I'm sitting at a coffee shop wearing an incredibly tight sports bra, wondering if it would be weird to order ice and shove it down my shirt. I just stopped nursing my baby girl, my third child, after almost six months. To be precise, I stopped pumping for my baby girl because when she was a month old, I had to start pumping exclusively.
For the past 100 days or so, I've become an expert in all pumping-related matters. I can assemble both the hospital-grade and freestyle pumps in under a minute flat. I've mastered the art of pumping in an aisle seat on an airplane without any indecent exposure. I've pumped in the car. I've tested out almost every outlet in my home. I've pumped by the sink in airport bathrooms covered only by a "hootie hider." I've watched countless "Homeland" episodes while churning out breast milk. My favorite was pumping in a bathroom stall at MetLife stadium during a Giants game, the noise of the pulsing pump against the metal toilet paper holder deafening.
My home is littered with pumping paraphernalia. I have Medela bottles and bottle tops coming out of every purse and drawer in my room, bottle brushes galore and on-the-go sets of everything. I've found the most effective prescription cream to apply after pumping to avoid infection. I've fine-tuned the exact power level I need. I can type essays with one hand while holding the suction cups on with my forearm, the rings indented on my skin. I've cornered the market on Mother's Milk tea, regularly gulping down three to five cups per day. I've swigged Guinness beer and insane amounts of water to increase my production, but I drew the line at the Philippino cure of eating clams. Couldn't do it.
The pump and I have become best buds, the plastic tubing reaching out, enwrapping me in hugs or chokeholds, the rhythmic sound calming me down or infuriating me depending on the day.
My older kids have become experts in evaluating how much milk they think I will produce and then seeing if they got it right. I've improved their math skills as they've added the ounces from both bottles: two ounces on the left, three on the right makes how many ounces? Good job! I've played chess with my son as I've pumped, brushed my daughter's hair, played Uno and more. I even, at the very end, bent down and killed a giant spider without either suction cup coming off.
God forbid I revisit the night, three weeks after my baby was born, when I finished pumping after a big party, the only time I went out those first few months, and promptly knocked over both bottles, the warm milk dripping over the marble countertop down the white drawers, and slithering, drip drip, onto the wood floor in my bathroom that dark, dark night, the only sound the falling milk hitting the floor and then my crying.
It has been 27 hours since I've pumped. I'm uncomfortable and my breasts are engorged, but they've felt worse. The pain, itself, is not so bad. I just wasn't expecting the emotional part to hurt so much. I loved being able to feed my daughter for months. I loved knowing that she was alive and gaining weight and thriving all due to me. Even though I often resented having to stop what I was doing four, five or six times a day, there was something therapeutic about taking those time-outs. Even drinking the Mother's Milk tea became a ritual I embraced, slowing down, sipping, the warmth filling my chest.
There was a feeling of solidarity I felt with unknown moms everywhere, knowing that while I was at the sink cleaning those dreaded pump parts, other moms out there were doing the same thing. The feeling of pride when my daughter burped happily after finishing a bottle of breast milk was second to none.
So this moment is bittersweet. My third child and undoubtedly my last. My final pump. The last of the milk. I'm sad to say goodbye, to be officially done with the pregnancy, the nursing, and to reclaim my body for the first time in over a year. It feels odd. A little lonely. I'm glad to be freed of the pump's tentacles, but I'll miss the urgency and importance of the entire endeavor.
And I know soon, I'll just forget. I'll rush around without taking those helpful pauses, dashing in and out of the house without remembering how it felt to have a clicking time clock on at all times. Or maybe, this time, I'll try to incorporate some of the good, knowing that 15 minutes to myself doesn't mean the house will burn down and that sitting with a hot cup of tea really does help me be a better mom. Maybe. For now, back to those ice packs.