I’m Here, But I’m Pumping

The other day my 7-year-old son brought me a hand-drawn picture of our family done in penguins (he seems to be into penguins these days). I asked him to do me a favor and tell me who was who in the drawing. He pointed out the Daddy watching tv and the Liam (our newest addition) in his bouncer. He said the two playing nicely together were the Colin and Aiden penguins, enjoying a shiny new toy.

Our family in penguins by Colin

Our family in penguins by Colin

“Well, who is the dead looking one,” I asked, obviously concerned as I was the only penguin missing?

“That’s the Mommy,” he said, “She is laying in bed, pumping milk for the Liam penguin. See, there are the tubes and her pump.”

Ah-ha. He pretty much nailed it.

The great Breast vs. Formula debate is always on the forefront for new mothers and fathers. What really is best for the baby? For the family? Somehow, this time around I’ve found myself on the outs of both groups – pro-boob and pro-powder, I’ve done both in the past and am really doing neither this time! As shown in Penguins a la Colin, I am Eping, a term used to describe those who exclusively pump and feed their babies breast milk from a bottle.

How in God’s name did I end up here? Backing up to 2006 and Boy #1 I made every attempt to breastfeed. Aiden was born with a small chin and an even smaller little tongue which was attached making it impossible for him to latch properly and stay there. Feeding him and making sure he was getting enough was endless. The few weeks I was able to breast feed we were both in tears on numerous occasions. I was in pain and he was starving. The lactation consultants I saw offered suggestions, none of which helped. The final straw was two-fold: first, it was suggested that he have his tongue clipped in order to free it from the place in his mouth God had placed it, and second, I got mastitis. Ouch. And we were done.

Honestly, a better atmosphere entered our house. Aiden was full and happy and my infection cleared, as did my bleeding, bruised and scabbed nipples (sorry for the graphics, but no one is meant to have a baby latched 24 hours a day). I recall some side-eye and a few rude comments when I pulled out the formula in public, but I never felt the need to explain myself.

With #2 things were different. I intended to try again. Maybe this baby would have a “normal” tongue, and regular ability to latch. I forgot that I also had a 15 month old, and the amount of time it takes to properly breastfeed a newborn infant became immediately obvious as Aiden relentlessly pounded the bedroom door looking for me while I tried to nurse Colin, also with a tiny attached tongue and lazy eating habits. Needless to say I gave up two days into it in the interest of time in general, as well as the time an attention I needed to provide Aiden.

But then Colin got sick. It was scary. He was hot and huffing, not something a 4-day-old baby should be or do. I called the pediatrician and we were seen within the hour. When they looked him over they asked if I wanted an ambulance. Really? Why? He was 104.1 and obviously fighting an infection. They needed to get us to Children’s ASAP. I said I would drive. I think it took me 15 minutes to make the trip from my house to Chicago Ave in Minneapolis – a drive that should take around 30 minutes under normal circumstances (I’ve made that drive many times since and have never beat that time, even with blood and screams from the backseat pushing our PR to the limit).

They admitted Colin within an hour of our arrival. We were there for 9 days while Colin recovered and his breathing and oxygen were monitored. While there I remember a friendly enough PA who came in to check out Colin. She was pleasant, chatting and discussing his prognosis. She then turned to me and asked if I was breast-feeding, and how was he doing with feeding?

I was not breast-feeding, I said. Her demeanor changed as she described to me my role in Colin’s illness. Out of her mouth spilled the most hateful and horrible communication – It was my fault Colin was so sick. I was not feeding him breast milk, and giving him the immunity to fight off his illness, and most likely this was also the cause of him becoming ill initially. I was not a good mom.

I was six days postpartum. My milk had come in and was dried up. She left and I burst into tears. desperate to heal Colin I begged one of the special care nurses to help me. Can I still make milk? What do I do? Was this all my fault?! I tried to pump, but only drops came out. Fenugreek and other natural remedies to increase production were fruitless. I felt like I had failed, and I also felt the need to explain my formula from that point forward. I felt the need to placate concerned strangers, and eventually I found myself explaining away bottles of formula to random people who had not even asked.

I can recall what I would say, “My boys have little mouths and attached tongues. They can’t latch or feed normally.” It made me feel inadequate and ashamed. My babies were not good eaters and I was not a good mom.

Fast forward 7 years and we arrive at the birth of Baby Liam. He came out with the same little mouth and attached tongue. It’s really rather cute – if you pull his bottom lip down a bit his tiny tongue moves around, never passing the gum line. When I tried to get him to feed he refused to latch. The nurse was kind and offered me a little bottle of formula. I asked for a pump.

Over the next couple days I read about Exclusively Pumping. I read everything I could find on the internet – which isn’t a ton. I figured out why. Most people don’t do it. It’s incredibly time-consuming. It takes 8-12 sessions a day, 15-20 minutes per session for at least 40 days, to establish a supply. That’s around 2.5 hours hooked to a pump in any given day. And this doesn’t include the time it takes to bottle feed your newborn, clean and sanitized pumping supplies and organize milk for feedings or freezing.

You have to do it around the clock. The best yields, when hormones are highest occur between 1am and 5am – that means pumping in the middle of the night regardless of how much you need sleep. No wonder Colin drew me as a prone penguin, pumping milk from her bed.

I don’t fit in. Even though Liam has been fed breast milk exclusively since that small bottle of formula in the hospital, I am not a breast-feeding mama. And while my Joovy Boob bottles might get a side eye or two from those who judge a bottle feeding mom, I often long for the ease and convenience of formula feeding. Stuck in limbo, and having been on both sides of this great debate I simply wish for all of us to stop judging. Can’t we make it easier on each other? We are all doing our sleep deprived best, why throw the breast at one another? Shame on that PA for making me feel so terrible back in 2007. Shame on anyone who makes any mom feel less than she deserves to feel about the her ability to care for her babies.

Did you know that my babies cannot latch when you asked why I’m feeding them from a bottle? None of them. Did you know that my sister spent days in the NICU worried about the health of her LO, and even while pumping her milk dried up and formula was the only option? Did you know that my friend breast feeds because formula is expensive and not a cost they factored into having babies, not necessarily because it’s “best”? Did you know that the daddy feeding the baby from the bottle lost his wife following childbirth? Sometimes we can’t do what might be medically “best”, sometimes we choose to do something for reasons other than soapbox cries. No one is right, and no one is wrong, we are all just trying to do what is best for our families in the only way that we know how.

Sometimes I long for the ability to stick Liam under my shirt to relieve engorged full breasts, and other times I wish my body was all mine again, and that lovely powdered formula sounds like a Godsend. But for now, I will remain a pumping penguin. From somewhere in the middle, I’m still here, but I’m pumping.

Resources on the Internet I have found helpful for Exclusively Pumping moms:





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