Monday, April 23, 2012

The pump

I was at a conference this past week in New York for two days.  During a breakout session, we had to speak about something that was on our minds, or close to our heart, while another person quietly listened, and I said, "I'm going to talk about my daughter, Annie."  So I did: I spoke about how I couldn't wait to get on that train home to see her.  I talked about the guilt that surrounds my decision to work.  I talked about how she has made me both whole, and has stripped the clarity from my thought process.  I talked about how nothing is fully right, or wrong, these days but my love for her is immense.

We only had a minute in this exercise, and the other person was not allowed to talk.  And to fill a minute of rapt attention and still silence, you talk.  You find yourself saying things you never articulated out loud.

I've found that I can balance being a working mother, but, damnit, it sometimes is just positively shitty.  Before I had her, things were clear: breast was best, of course I was going to work, no TV and only engaging toys, and I was going to read to my child every day and I was going to make homemade pureed sweet potatoes and quinoa and whatever else organic fare was trendy.  And now things are so very muddled to a murky grey and I can't believe there was a time when the resoluteness of my impending parenthood was so stark.  So I cling to what I can do, because there's a lot that I don't:  take the other day when I was lazy and plopped her on my lap and we both watched a steamy scene from The Vampire Diaries (her blue eyes wide as she sucked her pacifier gazing at the two main characters...well, going at it).  Also, the kid only gets a bath once a week.  This is very embarrassing but very true.

So I do what I can, and I've found there's one thing that makes me feel like a mother first and foremost during work.  There's one thing that makes me redeem myself just the slightest bit, that softens the blow of dropping her off at daycare all day, and that makes me feel close to her even when I'm in the city and she's in her infant room in the suburbs, and makes me forget that the last bath she has was eight days ago, and that is breastfeeding.

I know breastfeeding is not the only right choice, but for us it clicked.  I was very fortunate it came easily to us after the typical first-week "How the hell do I get this baby to stay on the boob?!" latching quandaries.  So I'm just going to talk about my experience with it, which is neither the right way nor the wrong way.

For my overnight conference everything I needed was no larger than a loaf of bread: I packed a small ziplock bag of make-up with my toothbrush and toothpaste and deodorant, a change of underwear, a hairbrush and a new shirt.  That was it.  It fit in my laptop bag.  My other bag, the larger one, had my breast pump with ice packs and extra bottles and flanges (the things that suction onto your boobs) and I was determined to make it work.  To walk through the door the following day with ice-cold milk, my womanliness dripping (almost literally) from me.  Being a new mom, and particularly (well, for me) a new working mom, has made me feel supremely inadequate in my motherhood.  I spend no more than an hour a day with Annie after work, and most of that time she is fussy and foul-tempered from a long day at daycare. So I cling to this: because I don't know 100% if I should be working (two elderly neighbors told me straight out I was making the wrong choice), and I don't know if we're doing enough tummy time (fine, we aren't), and I have a dark fear she may not have the deep, intense bond other babies have with their mothers, but at least I can do this for her. So I lugged that pump with me in the city and locked myself in a corner bathroom at the conference center and and turned the nob to max, thought of my love for that little girl, and turned that sucker on.

Do you know after a pumping session your nipples are a good half inch longer?

During lunch at the conference I called the hotel to confirm there was a fridge in my room.  "No." said the gentleman I spoke to.  "Can I have one?" I asked.  "Your room is too small," he replied.  I asked him to upgrade me.  He said the hotel was booked solid.  I then said, "It's for a medical reason," which is not truly a lie (perhaps?) but a tall tale, and I got my refrigerator.

But it had no freezer, and I needed to re-freeze my ice packs for the following day at the conference and traveling home.  I asked them to place my bag of ice packs in their restaurant freezer.  For good measure I added, "There's nothing funky in the bag, I swear."  Ten minutes later a hotel employee was at my door collecting my non-funky bag of ice packs.

I felt very motherly in that moment, even alone in my small hotel room in downtown Manhattan.

This baby gets more action than my husband.  (A lot more.)


  1. I think pretty much every mother has been there! The circumstances might not be the same, but we all struggle with wondering if we are making the right choices for our baby and for us. I personally think it's awesome that you have been able to keep up with pumping, and all it takes is one look at Annie's face to see how much she is benefiting from it! In terms of baths, it's actually not good for their skin to wash them too often, and as long as you're cleaning the diaper area well when you change her diapers, once a week for a full bath isn't a bad thing! So take heart, you're doing great!

    P.S. Love the caption on the photo!

  2. I'm proud of you ... truly. You're making your own mama mold and it's making you an even more amazing, wonderfully candid woman :)