There is no way, I’ve found, to accurately describe what it’s like to gestate and deliver a little human being. Even when I swap childbirth stories with other moms, we all have vastly unique experiences. So it’s not surprise my partner — a cisgender male — can’t understand certain things like pumping, even though he was totally supportive of it and happily cleaned all the pump parts if I asked him to. If anything, having a kid only highlights the differences between my husband and me, from basic anatomy (I can breastfeed and pump, he can’t) to attitudes about discipline (I’m much more willing to give second, and third, chances, and he’s more of a rules guy).
My husband has always believed everything I’ve described to him about the experience of pumping and, no shock here, he was not envious at all of me for owning this task. He might have felt a little guilty, actually, since it was something he just couldn’t do for me, or for our baby. Either way, I know there was nothing about seeing me lug that bulky black bag to work every day, or watching me hook myself up to it on the weekends, that gave him FOMO.
As a working mom committed to exclusively breastfeeding (until my child’s demand outpaced my supply toward the end of her first year), I pumped a lot. My husband learned the logistics of pumping, but there are some things that, unless he were to stick his nipple into a plastic flange to be tugged at until it’s raw and numb, he just wouldn’t get.
The gentle pull you’re told to expect to feel when pumping is nothing like a hug for your nipples. It felt more like a pinch, over, and over, and over again. Not totally painful, but irritating enough to be undeniable unpleasant.
It Feels Like A Race
There is definitely a stressful element to pumping. I felt like I was racing to keep my supply up with my baby’s demand. I’d check my output every two seconds, hoping I’d get to at least three ounces on each side per pumping session. Any less meant I’d have to supplement with formula and do complicated math to figure out how much I had, how much I needed, and how much I needed to add to make sure our baby had a full meal.
If the rhythmic wheezing didn’t put me in a coma, just sitting there unable to do much was downright boring. Yes, I could fool around on my phone if I truly felt the need, but doing so only emphasized how much time I was spending not doing something else. And when I had to pump at the office, I was multitasking: checking email and forcing myself to be productive. But the non-fun act of pumping, especially since I was doing it multiple times a day at work, had such a cumulative boring effect. I was actually tired after pumping, which meant my brain had just checked out during those 20 minutes.
It’s Something I Think About Even When I’m Not Doing It
One thing I definitely wasn’t prepared for as a new mom was how much brain space I’d need to dedicate to all things concerning my kid. I realized I’d have more responsibilities since this little human totally depended on the competency of her parents to keep her safe, fed, and cared for. But there was so many tiny details I didn’t realize I’d need to track.
When it came to pumping, I’d have to figure out the logistics: when and where and how much did I need, and was there room in the freezer to store it, and can I wait an hour to clean the parts because I had get the laundry going while I had the chance. My husband’s responsibilities increased when he became a father, of course, but everything about pumping was completely up to me and it sometimes felt like a lot, especially if I was tired or cranky or sick of pumping (which was pretty much always).
I Sometimes Resent Having To Do It
I had to pump and my partner didn’t. That fact alone made me resentful of my breast pump. As much as we worked to shoulder the responsibilities of parenthood equally between us, there were more things only I could do, and he couldn’t. So while I appreciated how he tried to make up for his lack of milk ducts with being the designated food shopper and meal prepper, it didn’t change the fact that I just didn’t love having to pump.
It Messes With My Head
I feel more like a machine than a woman when I’m hooked up to the pump. My breasts are an extension of the hardware, and I feel disconnected from the rest of me in those moments. They exist merely as sources of food, and the plastic flanges tugging at me remind me that of the absence of the human element in the pumping process. It’s not a warm and fuzzy experience.
It Makes Me Cold
Since I don’t have a warm squishy baby pressed up against me, keeping me warm while I nurse, my chest is exposed when I pump. Covering up is more trouble than it’s worth, because I like to see everything is working and milk is moving out of me and into the container. I once thought I could drape something over me because I was cold, but I failed to realize the tubes weren’t connected properly and there was a puddle waiting for me to clean up when I was done. Fun.
So, I deal with being cold because it guarantees I’ll be able to keep an eye on how much I’m outputting. I’m sure technology could solve this problem somehow, but I guess it’s cooler to develop dating apps.
It Frustrates Me When My Output Is Minimal
I was pretty successful most of the time, meeting my goal of at least three ounces per side within the 20-minute pumping session I’d have time for (at work, anyway). But I was anxious and disappointed and frustrated when I barely eked out two ounces (or less). It happened rather frequently, too, whether it was due to stress or just not drinking enough water. But either way, and regardless of the reason, it was hard to take it in stride. The breast milk was what kept my child alive, and I felt like a failure when I didn’t produce what I thought I needed.
There is No Perfect Spot To Do It
When I’d pump at home I’d do so standing up in the corner of our galley kitchen, my pump jammed next to the toaster oven on the counter. I was in front of a window, and just hoped nobody was looking in. But that was the space where I was out of the way, and not distracted by other humans or the TV. It was less than ideal.
With my first baby, I had to look for a place to pump at work since there was not a dedicated space for nursing moms. I ended up pumping in gross places, including bathroom stalls. Thankfully, before having my second child, New York instated breastfeeding legislation that required employers of a certain size to provide dedicated areas on site for moms to pump, and they could not be in the bathroom.
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