It’s been a year since I started The Pumping Mama Facebook page, as a way to escape abuse on my personal profile when sharing images and articles that I found to be interesting and/or inspiring. I became free to discuss breastfeeding in a way that I couldn’t before, and soon connected with other mamas on the same journey of exclusive pumping. The WordPress blog followed, along with Instagram and Twitter accounts. I’ve been profoundly touched by the messages of support and encouragement, particularly when my writing became much more focused on my ill mental health. Depression and anxiety can take you to very dark, lonely places so I’ve deeply appreciated every kind word typed to me over the last twelve months.
The Facebook blog has developed from being a pumping diary, to a support page. Being able to post questions and worries on behalf of other women has been a gift, something positive coming from a very difficult time. I’ll always be heartbroken that I didn’t breastfeed, but contributing something to the exclusively pumping community has eased the pain. The range of topics I write about has broadened, to parenting in general and mental health. Blogging about postnatal depression and my mental illness has been free therapy for me and my online support network is invaluable. Although my pumping journey has come to an end, I hope that this new direction of blogging continues for a long time to come.
It’s funny that this anniversary falls on Mother’s Day. I’m not sure how I feel about it. On one hand, it’s lovely, and somehow fitting. This whole chapter of my online life came about because I became a parent, a mother. But on the other hand, Mother’s Day is a difficult time personally. Something about the whole celebration doesn’t sit right with me, as though I’m some kind of fraud. I don’t feel deserving of a special day of recognition for my mothering skills. I’m barely a parent at all most days and often don’t want to even be a mother. Brutal, but true.
I had hoped that Mother’s Day would be a very different affair by now, that I’d be much more ‘sorted’. But as it turns out, I’m not quite there. I shall try to enjoy the day, embrace it. I know I’ll savour the lie in and the restaurant dinner and I’m looking forward to holding Moo pretty tight. As with all parents, I’ll muddle through the next year as best I can, potentially making (hopefully not too catastrophic) mistakes and learning about myself along the way.
Here’s to all mothers, of Earth babies and angel babies, mothers to be and mothers of the future, to all women raising children, doing the best that they can with the hand they’ve been dealt; I hope you have a beautiful, beautiful day, filled with love and peace.
Here are a few links to my random ramblings that have appeared on other blogs and in publications. Feel free to have a browse!
I dreamed of being a parent when I was young, and the fantasy looked very different from the reality. Sure, I pictured chaos and piles of laundry, but I certainly didn’t predict postnatal depression and a catastrophic mess. I imagined home-cooked wholesome meals and a tidy, organised play room. I could not have been more naive.
A lot of my blog entries are kinda ‘woe is me’, pity parties and totally self absorbed, which is pretty much what depression is about. But, you know what? I’m still here, I’m still being a mother, I’m still pumping, which is a lot more than I thought I’d achieve around this time two years ago.
Thank you for letting me down.
Thank you for not reading my birth plan, for ignoring my wishes, for arguing about my care while I laid bleeding to death.
Thank you for forcing Moo to the breast, for making her first nursing experiences as traumatic as possible. Thank you for not calling on specialist help.
You dreamed of breastfeeding. You hoped to nourish your baby with your body, to watch them gently suckling at your breast. I understand that desire. I too wanted that experience more than many will ever understand. I’m not sure why I wanted it so much myself. It was instinct, natural, one of the strongest, most intense needs I’ve ever had.
LLLGB: Breastfeeding Matters Magazine March/April 2014
You may not be parents yet, or you may have chosen a different method than breastfeeding to feed your baby. More power to ya, that’s your right, your choice. But many millions of women do choose to be parents and breastfeed their babies. I get that most of you are cool with that. You just don’t wanna see it, right? How could you possibly enjoy your club sandwich with friends when there’s a woman with her boob hanging out with a baby dangling on the end of it? How can you focus on your conversation or work meeting or newspaper with such a spectacle going on?
Have you ever considered why you find such a sight disturbing? Perhaps it’s because huge formula companies advertise the shit out of powdered milk in plastic bottles, creating an image that that’s the more normal way to feed a baby, to sell more cartons and make more money. Maybe it’s the papers and magazines and companies that make lingerie leading you to believe that the best way to see breasts are pushed up together as much as possible, seductively oiled and used for sexual gratification. Either way, seeing a baby suckling on a nipple isn’t a common sight and you can’t be blamed for that.
What you can be held accountable for is voicing the damaging opinion that mothers with nursing babies should be shunned, hidden away, locked in dirty public bathrooms or kept at home. That the natural biological function of feeding a baby with ones body is disgusting, should be kept behind closed doors, that it’s perverted. You’re isolating a group of people, making women cry with shame. Is that the kind of person you want to be? Why not just take a look, raise your eyebrows at the rare sighting. Hell, why not take a second look for good measure? Then just resume whatever it was you were doing, completely unscathed from the horrifying ordeal. Maybe next time it won’t be such a biggie.
‘A baby attached to the breast? Nobody wants to see that!’ You’re wrong. I do. I want to see it everywhere. I want to see it in the street, on the television, in children’s books, on the bus, up a mountain. I want to see babies being fed wherever they want to eat and wherever a mother wants to feed them. It’s most likely just *you* that doesn’t want to see it. The majority of people in that restaurant/library/shopping mall won’t have even noticed.
‘If she can get her boob out for the baby to suck on in a cafe then I’ll get my penis out for a woman to suck on in a cafe.’ No. Just, no. Likening the act of nursing an infant to one of sexual pleasure? Pretty low. One of these acts is legal, the latter, not so much. Feel free to try getting a blow job in public, it’d be great if you could prove my point. And I’m sure the police officer would love your reasoning. Comparing breasts, designed for nourishing a child, to a sex organ is just idiotic. Where were you when they discussed basic human biology at school? Although if your school was anything like most, breastfeeding wasn’t even discussed. I can’t fault you for that.
If you don’t want to see natural, every day parenting when you leave your home, don’t go out. It’s the best way to avoid suffering disgust and displeasure and means you’ll be able to each your lunch without being grossed out. And while we’re at it, stay off Twitter too. #AintNobodyGotTimeForThat
Exclusively Pumping Breast Milk by Stephanie Casemore
This review has been a long time coming. It’s taken a while for me to read as I’m now the other side of this pumping journey and have found it quite emotional to look back. Oh how I wish I had known about this book, and the wonderful Stephanie, 31 months ago when I needed guidance and support that was so hard to find.
The book is very obviously written by a mother that knows what she’s talking about, without being patronising. Who knows more about exclusively pumping, the practicalities, the emotions, than a woman that’s been there herself? It’s a comforting reminder that many others are on the same journey. It’s not written by a cold, emotionless health care professional, but a mother that has also faced the battles and learned a lot along the way.
Exclusively Pumping Breast Milk touches on a wide variety of topics in the exclusively pumping spectrum, from the science of breastfeeding (mind blowing!) to D-MER. Subtitles help point you in the direction of the subject you need at a glance if you’re in a hurry for information. Perfect for steadying middle of the night wobbles, or if expressing needs to commence hurriedly.
Stephanie is fabulous at presenting both sides of an argument, the pros and cons of dropping a pump, for example, and then giving tips to help make the decision, rather than leaving the reader hanging. There’s a wonderful balance between the passion for breast milk and pumping, and the harsh realities of it, meaning that mothers go into this with their eyes open, prepared for the hard work, but with a fire in their bellies to make it through.
I’m truly devastated to not have had this book with me on my pumping journey, it would have been a most welcome and essential companion. I haven’t been paid to do this review and I don’t do lip service, so when I say that I’d recommend this book to every pumping mama, I mean it. It’s my hope that midwives, health visitors and lactation consultants all read this book, to enable them to better support women facing breast feeding struggles, mothers that balance breast feeding with work, mothers with a whole myriad of reasons for exclusively pumping.
You can buy Stephanie Casemores wonderful book here.
Read more about my own pumping journey here.
An era is defined as being a significant period of time, and that’s exactly what the last 31 months have been for me. They’ve been some of the most turbulent, emotional, traumatic and significant months of my life. I’ve sobbed until I thought my heart might split in two, I’ve been mentally fragile and at times unstable, I’ve been physically traumatised and forever altered as a person.
I very much expected my life to change with the arrival of a baby. I anticipated some level of sleep deprivation, a small amount of physical pain and a shift in my outlook on life. What I got was so much more.
It never crossed my mind that I would spend more than two and a half years attached to a breast pump. I’d naively assumed that determination and positivity would be enough to successfully breast feed. I thought that formula was the plan B if it didn’t work out, and that I’d be ok with that. In reality, I couldn’t feed my new baby daughter, and in my desperation to avoid artificial milk and provide her with my own, I stumbled upon exclusively pumping.
The weeks, months and years that followed were swept up in the routine of pumping, feeding, cleaning. The counting of ounces and experimenting to increase supply. I was caught up in a blur of sadness, grief, stubbornness, ill mental health and, eventually, blogging. The breast pump became a fifth limb, breastfeeding websites became my temporary bible, strangers on the Internet became my family.
I’ll always hold sadness that the experience wasn’t the one that I’d hoped for. Perhaps a reason for the struggling will one day become clear. Am I sad that Moo no longer drinks my breast milk? Yes. I would have liked to have provided it for her for as long as she wanted milk before bed. Am I upset that I’m no longer pumping? Hell no. As wonderful as my Medela Freestyle was, I was sick of the sight of it. Connecting it all, washing it all, taking it away with me, the repetitive noise. Ugh.
I’ve suffered a loss. I’ve been broken at times, unsure of what to do or how to function. I’ve cried more tears than I thought it was physically possible to produce. But, I’ve gained too. I’ve got more determination than I ever knew I had. I’ve much more empathy for and understanding of mothers who can’t or don’t breast feed. I’ve acquired some scientific knowledge. I’ve completed a peer supporters course. I’ve met some wonderful, uplifting women. All of these things are gifts given to me from my suffering. Gifts that I’m immensely grateful for.
I shall take these gifts and use them well, as I move into this new, pump free era.
I’m upset. I’m really upset. It’s all over. That ridiculously minuscule slither of hope that Moo would breast feed is gone. I never got to breast feed and most likely never will. I never got to snuggle in a tiny baby close, listen to the rhythmic suckling, play gymnurstics, have sleepy, cuddly, milk drunk times.
I bang on about the possibility of bottle feeding being intimate, that she got the good stuff anyway, but who am I kidding? I feel fucking robbed. And who do I blame? Who took that experience from me? Society and it’s easy, convenient, sleeping-through-the-night formula feeding ideals? The health care profession and it’s lack of funding and support? Fate or God or destiny or whichever higher power chooses the path we take?
This has damn near crushed me. I can’t explain why I care about it so much or why I hold on to all of this. I don’t know if it’s stubbornness or biology or basic stupidity. All I know is that it hurts really bad. One half of me (the mentally healthy half) wants to brush it off, start the next chapter, focus my energies on the parenting adventures to come. The other half (the winning one, that shouts much louder) wants to cry for all eternity.
I contemplated getting up tomorrow and expressing, continuing to exclusively pump. I can’t stop, I mustn’t stop, it’s all that I have. But that’s not what I really want. I never wanted a fucking pump in the first place. I wanted better support, better health care, more knowledge, a tongue tie division sooner, a trauma free birth. What I really wanted was to breast feed my child. Such a simple, raw, natural, basic act. That’s all I wanted.
Tomorrow morning will start in the same way that every day has started for the last two and a half years. I’ll begrudgingly wake up, attach the bottles to the Medela Freestyle pump and sit listening to the buzzing machine while reading the latest headlines and checking Twitter. The only difference being that I’ll be pumping for the last time. The very last drops of breast milk will leave my body, and along with it will go years of a daily routine and the dream that I’ll ever breast feed.
I feel a pang of sadness about it. The same sort of feeling you get as the day of leaving school approaches. The relief of new found freedom mixed with heavy nostalgia. Letting go of what feels like all you’ve ever known, the start of a new adventure on your journey. A huge chunk of my life and identity will be gone, hopefully making way for new things. When one door opens, and all that.
I feel better about it than I thought I might. I’ve known this day was coming, a person can’t exclusively pump forever (although the thought has crossed my mind) and I’d assumed I’d be an emotional wreck. The calm is unnerving, I’m sure the grief will creep up on me unexpectedly. I’m prepared for feelings of deep regret and nights of inconsolable weeping. Brace yourselves for blog posts that will follow suit.
I’ll savour every moment of the pump in the morning. I’ll take a selfie to capture it. Those last precious sips of breast milk will be given to Moo before bed, she’ll be ignorant to the fact it’ll be the last she’ll ever drink.
The total pumped today is barely three quarters of an ounce. 0.75oz. That’s it. I’ve been two days without Domperidone and reduced my pump to 10 minutes. It’s a negligible amount to many, but it’s enough for me to save. It’s stored in the fridge, ready to be topped up with cows milk for tonight.
I’d wanted to continue pumping until Moo no longer wanted milk to drink at bedtime, but after several failed attempts, this isn’t happening any time soon. I’ve had enough of pumping. It sucks. It’s not a good way to start the day.
I’m very concerned that I’ll regret stopping when I look back at this in a few weeks time, particularly when I’m in a stronger place mentally. But a person can only do what feels right at the time. The community mental health team doctor has recommended this and in a way it feels like I’ve been given permission to stop.
There’s one bag of milk left in the freezer. I’m tempted to leave it there forever as a momento. But why waste a bag of the good stuff for the sake of sentimentality? I’ll defrost it later, and use it up tomorrow.
Only four days to go and this chapter will be closed.
I’m writing this with a very heavy heart. As part of my mental health recovery I’m winding down the pumping. The doctor I saw this morning has advised it, and if I’m honest, I’ve had enough.
I knew that this was coming, and I’ve been lowering my dose of Domperidone. I’m only pumping about 5oz a day now, enough for Moos milk at bedtime. I’ll lower the Domperidone from 20mg a day to 10mg a day tomorrow, and in a few days I’ll drop it completely. I might aim for my last pump to be the 20th February, depending on any engorgement, which is very unlikely without the drugs. Moo will be 31 months on the twentieth of this month.
Moo needs a sane mother a million times more than she needs breast milk. Pumping first thing each morning isn’t helping me start my day right. But I am terrified that I’ll look back on this and be devastated that I quit when I did. I can only do what feels right at the time and not worry about ‘what ifs’, which is something that I struggle with.
Any tips about weaning would be welcome. Thank you for your continued support. I may not reply to every message, but I am reading.
As of the 20th of this month I’ve been breastfeeding for 30 months. Moo is two and a half and has had my expressed breast milk her whole life. Sure, we used a little formula along the way, and she now has cows milk too, but she’s had plenty of the good stuff.
I can tell the end is in sight. I think about stopping pumping more and more often. I’m less religious about counting ounces and although my freezer stash is almost gone, it no longer upsets me. Quitting won’t be emotionally easy, but I won’t feel I’ll have failed Moo by calling it a day anytime soon.
The dream of breastfeeding her will die with it, and that will be hard. My life will no longer revolve around breast milk and the pump. You never know, my nipples might go back to normal too. I don’t think my passion for breastfeeding and supporting pumping mamas will ever go away. While I didn’t get the experience I dreamed of, pumping for this long has certainly had its own rewards.
Letting go of the ‘habit’ will be a toughie. Even as I’m writing this, I can feel the pumping gremlin telling me that I may as well do another six months. We shall see.