Pump Moms Do It In a Vacuum
I heard from one of my old pumping compatriots today. We were united in the secret netherworld of the Symphony and the Pump-In-Style. It was lovely to hear from her, although it did bring back the horror of the six months I spent pumping breastmilk (40 ounces a day) for Abraham. You see, Abie was born with a recessive chin. So recessive, in fact, that he could never latch on. Poor guy. He also has a unibrow and a moustache (Seriously. A black one). Now it turns out this kid has a gimpy hip. His little foot turns out. It's supposed to pass with time, but with the one eyebrow, the no chin, the moustache and the limp, he looks like a ninety-seven year old Armenian. Not that that's bad. Some of my best friends are Armenian. Come to think of it, their children are way better looking then he is.
So here's an article I wrote for Parenting Magazine about Abe and his nursing problem.
Baby Abraham won’t nurse. Despite the fact that I’ve successfully breastfed his three siblings, despite the efforts of his pediatrician and not one, but two lactation consultants, this baby will not suck. Were he a tiny Stone Age baby, born to a nomadic hunter-gatherer tribe, he would have long since been left out for the saber-tooth tigers and prehistoric dire wolves. He’s lucky he was born to a 21st century soccer mom who refuses to give up.
Or is he? Might four-month-old Abraham be more content were I just to give up, and stop the daily battles over the breast? Wouldn’t I be? I’ve been mulling this over lately, as I sit in an exhausted fog at three in the morning, strapped to my breast pump. While I enjoyed nursing Abe’s sisters and brother well enough, I never found it to be the glorious exemplification of all things maternal that some women feel it to be. And although I understand that breast milk is the best food for my baby, I’m not one of those moms who considers formula a bare step away from strychnine. Anyway, I can certainly pump milk for him, even if he drinks only from a bottle. So why is it that I can’t seem to stop this nursing business?
It’s all my husband’s fault.
The reason I refuse to give up on the possibility of nursing baby Abe, is that breastfeeding is the only thing I can do that his father can’t. My husband is the feminist’s fantasy father. He changes diapers, does middle-of-the-night feedings, cleans the house, constructs elaborate Lego structures, pitches baseballs, and plays a mean game of Uno. About the only thing he doesn’t do is laundry. And he’d do that, too, if I didn’t feel like something in this house had to be my responsibility.
Are you jealous yet? Are you ready to beat your husband about the head and shoulders next time you find him spending three and half hours reprogramming TIVO while you juggle carpool, homework assignments, and birthday present shopping? (The last of those, incidentally, is my job. The first two are not.) Put that remote back in his hand, because this ideal of egalitarian parenting is not the bliss it seems.
When your husband is the best mom around, what is left for you to be? I’ll tell you what. Second best. And sometimes that just doesn’t seem like enough. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t miss having to do all the work myself. We all know how tedious and miserable many of the mundane tasks of parenting can be. I’m thrilled to have someone else scrub out the Diaper Genie and pack the lunch boxes. I certainly don’t begrudge my husband his relationship with the children. I’m glad both for him and for them that they share this unique bond. It’s just that I find myself longing for something absolutely selfish and absurd: I want the primacy that defines the traditional role of mother, without having to earn it.
With a few exceptions, my mommy friends all possess a decidedly paramount place in their children’s hearts. I envy them. When Rosie, age two, wants someone to teach her how to ride her tricycle, she’s much more likely to call for daddy than for mommy, and every time I hear that little voice, I get a pang. Okay, not a big enough pang to haul myself off the couch – heck, I might as well put my feet up since I’m not the one she wants – but a pang nonetheless. When six-year-old Zeke crawls onto his father’s lap, a newly constructed Bionicle in hand, full of questions and stories about his day at school, about which would win in a fight, the Thing or the Hulk, about whether your eyeball is really a ball, I sit, empty-lapped, longing to be the one cuddling those knobby little-boy knees. Even Sophie, age eight, would rather go clothes shopping with her father, although that probably has more to do with the fact that, unlike her price-conscious mother, daddy never bothers looking through the sale rack.
Yesterday, I had begun to feel really sorry for myself. Abe was turning from the breast, screaming for his bottle (and probably for his daddy), when suddenly I heard a terrible wail. I ran downstairs. Zeke had not, in fact, fallen from a dizzying height, or broken a limb. Something far worse had happened. His sister had refused to allow him to join her at her lemonade stand. Daddy was trying to comfort him, but it was Mommy he wanted. As he sat, his damp face buried in my neck, his fingers tangled in my hair, I finally realized that while I may not be the only one who matters, I am worth something around here. Sophie comes home from gymnastics weeping over her best friend’s elevation to the next-level class while she’s been forced to stay in Girls Beginner I (daddy’s suggestion that she work harder on her cartwheels misses the point entirely. It’s about how it makes her feel, not what you can do to fix the problem), or Rosie shows up, chin atremble, because of some complicated preschool social slight. That’s when they come to me, and that’s what I do best. There is, I think, something unique about the comfort a mother provides. Or at least the comfort this mother provides. Daddy may be the better cook. He may be more fun at story time, he may even be less liable to get frazzled when everyone is throwing a tantrum at the same time. But it’s usually Mommy’s lap they go for when the going gets tough, but the tough are crying too hard to get going.
Does understanding how important I am to them make me any less envious of my husband’s centrality to my children’s lives? Probably not. But I think it may make it possible to give up the breastfeeding struggle. We’ve been at it for four months now, and it’s time to acknowledge defeat. Abe will love and need me even if he never nurses, just like Sophie, Zeke and Rosie do, and just like I love and need them. And that’s really what it’s all about.