I packed up the pump. Well, pumps, because I’ve tried everything to build my supply. But they are packed up, along with all of the gadgets and accessories. The nursing bras. The organic boob goop. It’s all packed up because I needed to make that decision for us.
I pumped for 200 days.
I know that’s not much, in momland. But for us, it was enough. When you were first born, I pumped ’round the clock; I did my best to hit the prescribed 8-10 pumping sessions after whatever nursing you would do to establish my milk supply. It didn’t work. We spent most of your first week with the lactation consultant; we ruled out thyroid issues, diabetes, etc.
We tried it all.
Nipple shields, power pumping, SNS (supplemental nursing system) on my breast and then taped to our fingers so you wouldn’t get dreaded nipple confusion, and then, finally, a bottle. I fed you what I could, whether at my breast or after hours of pumping, to provide you with as much breastmilk as I could.
Within days of becoming your mom, I felt my first and (to this point) greatest failure: I could not feed you on my own. And it feels like it will take forever for me to forgive myself for it.
I still sometimes feel shame when I mix you a bottle.
“Fed is best” echoes through my head. I know. I feel twinges of something – jealousy, remorse, disappointment – whenever I watch someone nurse, say, wandering around in a park with a baby in a carrier. And I know that I do not know that woman’s journey, or how hard she has worked to sustain breastfeeding. But still, I feel the twinge. I always wonder if I tried hard enough. I probably always will.
You are healthy, strong, and amazing.
And for that, I am eternally grateful. I would remind myself of gratitude every time I wrestled with the pump, and yielded a measly 60/30/15/10 ml. Your dad encouraged me, applauded me, and tried to help me forgive myself for my body’s lack of cooperation. And, as he watched me cry over and over again, supported me by telling me that every drop I gave you was beneficial and that I could and should stop whenever I was ready.
And, sometime last week, I guess I decided I was ready.
You stopped nursing altogether when we introduced solid food (and oh, how you love food), yet I persisted in my pumping for well over a month. I know it would be best if you could have my milk until 12 months. And most days, I felt like I could keep going, even for a few ounces.
But as my already low supply dwindled and I started to count the seconds until I returned to work and you started daycare, I watched the minutes tick by that it took to get 10 ml. And I decided that that sip, which took 20 minutes to pull from my body, was not worth 20 minutes of playing with you. 20 minutes of giggling with you. 20 minutes of singing “Yellow Submarine” over and over again to calm you to sleep.
I pumped for 200 days, even though I was encouraged to consider stopping after 10.
Maybe someday soon I will believe it when I say I tried hard enough. Maybe I will stop replaying all the places where I think I went wrong, and just accept that my body couldn’t do this part of motherhood, but the most important part was it gave me you.
If I am honest, I feel relief.
Every time I pumped for the last few weeks, I anxiously watched the meager drops collect in the cups, and beat myself up for the diminishing amounts. I feel liberated, that we can leave for hours and not worry about a pumping schedule. That I can wake up and just play with you. That I can go to bed after we’ve said goodnight to you. That I do not need to haul the machinery back and forth to work. And with that relief comes a bit of guilt, as I tell myself I should probably not relish in this liberation. No need to momshame, folks. I’ve got that under control myself.
But you know what? To hell with it.
Just as I am going to try to embrace your foray into daycare and my return to work and other parts of my adult life, I am going to try to not let the guilt win. I have done my best for you, little one, and I will always do that. And doing my best for you right now means bidding adieu to the pump and the momguilt, and spending that time on you, sweet babe.