Exclusively Pumping Wasn't My Intention — But It Was My Reality

B*tch I’m A Cow: My Exclusive Pumping Journey

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Courtesy of Jacquelyn Kates Agins

Fed is best. Fed is best. If breastfeeding doesn’t work — that’s okay! Fed is best!

This was my mantra until my little one was born and then it was FED IS BREAST! BREAST IS BEST! I was obsessed with wanting to breastfeed and nourish my baby with my body’s own natural resource. Unfortunately, our experience was wrought with calamities.

Our latch was doomed from the beginning. The hospital lactation consultants were impressed by the baby’s strong clamp. We brought my son home and within a day he was vomiting blood. My blood. From my cracked, damaged nipples.

As my son and I floundered through breastfeeding attempts, his small birth weight of 6.8 pounds continued to dwindle. It seemed we lived at the pediatrician’s office those early days. Each appointment I’d leave in tears as his weight percentile plummeted. Concerned for his health, I began the trifecta from HELL: breast feeding, pumping, bottle feeding. I hoped to amp my supply and fill him with more calories. I was encouraged to pump after every feed. My tiny son was not getting enough nutrients from my breast, so our feeds were every 1-1.5 hours equating to 12 pumping sessions a day.

We were optimistic that a tongue-tie procedure would be the answer to our prayers and our little one would somehow evolve into a masterful breast feeder. Then we were visited by mastitis, a nursing mom’s worst nightmare. Except this infection developed not in either one of my new lush boobs (finally a size B!) but in the little swollen left bud of my son’s. Panicked, we rushed him to the local Children’s Hospital ER after yet another tearful visit to the pediatrician.

Courtesy of Jacquelyn Kates Agins

In addition to mastitis (neonatal mastitis), our son had two other concerning infections on his extremities. The ER doctors were concerned about a systemic infection and wanted to perform a spinal tap to rule it out. From the pediatrician office straight to the ER, it had been hours since his last bottle feed. I didn’t have a pump. Our minimal breastfeeding throughout this harrowing experience failed to hydrate him. Both spinal taps were futile.

After a traumatic 36 hours at the Children’s Hospital, I began my exclusive relationship with a breast pump. No latch needed. Just two flanges, two duckbill valves, two backflow protectors, tubing, a pump and an electrical outlet. This glorified vacuum successfully filled bottles consistently and predictably to feed my baby.

I grieved heavily for the loss of my idealization of breastfeeding. I was angry at myself for not having the strength or determination to keep trying. Illogically aggravated with my baby for having a terrible latch. Resentful of my girlfriends who appeared to seamlessly feed their children. They could whip out their boob in a flash where I had to hook myself up to a robot and sit prisoner.

Exclusively pumping was not my intention. However, since that was my reality, I was determined to be the best fucking pumper of all time! I bought all the accessories. Silicone flanges. Hacks to pump into bottles. Scoured my local Facebook Buy Nothing list-serve for storage bags. Purchased a massager that looked suspiciously like a vibrator to conquer clogged ducts. Pumped for a full 30 minutes each session until my once dark nipples (or mocha choca lattes, as my husband lovingly referred to them) became pink and no less than four inches long.

My sessions would culminate into a minimum of 11 to upwards of 18 ounces. I was now a certified cow. “B*tch I’m A Cow” by Doja Cat became my personal anthem. Finding a chest freezer to store my abundant stash during the COVID era was nearly impossible. Luckily, I found one lonely dented freezer to safely embrace my liquid gold.

Pleased at my successful production, the inordinate amount of time pumping, sterilizing, and diligently preparing bottles didn’t faze me. I was confident walking into the pediatrician’s office that my little one would finally be thriving! Ironically, despite my abundance of milk and his seven-ounce bottles, he was down to the 1st percentile in weight. Apparently, my body only manufactured skim milk.

Now not only had I failed at breastfeeding, but I continued to fail at nourishing my child. Despite my irrational resistance to formula, I had no choice but to begin supplementing. I grieved all over again and relived the previous feelings of inadequacy and disappointment. However, as my son began to earn his first wrist rolls and his waist bands got a tighter, my qualms dissipated and were replaced with gratitude towards the magic of Enfamil.

Over six months later — two months of gradual weaning — I completed my very last pumping session. I slowly folded my teal hands-free pumping bra, sterilized my flanges for the last time, and stared at the final 1.5 ounces my freakishly long nipples would produce for my first born. As I gazed at my pump, I experienced a feeling I did not anticipate. Sadness. Venturing down nostalgia lane, I recalled all my harrowing pumping experiences. A dead battery. Forgotten flanges. Broken tubes. Clogged ducts. Milk bleps. ETC.

Despite my longing to terminate my relationship with this device, we had been through quite a long arduous journey together. I allowed myself to hold space for these unexpected emotions and gently sit with them on the couch…with my Spectra.