By Katherine M. Tomlinson
I’d been an editor at a women’s magazine for several years when I became pregnant with my first child. Since we’d published plenty of childbirth news, I knew experts’ recommendations about breastfeeding. The major health organizations advised a minimum of 6 months, other experts counseled at least a year and the most extreme proposed that new moms keep at it for two years. But it was 1992, and these recommendations were not widely observed at the time. I’d never even seen a woman nursing a baby, much less pumping milk at work.
I knew the benefits of breast milk were vital, and luckily, my daughter and I took to nursing like a mama duck and her ducklings take to water. After a three-month leave, I returned to work determined to keep supplying as much mommy milk as my little girl needed.
Just after I got back, we hired another editor, who’d given birth to her first child, also a girl, only a month after my daughter was born. The newbie and I bonded instantly and began meeting twice a day in the bathroom, breast pumps in tow. The inevitable comparisons began at once—her petite, doll-sized infant was satisfied with one perfect 4-ounce bottle per pumping session, while my hearty bouncing baby, who’d weighed nearly 8 pounds at birth, would starve on less than two of the 4-ouncers per session. Although my baby’s demand made the bluish white fluid drain into my bottles faster, it still took me longer to fill the 16-ounce quota I needed to pack into my lunchbox cooler by each workday’s end.
Under deadline pressures, it wasn’t long before I installed a makeshift curtain at the entrance to my cubicle so that I could pump without leaving my office. For the first few days, the less private setting inhibited my letdown reflex so much that to induce it, I broke out a recording of my baby crying that I’d prepared for the purpose. It worked—but along with the milk flow, it brought a stream of tears fueled by hormones, guilt and a genuine longing for my newest love.
Thankfully, my inhibition didn’t last long. I abandoned the recording and the curtain and began wearing loose-fitting shirts under which I could hide my portable pump as it churned out the four containers of precious liquid I needed to deposit in my freezer each night for my babysitter to warm at the two feeding times I’d miss the next day.
Soon, I even gave up the confines of my cubicle, moving around the office as necessary, immune to the puzzled stares of people hearing for the first time the mysterious humming sound coming from the awkward bulge under my blouse. I expected my coworkers to accept my pump and circumstance. I thought, I’ve gotta do this, and I’ve gotta do this, so I hope they understand. And they did—for a full nine months, after which my 1-year-old daughter was eating enough solid food that she no longer needed my workday supply and was satisfied with our remaining three nursing sessions: just before I left for work, right when I got home and at bedtime.
Despite the notion expressed by many that “when they’re old enough to ask for it, they’re too old,” I continued breastfeeding long after my daughter started asking to “nuss.” I didn’t wean her until her second birthday, when I discovered I was pregnant again. Eight months later, I got to start the process all over again when I gave birth to a 10-pound baby boy, who in his first weeks gave new meaning to the term “liposuction,” as his hefty appetite removed every trace of cellulite from my thighs. Ah, those were the days.
Donning a working new mom’s most essential accessory may require a healthy dose of determination—and some suspension of inhibition.