If someone would have told me five months ago that I would one day depend on a machine to feed my child, I would have lashed them raw with a tongue-full of überfanaticism for natural childbirth, feminist body consciousness, and an unwavering “breast is best” attitude. Five weeks into motherhood, and after having my ideal birth plan made Frankensteinian after my arrival at the hospital, I would now regret every word.
A few traumatic moments after delivery were all it took to encourage a latch difficulty with my son. In those first few hours together, we were both logy from an epidural and magnesium sulfate, and I was content to simply hold my son against my breast, thinking nothing of the fact that he would not take my nipple to feed. When his blood sugar plummeted and he had to be given formula, the nurses encouraged me to use the breast pump to collect colostrum to feed through a bottle. It was there my resistance to the pump began.
The first breast pump was first patented in the US in 1854, with the first mechanical model produced in the early 1920’s by Edward Lasker. The design concept is directly analogous to the machines used in commercial dairy production, using vacuum suction to pull milk from the ducts within the breast and collecting the liquid in a container for storage and feeding. These days, breast pumps are ubiquitous, found in the nursing section of every specialty and big-box retailer, ranging in price from $1, 500 for hospital-grade machines, like the Medela Symphony, to $30-40 for Evenflo models. Manual, electric, pumps with adapters for your car cigarette lighter, or with portable battery packs, women have many choices to make when deciding on a machine to express their breast milk.
Still, I cried each time I used the pump, disappointed that I needed a machine to accomplish what should come naturally, easily. I blamed myself and fretted over the minuscule amount of fluid produced in 15 minutes of artificial suckling. The next 24 hours were a trial, with breastfeeding boot camp being dictated by every nurse and no less than three lactation consultants. But I was dedicated to feeding breast milk to my child, and reconciled myself to pump and feed while making the commitment to attack actual breastfeeding, and my son’s inability to latch, with a ferocity to rival that of Gandalf battling the Balrog (smiting its ruin against the mountainside).
At home, my disappointment with having to pump took time to diminish, despite the rhythmic sounds my Medela Freestyle made, sounding, especially after the 3:00 a.m. feedings, like the soothing phrase “it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.” This didn’t make me feel any less like chattel, however, any less a food machine (not so say that mothers actually feeding from their breasts don’t feel this way too, during those first few sleep-deprived weeks). I would look at my son and imagine him performing the action, willing it to happen. And while I was still somewhat sad, I knew that every drop of expressed milk was going to his nourishment.
I wasn’t a total downer. I did feel lucky to pump and feed at all, knowing that some women don’t ever produce milk, or enough milk, to feed their children. My approach to breastfeeding, and working on his latch, slowly changed from attempts to practice. The attempt mindset was doomed from the start, as it predicts failure, whereas practice connotes work, and the aim of perfection. Instead of feeling disappointed during a pumping session, I started to interact more with my baby, smiling, talking, and playing with him. This not only helped my mood, but increased my milk production.
We’re not off the pump yet, but every day my son’s latch comes more readily, and he suckles at the breast for more extended periods of time when we practice. Pumping has become part of my daily routine, like a morning cup of coffee or a glass of milk before bed. I know I’m providing him with the sustenance he needs, and his growth chart is proof enough of that. I’ve found comfort, emotionally and physically, in the churning of the cycling motor. No longer are the pump’s sounds a consolation. Rather, and especially in the middle of the night, they sound to me like a TARDIS, and my mind wanders to adventuring as one of the good Doctor’s companions.