A Long Tale of Breast Pumping

December 29, 2011

Fun stuff.  I’ll try to minimize the nursing stuff that goes along with it, because then the story would be REALLY long.

C: Born March 2007.  Starting nursing with her was a nightmare in a lot of ways, but we had it together before I went back to work.  I got an Avent Solo, on the concept that I didn’t want to spend $300 and that way I’d have a hand free while I pumped with the other hand.

My designated pumping spot was an empty office upstairs from mine where there were files stored.  There was a desk there and I could sit at the desk and pump.  I had my own office, but the wall between it and the cube farm was glass, no blinds… and it was considered bad form to even close your office door at that job.  So I went upstairs.  I think I started three times a day, but when it became clear that certain parties in management gave me a dirty look whenever I left my desk… it was once a day, midday.  I had to wash pump parts in the one kitchen and keep milk in a thermos in the community fridge.  These things weren’t a problem, people were nice about it, but it was a pain because the kitchen wasn’t too close to my office or my pumping room.

My other two pumping times a day, I did in the car.  While I drove.  Please spare me the lectures- I sit in almost dead-still traffic twice a day waiting to get into the tunnel, so there was no maneuvering involved while I was pumping, and I checked- it wasn’t visible from the outside of the car.  Still, terribly inconvenient and sucky.  I sometimes went on the road for work on day trips, visiting courthouses all over the place.  I took a little insulated lunch bag with ice packs and just pumped in parking lots and washed my pump in courthouse bathrooms.  That was actually usually a relief for me because I didn’t have everyone staring at me leaving my desk.  (To this day, I think the higher ups honestly didn’t understand that I WORKED while I was pumping, no matter how many files I carried to the file room with me.  Maybe they thought I was filing?)

I struggled with supply.  My supply, because of the issues when we started, was never particularly abundant with C (though she grew fine, I had an awful time pumping “enough”).  I pumped at home.  I HATED pumping at home- I’d rather nurse.  I felt like a failure for not being able to keep up most of the time.  I cried whenever they told me she needed bigger bottles, because I COULDN’T.  I know she never got as much as she wanted in her bottles.  I just had a ton of guilt- she was my first baby and I’d been reading too many breastfeedng nazi communities on the internet.

I had the perfect excuse, in the end, to stop pumping- I got pregnant and dried up.  I’d planned to go til she was a year old and made about 11 months, but it was okay in the end because the excuses don’t come any better.

R: Born July 2008, a preemie.  I had an oversupply in the beginning and struggled to try and get it DOWN.  That was a mistake.  I should have just gone with it, because I had similar supply problems to the ones I had with C.

This time, the pumping situation was a different empty office being used to store files.  The issues at work were the same.  They knew I was doing it, they knew I could work while I did it to some extent, and they allowed me to… but no one made me feel comfortable about it, and it always felt like an imposition that I dared to leave my desk.  (This from above… the paralegals were great.)  It didn’t help that my boss through the first three kids worked 8 am- 7 pm every day and never left for lunch or ANYTHING.

It just wasn’t a good environment to be a working mom in.  I’m sure there are plenty worse, but as things go… yeah.  I was the only lawyer with young kids at the firm.  There are a lot of other issues I could get into but suffice to say the pumping environment wasn’t good.

Same pump.  Same struggles.  Same guilt and frustration.  Blah blah blah.  Same excuse to stop, even earlier this time- I found out I was pregnant with A and stopped pumping with R when she was about 10 months old.  (Again I was able to nurse a few weeks longer.)

A: This time I was smart about my oversupply when home on maternity leave- I just pumped and pumped and pumped and froze.  In the end, I was REALLY glad I did that.  Same situation.  Same file room as with R, but no desk this time even- I sat on the floor and worked on top of boxes of files.  Later on, the file room got taken, and when I asked about a new place, people gave me dirty looks, so I started using my car in the parking garage.

My car was actually a vast improvement over the file room.  I was used to pumping there anyway from pumping in traffic and pumping in courthouse parking lots while I was on the road.

When she was about 5-6 months old, I got into a really stressful situation at work.  My supply TANKED.  I went from managing 16 oz a day (which was, for once, enough, since I started with that oversupply!) to like… 3 oz.  Overnight.  It really never recovered.  Work stayed really bad and I was looking for a new job.  It took a while.  I started dipping into my frozen milk stores and was super glad I had them.  A couple months later, I got a new job and things got a bit better- also, she was eating more solids.  I started sending a combination of breastmilk bottles and formula bottles to daycare, which I never had before, and stopped pumping at work when she was 8-9 months old.  She still nursed another solid month or two after that, though.

I still have a lot of bitterness about that job.  I learned so much of what I know there, but it ended badly, and it really bothers me that I lost my milk supply from stress there.

Note- I used the same pump through all three girls.

J: I have a new job now.  With an office with a door that closes.  With other lawyers who all have kids.  The senior attorney in our office pumped here herself just six years ago.  And our manager chuckled when I told him and said he knew all about that from his wife.  And NO ONE CARES.  NO ONE NOTICES.  I don’t have to feel self-conscious and no one worries whether I’m getting my work done.

I CAN get my work done.  I pump in front of my computer, at my own desk, with a mini fridge underneath and a sink about 10 steps away from my office door for washing parts.

I can pump as often as I want instead of once, and I’m not having to pump in the car anymore.

With all these HUGE HUGE advantages, I went ahead and bought a new pump- a Medela Pump in Style double.  The price was less than what I remembered.  I got the handsfree bra and everything and OH MY GOD.  It’s worth the extra $100 and more.  Effort is zero.  I don’t have to hold it on me.  I can totally do other things and hardly think about pumping.  And since I’m in the place to work while I pump anyway…

I’ve been back at work three days now and while pumping’s still a pain, I am almost in happy tears every time I do it, the difference is so huge.  My setup now feels like a luxury.  I don’t predict supply problems.  Right now I’m pumping just what J’s eating which is fine, since I also have milk stocked from maternity leave.

So, what can I really say overall as tips?

  • Spend the extra money and get the good double pump and handsfree bra.
  • A friendly work environment is HUGE.
  • A comfortable pumping place, preferably your own office, is HUGE.
  • Stress is bad, yo.
  • Don’t fight oversupply.  Just freeze it up.
  • In retrospect, I should have just mixed in a few formula bottles rather than crying at night over not making enough.  It wasn’t worth it.
  • Drink a ton of water.  This is the only thing that I ever found boosted supply.  Fenugreek and blessed thistle didn’t.
  • The best thing you can do with your coworkers is just be super open about what you’re doing.  The ones who are uncomfortable thinking of boobs will avoid it in the future.  The others will be cool.  You just don’t really want people to be curious.  Cause ew.
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