When I sat down six months ago and decided that I was going to try exclusively pumping for Molly, I never would have thought I would get this far. Those early days, when I was in a sleep deprived, hormonal state were some of the darkest days of my parenting journey so far. I really struggled. And I still am struggling, even this far into my journey. Because exclusive pumping has taken everything which I have; physically, mentally, emotionally..
I often talk about how I wish someone could have sat me down and warned me about how tough exclusive pumping really is. I stand by that, I will always stand by that. Nothing could have prepared me for the journey which I decided to embark on when Molly was just 6 days old. In the last 6 months, I have gone through the highs and lows of pumping, the rollercoaster of emotions which I have experienced is insane and there have been times when I thought I could not go on with pumping. But still, here we are at 6 months and still going strong.
Being able to feed my baby breastmilk was something which I had always assumed would be the case. As an expectant parent, everyone talks about breastfeeding so you just assume that it will come naturally and easily, after all it’s what our bodies were made to do, right? Well wrong. Actually, breastfeeding is one of the toughest jobs there is as a new parent. I never managed to breastfeed Georgie and I was so clueless on the whole exclusive pumping thing I literally thought I could pump once a day and that would be enough; well after a couple of days my milk supply dried up so that was a no go. This time, I was so determined to make it work, I threw in hours of research and reading that I almost went crazy before I had even started! What pump should I buy, how many times do I need to pump, what’s a pumping schedule?, how to store milk, the best items for exclusive pumpers.. they were all on my list of research. I went on instagram pages, facebook groups, forums, blogs.. all in the aim of finding out about exclusive pumping to make sure I was going to be successful on this journey.
Well, fast forward 6 months and my goodness I have learnt so much. Not only about exclusive pumping, but about myself as well. I have gone from a new mum who was ashamed of the path she was taking and would sit in a sweltering car and pump, to a Mum who doesn’t care what other people think because she has smashed through pumping the last six months and is amazingly proud of the journey which she has been on. Proud of every sore, cracked nipple which she has endured, every bout of mastitis which she has overcome, every pump failure which she has tackled.. in order to feed her daughter breast milk!
I don’t think I will ever be able to explain the dark places which pumping has taken me, not to anyone. For the most part because I don’t understand myself. Pumping has taken me to the brink of breakdown, I genuinely believe that. Pumping has been all that I have focused on for the past 6 months; it’s the first thing I think about when I wake up, the thing I think about when we are planning trips, the thing I have to fit around my full time job and the last thing I think about at night. Don’t get me wrong, it’s got so much easier now that I don’t have to pump 12 times a day. Looking back, I am not sure how I managed that. At that point, pumping literally took over my entire life. In fact, it probably almost ruined the relationship with my partner if I’m honest because it was all I could focus on. I was so desperate to make it work, I was willing to give everything I had to the pump.
I distinctly remember one day, my pump broke and I felt like the world was going to end. I genuinely stood in my kitchen, balling with tears as I loaded the dishwasher and tried to mask how I was feeling. I had just spent £100 on a pump, how was I going to be able to afford another £100 to replace it. Luckily, my mum came to the rescue and saved the day.. but that was honestly one of the most devastating times. And to think, really I was crying over a piece of plastic, but it’s so much more than that!
There’s also the stigma. The stigma of exclusive pumping – a world which there is so little knowledge about, even amongst professionals. I’ve had many conversations with professionals who ask how you are feeding your baby and don’t quite know what to say when you tell them you’re pumping. Our midwife said to me, ‘so do I write that you’re breastfeeding, or bottle feeding? I’m confused.’ And I’ve had many many conversations like that. To begin with I wasn’t even sure what to say. How was I meant to answer that question without feeling embarrassed that I couldn’t breastfeed my child so instead I was hooking myself up to a machine, like a cow, and pumping all hours of the day and night. But then I realised, actually what is there to be ashamed of?! I’m doing one of the hardest things in order to provide for my baby, so to heck with what anyone else thinks. But in the parenting world, it’s somehow like not being able to nurse your baby makes you a failure. Parents feel ‘sorry’ for you when you explain that you’re pumping because your baby couldn’t latch, “oh, that’s a real shame. I’m so sorry that you couldn’t breast feed” is something which I have heard many times as well through my journey.
And the nights are hard. Perhaps the hardest part is the nights; having the motivation to drag yourself out of bed when you’re knackered and sleep deprived, seeing everyone else in the house sleeping, and sitting on the sofa pumping at stupid o’clock in the morning because that’s what the websites tell you is the ‘best way’ to increase your supply. I’m not too sure how I survived those early days, the most testing times. There were often a few tears as I sat on my own in the dark, listening to the repetitive sound of the machine pumping away in the middle of the night.
And that’s all before you even consider that you also have a newborn to muddle through with. So many times have I settled Molly and just sat down to pump, and you hear that recognisable ‘waaahhh!’ and oh goodness she’s awake again. So then you are sat trying to juggle 20 pump parts, balance a baby on your knee, keep your pump out the reach of your toddler who is running around like a whirlwind and not loose your sh*t. Yea, tough doesn’t even cut it.
Exclusive pumping has been one of the hardest things which I have ever done in my life. Probably harder than giving birth. The relentless, unforgiving routine of pumping, washing, feeding, pumping, sleeping, pumping, washing, feeding, pumping.. that continues day in day out, over and over again for as long as you can bare. The motivation that you need to get up and carry on going when you feel rubbish, when you’ve had no sleep, when you’re unwell is incredible. I’m not sure where us mama’s pull this strength from, but if it’s taught me one thing, it’s that I AM strong, stronger than I thought.
So as I am reflecting on my pumping journey, I find myself thinking whether it is time to throw in the towel and move on from this part of my parenting journey to the next part. Molly is now weaning and with her brother becoming more and more demanding every day, I find myself struggling to keep afloat sometimes. I don’t know if this is the end of our pumping journey, or if the end is at least coming soon; but I know that I am beyond proud to have made it to six months and I will never, ever regret my decision to exclusively pump.