Friday, August 14, 2009

Milking It for What It's Worth

I felt like a science fiction porn star.  Two funnels were attached to my breasts, trailed by yards of tubing that led to the MACHINE, also known as a breast pump.  The MACHINE ceaselessly and loudly and efficiently pumped my milk into 2 small bottles which I clasped tightly, yielding about 6 ounces after 20 minutes. Now, to the uninitiated, that might not sound like much but you try strapping this thing on four times day (twice at work in a conference room without a lock), literally sucking the life out of you as you try to preoccupy yourself with anything that does not require your hands.  It is easier to give yourself a bikini wax.  

Let's face it, breast pumping sucks.  It was worse a generation ago, it will be better a generation from now, but for the time being it sucks.  I remember my brother coming over for lunch to see the MACHINE (we had viewings) and staring at my hospital grade rental.  "It's a piston", he stammered, then unable to eat the meal I had lovingly prepared.  And so it was, a crappy bot designed to help me feed my children.  I also nursed whenever possible, supplemented with formula, and tried to get them on solids as fast as I could.  And I would do it again, because for me this was the right combination, the right amount of effort.  But had you asked me about my feeding plans a week before my first delivery, that would have been a different story.

I was a text book, 1970's, bottle fed, formula loving baby.  My mom took care of me and my brother that way, and I did not see any reason to do differently.  My feelings were exponentially confirmed whenever I came in touch with any of the Lactation Specialists/Nipple Nazi's that chanted breast is best and were one haircut shy of the Krishna's.  Their obsessive message of intolerance for any other method fed my determination not to nurse.  And then there was the delivery.  

The first two days in the hospital were as planned, my daughter happily bottle/formula fed.  All was on track until my last mommy class.  The Nazi went through the usual speech, and then listed all things breast feeding could help achieve (Harvard admissions) as well as prevent.  I felt myself tuning out until she said Crohn's.  Crohn's is in our family, and is painful to consider; I would have done anything to prevent it.  I went back to my room and called for a consult. An hour later later there was colostrum (Inverted nipples, wouldn't you know).  Two hours later there was the MACHINE.  

I have always been short and busty.  But this was no ordinary time; when I went to get measured for a nursing bra I clocked in at 36K.  Even my OBGYN was impressed.  The store had to order me extra large funnels for the MACHINE, and even they seemed inadequate. Hauling these things around for 8 months was no easy task; I felt like a circus freak waiting for the bearded lady to join me at any moment.  You would think that mammoth as I was, the milk would have flowed, but no it came at the same pace as my A cup friends.  In fact, it probably caused the pumping sessions to go long, thanks to the extra plumbing.

The MACHINE came to rule our lives. One morning it broke, prompting me to scream for help.  My poor husband was woken from a  sound sleep and came frantically running to see what was wrong.  "Are you sure it's broke?" he asked. "Am I sure?  Am I sure?!!  Listen to it, can't you hear that the rhythm is off, it's all I can hear night and day is this MACHINE.", I ranted, panicking at the thought of the MACHINE being down while my husband's wooden ears enraged me further.  Looking back, it was so wholly integrated into our routine that even though I despised it I could not imagine life without it.  

My children are now 4 and 18 months, and my pumping and nursing days are behind me.  Despite the time gone by, and all of the history as written above, I still long for the days when I held my children while nursing them.  I am not nostalgic for the MACHINE but do miss the satisfaction of being able to provide so completely for them.  It is really the most intimate form of local farming.  I think it has also affected me in the kitchen today, where I beat myself up every time we serve hot dogs and feel best when I am feeding them something right from the garden.  I am compelled to constantly chop and cook, shop locally and require fresh fruit and vegetables with each meal and snack.  My husband drew the line when I expressed interest in a make your own yogurt machine, but that's OK because I am pretty sure I can fake it with some whole milk and a dixie cup.

Did you nurse, pump, or bottle feed?  How has it affected your later cooking experiences?  Comment below and tell me about it.  


  1. Sorry I can't weigh in on the breast feeding topic specifically - although the thought of having to do it in an unlockable conference room at work...all I can say is that you're a better woman than I am! I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading this and hearing about your experience - well done!

  2. I tried breastfeeding my first born for a couple of weeks, but it never worked out. At first, he had an issue with keeping his tongue on the top of his mouth, but then later, I think he was too confused to try the boob, because he had been bottle-fed for awhile. I can relate to the social pressure of nursing. There are posters for it everywhere in WIC; it's hard to ignore when you are to become a new mother.

    With my second child, I was very successful with nursing. She took to it really well, and so weaning her off the breast was a challenge. Now, I'm trying to wean her off of the bottle. Always changing, always challenging.

    My cooking attitudes didn't change even though I had fed my children differently as babies. I try to give them both a fruit for breakfast and veggies for both lunch and dinner. That's my main concern since I know they will have the enough of the other good stuff (grains, protein, dairy.) Thanks for the post; it was fun to read!

  3. Julie,
    I had tears from laughing out loud reading your account of the MACHINE...I swear I can still hear that rhythm sometimes. I can vividly recall my husband's reaction the first time he saw it 'strapped' on: "that's the oddest thing I have ever seen! It reminds of when I visited a farm when I was little"

    That said, I was so thankful for the it allowed me to still give to my babies after returning to work (and reducing the guilt of going back just a little bit). And the irony about breast size, I do think smaller boobs yield more milk.

    I was never one to cook - always opting for the 'you cook, i'll clean' option. But lately I have a new found interest in cooking. Probably due to food allergies/intolerances that my little men have (peanut, tree nut, wheat & dairy). I now bake before most birthday parties so they can enjoy a treat as well and have even started trying to make my own bread. If you ever come across any wheat free/dairy free/peanut free recipes, please do share.

    I hope you are well!