Every morning around 5 a.m., I pack up a jet black bag with empty plastic bags, breast shields, tubing, and wires, and a photo of my infant daughter. For the remainder of the day, I am tethered to this bag as the only connection to my daughter until I can finally get home after work and swoop her up into my arms.
I’m a full-time working mum who pumps breast milk. My freezer is filled with more than a hundred little plastic baggies of liquid gold, as we like to call it at our house. During the day, while I am in an office, my husband melts those blocks of milky love and feeds our daughter with a bottle.
This whole process breaks my heart and makes me feel so depressed.
My first two children were lucky to experience a mum with an elastic schedule that could stretch and bend around their needs in a fairly organic way. But in this last year, I experienced a pregnancy, birth, and maternity leave as a working mum. And now I pump.
I am damn lucky that I work for an organisation that allows me to pump my breast milk in a clean, safe, and private space that is designated specifically for nursing mums. I have a key card to access this room and the door auto locks behind me. There are no windows or places for anyone to spy on me. We have a desk large enough to set up the pump machine and supplies and next to that is a bookcase that holds a cork board with pinned images of babies. We have a collection of books on parenting and breastfeeding. And the best part is that no one ever makes me feel like I am being unproductive or a burden for taking time to pump. In fact, my colleagues are respectful and supportive.
By all measures, I am one extremely lucky woman. So, why do I feel so depressed?
Is it just me or is it kind of weird to go to a quiet locked room a few times a day and stare at an image of my baby while I try to pump breast milk that she will later drink when I’m not with her? Yes, I understand that this is how this works and that I choose to be a full-time working mum, but no matter how I rationalize the choices that my husband and I made together, a part of me — that part that is aching to be with my baby — goes out of its way to make me feel guilty.
Breastfeeding is about so much more than just shooting out milk into a storage container or feeding a child. It is about bonding, pure and simple. There is a reason that when I see pictures of my daughter, I end up pumping more milk. And when I hear her voice my body will sometimes respond by making my boobs leak all over my shirt. The smell of her clothes makes my chest ache. All of these are communication cues between my baby and me that don’t just tell me “feed your kid” but also, “your baby needs to be held close and loved in this moment right now.”
When I’m in that small, chilly milking room, I have to remind myself that I am doing my absolute best to provide something that is more meaningful than just milk; I’m literally filling these storage bags with love. It’s all I can do for now while I spend 10 hours a day away from my baby.
As a culture, we spend all this time arguing about which is best, breast or bottle. Mums are shamed for choosing one or the other. But we don’t spend enough time discussing ways to support mums after they’ve chosen how to feed their kids. What if my baby were allowed to come into work for feedings? Or, what if we had better maternity leave policies in this country? Or, what if we make it a point to show women loving kindness so that spending time pumping doesn’t feel so depressing?
My time in the nursing saddle will be short — another thing to feel guilty about, of course — and so while I am here, I am trying my best to not feel so depressed. I have no answers to this paradox, just a whole lot of hope that we can do better for mums in the future.