It was 9 p.m. on a Sunday night and Game of Thrones was just starting. I had finally gotten comfortable on the couch with the baby monitor in hand glancing to see Lucy sleeping soundly. It had been a busy weekend and Monday was looming ahead like a dark cloud.
The last thing I wanted to do was hook myself up to my breast pump, this contraption I had grown to loathe. I had been back at work for a month and the pump had become a ball and chain. Plugging in on the way to work and during my lunch break, having to skip important meetings, rushing home in time for my baby’s next feeding… feeding my baby had become a cumbersome chore to say the least.
As the theme song began, I glanced over at my hubby who had just cracked a beer and put his feet up to enjoy the show. He had been my biggest cheerleader from day one, yet he wasn’t the one who needed to put 15 parts together and attach himself to a machine for 30 minutes. In the back of my mind, I could hear my mom (who graciously watches my daughter while I am at work) telling me she ordered formula “just in case.” I was so mad. My baby won’t have that stuff. I will pump and this will work, this has to work. Why was she doubting me instead of encouraging me?
The first two weeks were the most difficult. Accepting that this was now an integral part of my life was the real challenge. Once I came to terms with that and made a commitment to myself, it became routine. I found a groove and, for the most part, it was going well. I had frozen about 30 ounces during my maternity leave. That was my cushion for the days I didn’t pump enough for the next day.
I started feeling more positive. I had set a goal: pump until school was out for the summer. Then I could toss that thing in a river if I wanted. I just needed to make it 3 months. I am proud to say that I did accomplished my goal. I was a committed working and pumping mom. But at what cost to myself?
There were many times when pumping became more than a minor inconvenience. I had no social life after work, since I never had enough milk for me to be gone longer than the work day. Pumping made me sore, despite trying different flange sizes and buying an entirely new pump. I was so stressed all the time. I couldn’t focus. I became borderline obsessed with pumping. Anything someone said to me on the topic became offensive. I would snap at my husband and my mom. I would become irritated when coworkers made jokes about it. Someone knocking on my door while I was pumping made my blood boil. These seconds were precious and getting up to see that one of my students forgot their water bottle could cost me half an ounce.
Despite a few mishaps, pumping wasn’t entirely horrible. Those mornings when I managed to produce more than usual made me feel like a superhero. Knowing my daughter was still getting the benefits that came with breastfeeding even though I had to return to work gave me comfort and helped me feel better about leaving her each day. It was like part of me was still with her, literally. Providing food for my child was important, but so was providing her with a happy, well-balanced mother.
About a month into this routine, my supply took a hit. I posted in a moms group on Facebook and then joined a bunch of breastfeeding groups. I read up on supply boosters. I drank mother’s milk tea and took fenugreek. That gave my baby diarrhea and made me smell like maple syrup all day. I scrolled through pictures of freezer stashes that made me feel so inadequate. I should have pumped more before going back to work.
OMG, these women wake up IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT and pump? Even though their babies sleep through the night? Clearly I was a terrible mother because I had zero desire to get out of bed at 4 a.m. Hell, I didn’t even want to interrupt my episode of Game of Thrones to plug that bad boy in. But what was I going to do? I didn’t have enough milk for the next day. I had to pump. Had to suck it up for my baby, right?
I had hit a breaking point. I knew I couldn’t continue this way. I was committed to breastfeeding and with every fiber of my soul I wanted this to work. But I knew I couldn’t sacrifice my own sanity much longer. I made the decision to supplement. I would still pump, but rather than obsess over a missing ounce, or yell at my mom for over-feeding Lucy, I would accept that I had a limit.
I would pump at work like I had been doing, but I was drawing a deep line in the sand. I would not wake up to pump and I would not interrupt this very important episode of my favorite show to pump. Lucy would have two ounces of formula tomorrow along with the 12 ounces of breast milk that I managed to extract throughout my work day. And that was that.
Guess what? The next day, she was fine. The world still turned. The sky did not fall and I had actually been allowed to be a regular human being for 54 minutes.
To the moms who not only bring home the bacon, but nourish their babies every day while doing it, I tip my hat to you. To the moms who tried desperately to make it work and just couldn’t, I am with you and I know how difficult that decision was. To the moms who wake up at 4 a.m. to get an extra few ounces to freeze, your commitment amazes me and if breastfeeding were a sport, you would deserve the gold medal.
And to the moms who want so desperately for this to work and are struggling, please know pumping doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Setting a boundary for myself gave me such relief and helped me keep going. I was less stressed and more balanced when I put myself on the priority list as well.
Supplementing saved my breastfeeding relationship and my enjoyment of motherhood. Supplementing kept my baby fed and happy. Supplementing allowed my mother, my daughter’s caregiver, to nourish my baby without stress. Our time is precious now more than ever, and quality of life matters.
Let’s all learn to put our own mental health on that long list of things we try to juggle all day. Our babies and all the people in our life will benefit.