Another Milk Story

I've had what I'd diplomatically describe a "hate/hate" relationship with my breast pump from the very beginning. There really is nothing maternal or sweet or nurturing about being hooked up with suction cups on your breasts. Who needs the boob when you've got the pump?

Now, I'm the first to admit that nursing isn't always maternal or sweet or nurturing, especially in the beginning--see my previous comments about sore nipples and my rather embarrassing propensity for swearing in the first few days (okay first two weeks) of having my darling attach herself with the force of a sizable Kansan twister to my most sensitive parts. 

However, breast pumps do manage to make me feel rather like a chuck wagon--and not a romantic one either. More like a taco truck. Of course, this lead to a whole other post about the dual nature of breasts in our culture--functional and sexual--which is why people often get uncomfortable seeing a woman breastfeed, especially if she's breastfeeding a child old enough to "ask for it." Let's just say that my breasts have never felt more functional than when they're hooked up to my breast pump. (An aside: There's a fascinating article in the January New Yorker about the history of breastfeeding. It talks a lot about breast pumps and how they've become the cheap "solution" for keeping babies fed on their mother's milk so we don't have to actually work on better, more complex policies for things like maternity leave. One interesting takeaway from the article is that feeling like a cow while using a breast pump isn't accidental. Medela's patents share designs with cow milking machines.)

I read Anne Lamott's chapter on breast pumps before I purchased mine, so I didn't realize just how accurate her title was: Six-inch Nipples. Sadly, I thought she was being hyperbolic. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of attaching one of these bad babies to your breasts, they're all business, rather like one of those vacuum fish that we used to get to keep our fishtanks clean. You're supposed to have the suction set pretty much as high as you can handle without it actually hurting. No matter what setting I use, the end result looks like mauled nipple.

And, I've barely been getting any milk out lately. It has surprised me how much of pumping is psychological. I always get more milk when I look at pictures of Lily playing on my laptop, or, better yet, have Stephen hold her so I can smell her.  Once she started crying while I was pumping, and that really helped things flow! But, ever since the Horrible Morning When All My Milk Thawed, I've gotten very little milk out with my pump. Especially since we're still sometimes hit, more often miss with her actually taking the bottle, my breasts seem to know pumping is often an expression of a futile pipe dream to one day have a free afternoon.

All of the lactation consultants I've talked to recommend pumping in the morning because that's when prolactin/milk production levels are the highest. However, Lily is her most alert, playful, and talkative first thing in the morning, so I often just prefer to play with her. (There's also the matter of not being able to really watch her and pump simultaneously.) I still haven't found an optimal time. 

This morning she didn't seem very hungry (I've read that teething can distract them from nursing and that sucking can be painful), so I decided to pump before I got too engorged. As I dutifully massaged my left breast, trying to urge a little more milk out, I started feeling wet. Then I noticed that the chair I was sitting on had milk spots starting to appear all over it. I suddenly realized that my right breast--the one I wasn't pumping--had sprung a gusher. I know letdown usually happens in both breasts at the same time, but I'd never experienced anything like this. I felt like the Silly Willy sprinkler that my sister and I used to run through on hot summer days in our backyard. 

I put my hand out and the milk started pooling in my palm. I yelled at Stephen to bring me a cup so I wouldn't waste it. To his credit, he made a good effort to contain his laughter.

So, there I sat. One breast attached to the vacuum fish, the other spraying milk into a wine glass with the gentle, rhythmic sound of my pump providing the sound track. Errrh Ohh Errrh Ohh Errrh Ohh. And who said motherhood isn't romantic?