If you had asked me when I was pregnant how I planned to feed my kid when he finally emerged, I would've answered without hesitation: I was going to breastfeed exclusively for at least a year, possibly two if it was working for us. Furthermore, I would be proudly boobs-out everywhere I went, quietly challenging bystanders on their learned notion of breasts as sex objects; perpetually daring managers to ask me to cover up. Exclusively pumping wasn't, in my mind, an option, so the things I did every day for myself when I was exclusively pumping were as surprising as the need to exclusively pump itself.
I should mention that, when considering my feeding options for my child, I was obnoxious as hell and had way too much time to fantasize about the ways in which my actions might shift broad social constructs. Now, there's no overstating how little I care about what strangers think of my boobs, one way or another. All of which is to say, breastfeeding wasn't just the choice I made about how I would feed my baby — it was a choice I made an direct accordance with everything I thought myself to be when I was 25.
So when my vagina eventually expelled a 9.5-pound beast made of raw hunger, and my historically meager breasts failed to rise to the challenge, I was beyond frustrated. Sidestepping a tedious analysis of how breastfeeding was just one aspect of pregnancy/birth/parenting that mercilessly beat humility into my perfectionist, overachieving ass, suffice to say I was displeased that weeks of latch problems, clogged ducts, mastitis, thrush, and low supply (when I fail, I fail spectacularly) left me with basically two choices: embrace the formula lifestyle or embrace my breast pump.
You can probably guess what my perfectionist, overachieving, insufferably stubborn and possibly self-loathing ass decided to do.
While I was exclusively pumping (also known as the most punishing path any mom can choose for feeding their babies), here are some other things I also decided to do:
This isn't a sexy or interesting indulgence. In fact, I wouldn't even call it an indulgence. I found this was the one thing that noticeably increased my milk supply, and me being who I am, having the ability to sit down with full jugs (it weirdly feels OK to call them that in this context? I'm going with it) and bang out a sufficient number of ounces was self-care. So no matter what was going on in my house in the morning, I made sure to clear a whole five minutes to make myself a bowl of oatmeal (with a little almond butter and cinnamon).
Ignored Everything Else While Pumping
I worked from home when my kid was a baby who required me to drain my life force for him every few hours, so usually I was working on my computer while pumping. But during the rare session when I could justify taking 30 minutes away from work, I took that half hour away from everything else, too. When you've got a machine literally milking you like the beast of burden you've willingly turned yourself into, just put in your damn headphones and let everyone else try not to burn the house down while you quietly contemplate your life choices.
Put A Heating Pad On My Boobs While Watching Trash TV
Having to pump every few hours meant I was never really "going to bed for the night." But before I did my "evening nap" where I'd put on pajamas and brush my teeth and play the role of a person who was preparing to take in an adequate amount of restorative rest, I would first lie shamelessly, expansively on the couch, throw a heating pad across my chest, and watch Hoarders or some other exploitative reality show that I would otherwise feel too guilty to watch. I did not care. I was going to watch all the problematic docu-series I wanted while warming my boobs to the point that I might not wake up with a clogged duct, and all these years later, I'm still not sorry.
Look, I was tired to the point of being barely human, but I figured with the hours I spent running one machine for the benefit of someone else, I wouldn't be able to respect myself if I couldn't find a few minutes at some point in the day to run a tinier machine for my own benefit.
Eventually Stopped Being So Rigid About The "Exclusivity" Of Pumping
After six months of exclusively pumping — a task which required 20-minute pump sessions ever 3-4 hours, round the clock and, no, I didn't sleep — I eventually started supplementing with formula. Predictably, I wish I'd done so sooner. There was no practical reason to not only turn feeding my baby into an all-consuming, wildly stressful circus when even throwing a handful of ounces of formula into the equation would've radically changed not just the state of my mental health, but the entire vibe in our house.
If there's a benefit to breast milk over formula, I can't imagine it comes close to competing with that of a baby getting to start its life in a exponentially more relaxed environment with a mom who's slept for more than three hours at a time in the last six months.
I would later realize that parenthood is essentially just about weighing the benefit of strict adherence to best-laid plans against the (usually very minor) downsides of deviating and compromising so everyone involved can just have a slightly smoother ride. Any mom who exclusively pumped for any amount of time will likely attest to that experience being the first of infinite moments where this lesson got super real.
Put In Extra Effort To Make New Playlists & Get Into New Podcasts
After a while of coasting by with my go-to listening material, I was like, "OMG you have to love yourself more than this, Jessica." The only thing more mind-numbing than listening to the sound of the pump motor (it sounds like it's talking to everyone, right? Not just me?) is hearing the same songs over and over each day. I didn't have a ton of extra time and energy in those days, but I definitely made sure to allocate a bit for the pursuit of new songs and new podcasts. I figure my kid wouldn't benefit from a mother who'd been driven literally insane, so putting together pumping playlists certainly counted as a valuable parenting activity.