I hate pumping.
I’m not even pumping anymore and I HATE (present tense) pumping.
I had every working-mom advantage: I had my own room, time to pump, a mini fridge at my disposal and I HATE (present tense, bold) pumping.
It’s just the worst. I felt like a cow. I felt so disconnected from my baby and my body, I felt like a machine, I felt sick and miserable. And it consumed me. It consumed all of me.
I was hospitalized for postpartum depression. Postpartum was the darkest I have ever felt, it was all-encompassing and terrible. I felt like my emotions were an entire other beast that could never be tamed or controlled or, frankly, lived with.
I spent three days in the hospital, pumping every three hours, even through the night. My nurses would wake me up, I’d go and pump, fall asleep, and try to get better in between. But I didn’t get better. If anything, during my first three days in the loony bin, I got worse. Because I wasn’t thinking about getting better. I was thinking about pumping. I would mentally calculate the three hour time limit, meticulously plan my every minute. I obsessed over every ounce and cleaning my parts properly and ensuring that my nurses were storing the milk exactly as it needed to be stored and calling my husband to coordinate picking up the milk and worrying about my baby and wondering if he was getting enough food.
[If that sentence doesn’t make you anxious, you might be a robot.]
After three days of this over-zealous obsession, my doctors sat me down and pointed out that I wasn’t getting better. The amazing professional held her hands out and asked me, “So what do we do?” And that’s when the realization dawned. I had to stop. I had to stop pumping, and, to ensure my mental and physical safety; I needed to stop breast feeding altogether.
I went into motherhood not expecting to be obsessed with breastfeeding. I wanted to try it, but I told myself that I wouldn’t get attached. If it didn’t work, I would stop.
It never occurred to me that I just plain wouldn’t like it.
It never occurred to me that after researching all the pumping and breastfeeding information I could get my hands on, I wouldn’t feel confident and informed; I would feel more pressured and overwhelmed than ever before.
When my son was still a squalling infant, I would sit in the rocking chair, holding him with one arm, the other holding my phone. I spent a great deal of time reading breastfeeding “support” forums (which were insanely un-supportive) that sent me into spirals of anxiety. My mind consistently tumbled with questions: Was I pumping enough? Was I drinking enough? Did my bra fit right? Was I using the right cream? Did I store breastmilk right? Was my childcare provider feeding my child correctly? Was my baby accepting the bottle okay? Was he too accepting of the bottle? Were pacifiers going to ruin our breastfeeding relationship?
Now, I was lucky in the sense that I (mostly) liked nursing my son. But I was working full time and my supply was not great. I did not yield a lot of milk with each pumping session (and yeah, I tried all the things).
But I felt like I HAD to soldier through it, FOR MY SON. Motherhood had turned my life upside-down and I was fully convinced that life was not my own anymore. Therefore, I HAD to continue to pump and obsess, FOR MY SON.
I was three days in a hospital before I realized this very important lesson:
More than breast milk, my son needed a healthy mother.
BAM. I resolved to quit. I quit all the way, totally weaned.
When I decided to quit, I did the sensible thing and called my local lactation consultant (AKA “lactivist”). She is supposed to know everything about boobies and milk, surely she would be the best resource, right? After carefully explaining my situation, I asked for advice on how to wean. Know what I got? A list of reasons why I shouldn’t wean and some suggestions for how to adjust my breastfeeding relationship.
Lady, I wasn’t asking for your opinion on whether I should wean or not. I already made this decision and it is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. But, thanks for making me question my decision and giving me literally none of the information I asked for.
In tears, on a hospital phone, I called a mama friend who had also weaned. Suddenly, support. Suddenly, understanding. This goddess sent me a full-on weaning care package, complete with a letter. In this letter, I found a glimmer of hope. I don’t have the letter with me (although I’m sure it’s in this disaster I call a house), but she told me how sad she was when she first started to wean. Then, she said motherhood got better.
Motherhood got better without breastfeeding?
Isn’t that selfish?
No. Because self-care isn’t selfish.
Mothers are forced to be martyrs. Society expects it of us. No, society demands its mothers martyr themselves on the alter of their children. We are supposed to take abuse after abuse, and buck up and pretend to be okay. It’s our duty, they say. It’s for the children, they say.
Fuck that shit.
I love my son and I will do lots of gross, dramatic, absurd, sacrificing things for him. But in order to do those things, in order to be the mother that he needs most, I need to take care of myself.
And for me, that meant stopping breastfeeding.
I won’t lie, it was tough. There was a mourning period, when I sold that pump and put on a real bra. But it started my journey to healing. Pumping was one aspect of my postpartum depression, and to end it was the first step to finding my way out of darkness. I began, slowly, to truly love and appreciate motherhood. And that is what my son needs more than breast milk.