ever made.