Breast is Best?

Thanks to the considerable efforts of La Leche League, joined by a fair number of medical professionals and corroborated by countless mothers who have been there and done that, our society would have us believe that nothing is more natural than breastfeeding one’s baby. I am living, breathing, snarling proof that while this ethos might apply to some, in my case it may be a crock.

A few months ago my sister sent me an email with the following suggestion: “You should post about the breastfeeding consults! It's quite a story with drama, intrigue and a great ending.” The great ending bit may have been a bit premature and I’m afraid there’s very little of the type of intrigue that would hold any sort of audience captive. In order to join the legions of “natural” mothers, I have been popping birth control pills like it’s candy, along with another pill called domperidone (sounds like a good time but the reality falls woefully short), which I have taken, 2 at a time, four times a day, for the past 2 months. Domperidone is not administered in the U.S. so I’ve been making bi-monthly calls to New Zealand for a fix. After sailing through that portion of the process, I have now moved onto herbs (Fenugreek, Goat’s Rue, and a concoction called Mother’s Milk three times a day) and pumping, which is achieved using a Medela Symphony hospital grade pump, an Easter-egg-yellow 7-pound leviathan of a machine. That the pump came from a store called Yummy Mummy adds insult to injury as far as I'm concerned. (My other option was a shop called Upper Breast Side...seriously.) This machine is strapped to my chest every three hours, day and night, for 15 minutes at a time, using a variety of wires and bottles that make me look like a futuristic cow straight out of Blade Runner. My husband much more generously referred to me as a sci-fi Fragonard. For anyone who might actually be curious what it actually looks like, consider the included image. While I understand that the point of a pump is as far from fashion as one can get, I still don’t know why a system that is currently taking up so much of my waking hours couldn’t have a less degrading design, or at least one that doesn't have me moo-ing at my reflection in the mirror. The good news is that after 5 days and counting of waking up twice each night and slipping off to my work bathroom each day, I finally have the technique down to a science. Three minutes for assembly of the pump; 15 minutes on the thing, followed by 5-7 minutes for clean up and storage. In the morning I set out a pot of water to boil while I pump, for sterilization of the parts. This I now do as casually as I would make a pot of coffee. All said, time devoted to my breasts currently tops 200 minutes each day. And my hormones are as free flowing as the proverbial milk, which finally gives me a very real physical and emotional kinship with my pregnant sister. This is to my husband's detriment, who really thought that he could get through the gestational period without having to soothe an often tearful wife whose moods fluctuate with dizzying speed. So close, JP. You almost made it.

Given the amount of accoutrements the pump requires means that my unencumbered days of gallivanting through Manhattan and Brooklyn are finished...whirlwind evenings in the city are negated by a twenty pound bag and the pressing need to find a private space to plug in (literally) for 15 minutes at a time. This is fine by me…they would have been done when the baby arrives in 5 weeks anyway. The difference between now and then is that there currently is no warm, adorable and hopefully cuddly baby on the other end of my breast. Dragging myself out of bed at 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. each night, and sneaking off each day to a machine, hooked up by (BPA free) plastic tubing, is not the breastfeeding idyll I envisioned for myself. However, I’m sure my sister never thought she’d be lugging another person’s baby for 9 months. It’s truly unnerving how our realities feel like light years from how we might have imagined them. Which is ultimately fine because, complaining posts aside, I wouldn’t trade this experience with my husband and my sister for anything. And whatever extreme experience has to be undergone so that I can meet my baby in a month will be done. I sometimes wonder what she will think when she has the chance to read these posts; if she will find the lengths that we have all gone to bizarre, or whether the technology will have become more widely adapted by then. I hope that she feels how much she is loved already and by so many people: by her parents, my sister, our families, the many doctors and consultants and friends, all of whom are united in their cause to see her brought into the world.

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