It’s great that our culture has become more supportive of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding has a LOT of benefits. And I’m going to spend the majority of the rest of this post whining about how hard I’m working to protecting breast milk as my baby’s exclusive food source for as long as I can, so I’m up on the good milk. But before I start whining I have to say right up front, I don’t condone the cultish devotion to “Breast is Best” that gets crammed down the throats of too many moms. It’s excessive and to the point that children have actually died and moms have committed suicide in the most extreme cases and so vastly many more have had their physical and emotional well-being jeopardized by guilt and fear and shame surrounding the use of formula. Formula is a miracle. It saves babies lives and can help moderate or ameliorate a whole host of other bad outcomes. I will not be party to a culture that shames parents for feeding their babies. Breast milk, formula, a mix, it’s all part of a larger tool kit. Most of the studies that the Breastfeeding Mafia cite to shame moms into exclusive breastfeeding can’t even demonstrate correlation let alone causation once you control for things like income, health, and education level of the mother. So let’s just calm down a little bit and let individuals weigh the pros and cons and come to the right choice for their families shall we?
That said, breastfeeding exclusively is the right (albeit it incredibly hard) choice for me and my baby… at least right now. Given my history of steroid-induced gestational diabetes and some of our other particular health situations, I’m firmly committed to extending breastfeeding for as long as we can make it work for specific medical risk mitigation.
But man, the hardest part of my work/life imbalance is pumping. It’s even harder than being away from the boys that I love for hours and hours. Pumping sucks for me.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I know that. I have a great job with incredible flexibility. I got paid maternity leave (12 weeks including the two of my vacation that I used to get there). My office building has dedicated pumping rooms, many of which are equipped with hospital grade pumps. I have a great boss who is supportive of family life and an awesome team that will step up and in for each other to meet needs. I am paid well, so my family can afford the healthcare and childcare and extras that make 2 parents working 4 jobs and having two kids possible. So yeah, I’m very lucky. And even with all that it’s HARD.
My job is meeting driven. It’s not uncommon for me to be in back to back meetings my whole work day, or mega meetings that last 4 hours or 9 hours or whatever. Every day I have to aggressively manage my pumping schedule. It can be different for every woman, but I’ve found that to keep my supply high enough and avoid engorgement I have to hit a sweet spot where I pump every 2-3 hours. So that means I need to pump or feed 3 times during my workday. 3x a day I am having to excuse myself from meetings, or call into meetings that I am down the hall from, or I am having to turn down team lunches, or minimize travel commitments, or apologize because I can’t stay after hours yet again. And again, because I’m lucky my coworkers are understanding and generally supportive. But I feel like an asshole. I feel so guilty for disrupting the flow of a discussion because I have to go because my breasts are going to explode. I feel like I’m always the one having to ask for the time, and it makes me worry that they’ll start to think I’m not working as hard, or worry I’m not a team player, or that I’m not on my game, so I put extra pressure on myself to shine anywhere else I can. I feel worse if I can’t make a pumping session work and I worry that missing this one is going to be the one that tanks my supply, and too add insult to injury it’s physically painful, and embarrassing when it causes leaking.
I FIGHT to protect those 30 minute blocks so I can pump between meetings on good days and in the all day meetings it means I’m pumping instead of getting a water, or pumping instead of going to the bathroom, sometimes it means I’m pumping instead of eating lunch because the 15 minute breaks that are enough for everyone aren’t even half the time I need. And remember those dedicated pumping rooms? They are nearly impossible to come by because most of the women who use them need them at roughly the same times. There are 4 in my building, but they aren’t reservable and you don’t know if one is open unless you physically check it. At least 3 sessions a week, I have to try all four before I can find an open one, that alone takes about 12 minutes. And they all have hard chairs, and some are toilet-less stalls inside women’s bathrooms that smell and sound like bathrooms, and they aren’t not well climate controlled, etc. So I hate them, but even though I hate them I’m still so grateful they exist.
And those hospital grade pumps? Amazing! They speed things up and are far less annoying than my individual pump, but they aren’t in every room so I have to carry my pump around just in case. Which means to almost every meeting I have to haul my work bag with laptop, my pump, and my cooler (because I don’t have access to a fridge). And because I often have to carry them around all day, I constantly get asked if I’m leaving. No, I’m not leaving I’m just a bag lady who may or may not be dripping breast milk all through the building.
And for this first month back, I’ve been even luckier. Because if my schedule allows, my sweet parents will pick me up at work and bring me to my baby at lunch so I can nurse instead of pumping and then they drop me back off and make sure I get food to cram into my mouth while I rush back out the door to make it to a 1pm meeting. I get that time with Charlie which is amazing, but logistically a nightmare. Even though I love seeing him I wouldn’t put myself through it if nursing weren’t so much more efficient for my supply. And with my folks going back to Florida, I’ll be having to figure out how to manage that. Do I try to feed Charlie in my car outside his daycare at lunch? Do I rely just on the pump and hope my supply can stay up if I add an extra session back in the middle of the night? I’m already eating into the precious I sleep desperately need need to wake my beautifully sleeping child 1-2x per night to nurse. No easy answers.
I’m really struggling to stay upbeat about it. It is a constant source of stress that drains my energy. And if it sucks this much for me and I know how lucky I am, how are the less lucky and unlucky people swinging it? Do they even have choices?
If you’ll forgive a bad pun, thanks for letting me get this off my chest. For the time being, I’m choosing to keep fighting for breastfeeding, and I’m grateful to have the choice even if I need to complain a little bit about it sometimes.