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October 11, 2013 / ginavoskov2013

The Pump House

One of the first contraptions you’ll see upon walking into our home is my breast pump. It sits like a statue on the coffee table next to the couch. I have stopped putting it away at night because I know I’ll be hooked up to it at some point every day.

At Edie’s last check-up, the doctor said that she’d like to see Edie gain a little more weight because she’s in a low percentile. (This brought me back to the nightmares I had when Edie was still in utero and doctors were already comparing her size to countless others larger than she. I hated all those comparisons. My baby was going to be just fine. And she was born a healthy and very average 7 pounds 10 ounces.)

I haven’t been pumping since the beginning of August when I got over my fear of the damn machine for one week and figured I should probably set aside some milk for the “someday” I couldn’t quite picture. Why would she need stored milk? I would be with her until February, and I could start pumping then. Well, the “someday” was last Tuesday when the doctor said I needed to give her some extra breastmilk, and so with a groan, I took it out and set it on the coffee table. It hasn’t left that spot since.

I keep reading that pumping is a “skill,” and that your boobs need to “learn” how to let milk down for a pump. It’s different for babies–those kids can suck you inside out and milk doesn’t stand a chance. But a pump is a robot and it doesn’t know how to “latch” (oh, the dreaded latch!) properly, or have a tongue, or a cute little jaw that goes up and down and never fails to trigger the let down when I look down at Edie as she begins to feed. I think I’ve already established that I hate learning new things and that I expect to be an expert the minute I start doing something new. That’s just one of my many character flaws. But pair that with the pressure of those fucking percentiles and the fact that I know my body isn’t nourishing my daughter properly enough to turn her into a butterball, and it’s like the perfect storm for feeling like a failure.

In fact, that’s what I said to my in-laws the other day when the topic of formula came up. Why is it that formula is like the most taboo word in parenthood? YES WE ALL KNOW “BREAST IS BEST.” But if you have breasts with stage fright like mine, then why is it inappropriate to think about another way to nourish your child? Why do we have to get all defensive when we talk about formula? (And this is the same thing with c-sections. We HAVE to put the word “emergency” before c-section as if that somehow justifies going through a birth experience that’s not “natural.” Fuck natural. I have a healthy, beautiful little baby because of surgery and that’s all I care about.) “Breast is best.” Pregnant ladies hear that stuff the moment they find out they’re pregnant. We are inundated with that message for months and months. We get questioned by doctors and family members and strangers: “Are you breast feeding?” And if we don’t answer “Yes,” then there’s a flash–and I KNOW this because I see it–a flash of judgment in the eyes of the questioner. I know “breast is best.” It may make for the best source of nutrition, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the kid is going to grow up to be the best person. Breastfed babies are just as likely to be assholes when they’re adults as formula fed babies are. When some jerk on the subway doesn’t offer me his seat after he clearly sees I’m carrying Edie, my first thought is never, “Typical formula fed douche bag.” Likewise, I rarely hear adults bragging about how long their mothers breastfed them. We don’t put “breastfed” on our resumes as if it means we are better qualified for jobs or would make better colleagues. It’s parenting that matters, in the big picture.

My in-laws said, “Just give her some formula.” And just like that, I was in tears claiming I felt like a failure for thinking about formula. Because it’s true. I do feel somewhat incapable of nourishing my daughter straight from my own body. I love breastfeeding. It’s my favorite way to spend time with Edie–just me and her, cuddled up and warm. I imagine it’s the way we all want to be–curled up in our mom’s arms, feeling full, feeling calm. To know that everyday, many times a day, I provide that comfort for my little girl makes me feel every bit a mother. (This is saying something because I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I am one.) But the fact of the matter is, I just don’t think my body is keeping up with the demands her growing body is placing on it. I have read in numerous places, “Your body will produce what your child needs.” But I just don’t think it is. If it were, we wouldn’t be talking percentiles.

So in an effort to make a whole lot more milk, I am pumping twice a day (because that’s all the time I have to do so) and drinking Mother’s Milk tea which tastes like the hot version of all of my least favorite flavors. I also bought some Fenugreek supplements. All of this is supposed to help increase supply and, as my personal lactation consultant says, “It will take time. It will just take time.” Did I mention that Dennis is my personal lactation consultant? Did I mention that whenever he gives me advice about lactation I glare at him? What does he know about lactation? His nipples are decorative.

But here is the big picture. There is a virtually never ending supply of nourishment that I can purchase for Edie. She can have it whenever she wants and it will satisfy her. My breasts, although they are “best,” just may not be pulling their weight. At the end of the day I am empty, just completely unable to give her what she needs. Why would I turn down a few bottles of formula? My baby needs to grow. She needs to feel full. She needs to be nourished. I can give her all the love in the world and all the comfort and all the cuddles and all the kisses. But if I cannot give her all the milk, I am not doing my job as a mother. I’m doing my best. But I guess sometimes my best might mean making decisions that cause me heart ache.

I’m not there yet. Formula is still an idea hovering out there in the distance. If this shitty tea doesn’t work its magic then I may have to cross a bridge to a place I never thought I’d go.  It’s not a decision I will come to lightly, and as such, I will come to it with careful certainty and try to fight any feelings of failure or sadness as best I can. I know in the big picture, the long term one–the one where Edie is traveling the world and learning languages and getting a job and being an adult–the decision I make about whether or not to give her formula won’t make a big difference. Won’t make a difference at all.

But for now, the shaming and judgment shit has to go. How a mother chooses to feed her child is no one’s business. Just like everything else with pregnancy and motherhood, there is room only for the child, the mother, and her partner. I’d start by not asking a mother about her decision to breastfeed or formula feed and instead to support–to cheer–whatever decision she and her partner make, knowing that they’re doing what’s best for their family.

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3 Comments

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  1. meeshie / Oct 14 2013 7:55 pm

    You know I’m the biggest ‘yayyy boobie’ chick out there at the moment. I’m changing my whole career just to help other women with the boobie feeding thing. 😉

    Still… the important thing is that you FEED your child. *How* you feed your child is much less important than just feeding your child. Anyone who tells your different is an idiot. Your child needs food.. you provide food. That makes you a good mother. Whether you pump, or use just your breast, or use donor milk, or use formula, or use magical unicorn pee… at the end of the day.. it’s all about feeding your child.

    So no matter what you decide know that I won’t judge and I’ll still be happy for you and your journey. (I know, I’m just some random chick on your glowy screen but hey.. I thought you could use a cheering section)

    • ginavoskov2013 / Oct 14 2013 9:27 pm

      A) I love you.
      B) magic unicorn pee.
      C) I love B.

      🙂

      • meeshie / Oct 16 2013 9:44 pm

        *grins* thanks.

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