Friday, December 2, 2011

Bad Romance

When I hear Lady Gaga's Bad Romance (and for those of you who frequent spin classes, you cannot avoid it), I think of my breast milk. And my breast pump. And, we are in a bad romance.

Let's review: "I want your ugly, I want your disease/I want your everything as long as it's free."

That's me with the breast pump in a pop music nutshell. From the beginning, I was pumping like mad because I thought I was going back to my firm and I didn't want to worry about supply issues. Then, I kept pumping because of habit, duty, psychosis, the calorie burn, and fear about supply. Even when I decided not to return to work, I kept on pumping at least twice a day because (1) I knew I had the milk so why let it go to waste and (2) I often missed feedings when I was out with Sadie so I had to come home and pump for those missed feedings.

Well, let's just say that I was a little OCD about it. Every now and then my friends or Jeff might casually inquire about why I was pumping so much when I was pretty much a stay-at-home mom. I couldn't articulate it (probably because it's hard to make crazy sound sane), but I knew I couldn't stop. The whole enterprise took on moral and Biblical implications. I felt it was somehow immoral to not pump those extra 5 ounces I got in the morning. They were just sitting there in my breasts and everyone knows breast milk is like gold. How could I just stop pumping? What kind of mother does that?

I kept pumping. Soon, our reluctant sleeper, Simon, started to sleep through the night, which meant that the 1:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. feedings were consolidated into his 5:00 a.m. feeding, which we still do to this bleary-eyed day. I had a vague idea that my milk stockpile was pretty large, but I never really concentrated on that part of the freezer. I was more interested in the part of the freezer where I kept the ice cream and the frozen brownies.

About 4 weeks ago, I realized that some of my milk is going to expire. I have very carefully dated each bag of milk in the freezer and some of them bear June dates. The guidelines for keeping breast milk in the freezer vary, but generally six months is the outer limit of when it's still considered good nutrition for a baby to have defrosted breast milk. A friend told me about a young mother with "supply issues" (meaning she wasn't producing enough milk for her baby) and I decided to donate my milk. I felt afraid about letting my precious milk go, but the thought of it expiring and going to waste when a little baby out in the world could have it literally make me ill. I spent some time in the milk area of the freezer and separated all the milk by month. I had roughly 100 ounces I was willing to donate to my friend's friend, who actually ended up declining the milk because she was wary about the anti-depressant I am taking.

I tried not to feel rejected or ashamed that I take a low dose (I had to throw in there that it was "low" to mitigate the shame; and it really is low) of an anti-depressant that I started taking when I was a few weeks post-partum with both kids. I don't drink caffeine or alcohol or any non-approved FDA substances, but understandably some moms are nervous about medications. Another mother passed on it for similar reasons. I wish the well and feel grateful that I didn't have supply issues. Well, I do have supply issues, but the issue isn't low supply.

The issue is now I have about 100 ounces of milk in my freezer and it's going to expire soon. All year long Jeff has said that Thanksgiving weekend I can stop pumping. By his calculation, with our extra supply and Simon approaching the one-year mark (when babies are allowed to drink cow's milk so we won't have to rely on formula), I won't need to do that extra pump in the morning. I have been willing to let that go, and it feels really good. With those extra 40 minutes, I have spent more time dancing with Sadie, cuddling with Simon and hiding from both of them in the shower when I wanted to be alone.

But I am still addicted to the pump and sense of control I feel using it, which has been the irresistable draw of the pump in the first place. Why? Because breast feeding is so fucking hard, mostly because even after my boobs no longer hurt through every feeding and I accepted the fact that I couldn't really cavort around town with no sense of time because I would need to feed Simon, I still couldn't control one god-damned thing about nursing. I, like every other breast feeder, never knew if Simon was getting enough. Yes, he was in the 90th percentile for weight, but I couldn't measure it and tell feeding after feeding and day after day. I never knew if a day's fussiness was because of low supply or because I had extra brussel sprouts the day before. I didn't know anything. I hated that most of all, so I enlisted the pump give me a sense of control. I can measure what comes out of the pump. Every bottle has little hatch marks to show me each half an ounce. I can sit on my bed and listen to the wheeze of the pump and watch the drops turn into ounces turning into a bottle that Simon can drink. I have no idea what really happens when he's hanging out on my breast every morning from 5:00 a.m. until 7:00 a.m. In part, I don't know because I am half asleep, and many times, so is he.

I couldn't have done the breastfeeding for this long (and I intend to keep going, one day at a time) without the pump. It afforded me opportunities to sleep and to go places with Sadie while Simon got to nap. It helped me endure some of the tedium that is having a newborn baby. And an infant. It helped me take bottles of breast milk in the few places where I wasn't comfortable nursing.

It's a seriously miraculous invention of the modern world.

And, when I look at my freezer I can see that I quite possibly took it a little too far. A stay-at-home mom does not need a freezer full of 200 ounces of milk, the bags of which will expire one by one starting Sunday. I am not sure I could have forgiven myself for NOT pumping had I encountered supply issues, but I am finding it hard to forgive myself for pumping like a maniac and ending up with milk that will be thrown out.

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