Before I actually attempted it, my mental picture of breastfeeding looked like this: me as the adoring mother gazing down serenely at her beautiful baby, nursing her to a deep and peaceful sleep. Like a scene out of a Renaissance painting, basically.
Once I actually attempted it, my picture of breastfeeding looked like this: me as the stressed out mother gazing down desperately at her screaming baby, willing her to latch and eat.
Now, my actual picture of breastfeeding looks like this: me as the bored mother gazing down at her breast pump, willing the session to be over.
I am a breastfeeding mother who exclusively pumps, and I hate it. But I’m not going to stop.
Breastfeeding was always the most basic component of my vision for motherhood. While I was pregnant, I went out and bought all the supplies the registry checklists said I’d need: a breastfeeding pillow, nursing bras and tops, nipple creams and gel pads, even a beautiful and expensive rocker where I imagined my newborn and I would do our thing, blissed out and relaxed.
All of that stuff is collecting dust. But my pump is clocking about two hours a day.
To make a long story somewhat short, my breastfeeding plans started going awry at the same time my birth plan did. In my imagination, I’d have a vaginal delivery followed by skin-to-skin contact with a baby who immediately latched like a champ.
In reality, I had an emergency C-section followed by my baby being whisked to the NICU before I even got to hold her, let alone nurse her.
Because I couldn’t nurse, and because it was important to fight off jaundice and get her blood sugar levels under control, I began pumping immediately and feeding her bottles of breast milk. Little did I know I’d still be doing it six months later.
In those early weeks at home, as I hooked myself up to the pump seven to eight times a day, I kept telling myself that the baby would latch soon enough. Maybe at two weeks old, or maybe when she reached her due date. Or when she was a month old. Maybe when I went back to work. So I kept on pumping.
But I also kept on trying to nurse. As soon as I would try to get her into position, however, it would suddenly seem like she had eight limbs instead of four, all of them flailing wildly. She would turn her face so far away from my breast that it was hard not to feel snubbed. Multiple lactation consultants couldn’t help. So I kept on pumping.
On the best days, she’d latch once or maybe twice, and I’d be able to skip a pump. On the worst days, she’d scream bloody murder. Eventually, there were more bad days than good, and around 12 weeks, she caught her first cold and went on a permanent nursing strike. So I kept on pumping.
Exclusively pumping is not something I knew existed before I started doing it. I sometimes describe it as the worst of both worlds. EP’ers deal with the same time demands and worries over supply that a nursing mother would, with the added headaches of tons of washing, prepping, and packing. I tend to start and end my day at a kitchen sink full of bottles, and in between I hook up with the pump five to six times a day for at least 20 minutes.
You won’t hear other moms gushing about exclusively pumping the way they do with nursing. You won’t hear doctors and nurses extolling the virtues of it the way they do with nursing. In fact, new moms aren’t even consistently given reliable support and information on pumping the way they are with nursing. Since my own pumping journey began, I’ve heard from many other mothers who were given incorrect guidance on when to start pumping, for how long, and how often. The logistical challenges coupled with the emotional disappointment of losing out on the nursing bond we hear so much about makes exclusively pumping an extremely difficult path.
For some moms, EP’ing is a choice, but it wasn’t for me. It may not have been what I imagined, but it’s the best option available to me right now. I’m not able to nurse my daughter, but I can still nurture her the best way I know how. So I keep on pumping.