A letter to my breast pump:
Our first encounter was like a bad blind date. I saw you at the lactation consultant’s office four days after Baby Girl’s birth. I opened the door nervously, unsure of myself. I scanned the room and there you were, confidently standing next to a chair, like you owned the place. You knew this wasn’t my scene, and I knew that you were a regular here. The lactation consultant and my mom watched as we hooked up. No one wanted to make eye contact. I had no idea what I was doing. Just like a terrible blind date, I left embarrassed and in tears. Baby Girl wasn’t latching correctly. I was drunk on that new mom cocktail of hormones, exhaustion, fear and doubt. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see you again.
I decided to give you another chance. In our early days together, we rendezvoused in the pre-dawn hours, the baby, my husband, the cat, all sleeping. It was just you and me. We talked over a bowl of cereal and a gigantic glass of water. The quiet of the house interrupted only by your rhythmic pulse. I sat, slumped over in exhaustion, defeated and depleted by the demands of that tiny human being, breasts swollen and aching. You offered relief. Painful relief. I watched, a little terrified, as your collection bottles filled. I had no idea that nipples could be pulled like that, sucked into those openings, literally looking like udders, and still come out OK. We bonded.
When maternity leave was over, you accompanied me to the office every day. Your black backpack attached to my back like my own shadow. We met three times each day at work. I figured out how to hold all of your parts in my left hand, freeing my right to type. There were days when I was exhausted, eyes half closed, head bobbing, as you chanted, “Armpit, armpit, armpit, armpit.” Most days our time together was a welcomed break, other days I didn’t have time for you and I would panic, filled with guilt. We ended up together again, every night, including the weekends, tethered. You were an umbilical cord of sorts. You allowed me to provide the nutrition of my choice to my baby.
Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of days and nights that I wished I could dump you. My schedule revolved around you. Once, I took a vacation day and sent the baby to daycare. I got my haircut, I felt alive again. I felt like me. I wasn’t thinking about you. Even the harsh light of the Gap dressing room didn’t get me down. I was out of the house, alone! Then, I felt that familiar prickly twinge in my breasts and knew I had to come home to you. I left the clothes behind, eyes stinging with tears. My time was over. It was your time again. You and I had exchanged vows, a commitment to stay together until the baby turned one. A month after her birthday, I packed you up, said goodbye and put you on the shelf in my closet, not sure when we would meet again.
We renewed our vows one year later. Baby Boy was born the day before his sister turned two. I pulled you down from the shelf, wiped the dust off of our relationship. I was confident this time, knowing what I was getting into. I wasn’t as horrified at the sight of my nipples being pulled like taffy. It didn’t hurt as much. We fell into our familiar rhythm. We witnessed colorful sunrises and summer sunsets. We spent our evenings playing Candy Crush and stalking people on social media. You once again occupied your place of honor on the back kitchen counter, next to my purse.
When Baby Boy was ten months old, something went wrong. During one of our sessions, you started making noises. You hiccuped. You coughed. I worried. As the weeks passed, the coughing became more frequent. One day, you sputtered “Armpit, arrrrrrrmpi…” then silence. I panicked. You can not quit on me now. We have one more month together! I jiggled your cord, bringing you back to life. I begged you not to leave me. Soon, every time we were together, you showed me that you were tired. You were ready to end our relationship. You did the thing where you started acting like a jerk so I would break up with you first. You would start and stop erratically, causing me endless frustration. We tested each other’s limits. I coaxed you to stay with me, please, do it for the sake of the baby. We limped our way past Baby Boy’s first birthday. I bargained with you, just a few more weeks while I slowly introduced cow’s milk, then I promise, you can quit. Our last time together was a Tuesday night. You stubbornly did not want to turn on. The only way I got you to work was by standing, holding your cord high up in the air. You lasted 15 minutes. Enough was enough. It was time.
If my calculations are correct, you and I spent approximately 1100 hours together over the course of two years. I have spent more one on one time with you than with my husband since the births of my two children. It’s bittersweet, this parting of ways. I have appreciated you, I have resented you. I will forever be grateful that you allowed me to be a working mom and still provide my babies milk when they were not with me. Thank you for offering that sweet relief in the early post partum weeks. Thank you for supporting my commitment to breastfeeding. Sure, I am looking back on our time together through nostalgia tinted glasses. I can not think of you without thinking of the first years of my babies’ lives. You are part of my motherhood story.