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You’re not exactly in a secret society, but it sometimes feels like it when you’re an exclusively pumping parent.
Ten months of mechanically pumping into plastic where my baby should have been. Ten months of cleaning pump parts. Ten months of stumbling to the kitchen to store my milk when I just wanted to go to bed. Ten months of wondering if all of my efforts were even making a difference.
For 10 months I have been a pumping breastfeeding mother, and for 10 months I have struggled with feeling proud of that. But you know what? It’s finally time that we start talking about exclusive pumping parents, because we do exist — and we deserve to feel proud of our efforts.
My earliest memories of feeding my baby will forever be ingrained in my mind with the whirling sounds of a hospital pump in the background, so tired between trips to the NICU that a kind nursing student taped a “Do Not Disturb” sign to my hospital door so I could try to sleep.
For the week that my baby spent in the NICU, I pumped at the hospital when I was still a patient, and later, at the hotel we rented nearby to stay close to her.
A lot of my time that week came down to the hour-or-so increments I would rush back to the hotel to shower, pump, and shovel a Chipotle burrito bowl into my mouth as fast as possible before heading back to the hospital with my cooler bag full of milk. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to smell guacamole and not be instantly transported back to that tiny hotel room.
When we finally came home from the hospital, I continued setting my alarm for every 3 hours to pump. My life became an overwhelming blur of trying to nurse my daughter, handing her off to my husband to bottle-feed, then pumping for 20 to 30 minutes, washing and sterilizing all the pump parts, then repeating the process in another hour.
It’s hard to put into words what that time was like — exhaustion doesn’t really even begin to cover it, because there were so many other emotions involved, too.
Frustration over the endless attempts at getting my daughter to latch. Hope every time that this would be the time she would “get it,” only to feel deflated and disappointed when it didn’t work yet again. Overwhelming feelings of failure that it was my fault. Guilt that I had essentially created double the work for all of us.
It felt like I had made what “should” have been 15 minutes of nursing my baby back to sleep into an hour-and-a-half ordeal every.single.time.
Quite frankly, that early time in my baby’s life was awful. And I felt so terribly alone. I was driven by an intense need to supply my baby with breast milk, but I also felt slightly crazy for what I was putting us all through.
I ended up venting to another mom I knew who had difficulty breastfeeding, blubbering my way through an explanation of what each feeding looked like.
“Oh, that?” she said breezily. “Yeah, I’ve been an EP mom for years. It’s so hard.”
Her simple matter-of-factness about what I was going through floored me. Do you mean to tell me that there was an actual name for what I was doing? Like, it was a real thing, and not just me making it up as I went? And you’re telling me other moms do this too?!
Turns out, that’s exactly what she was saying — exclusive pumping, or EP, parents, are an entire community of parents who exclusively pump breast milk for their babies.
Somehow, in all of my years of working as an OB nurse, in my near-decade of being a mom, and in my career as a professional parenting writer, I had no idea the EP community existed. It’s like they are completely forgotten in the world of breastfeeding.
I’m ashamed to admit that I, myself, had overlooked exclusive pumping moms as breastfeeding moms until I become one. But now that I have been an EP mom, my eyes have been forever opened to this incredible community of dedicated parents.
For several months in my EP journey, I admit that I viewed my decision to pump primarily as a failure — I was only pumping because I had failed to successfully nurse my daughter. I was only bottle-feeding because I had failed at “real” breastfeeding. I had only chosen this path because I had failed at all others.
It took a long, long time before I was able to see EP for what it really is: not a failure at all, but an accomplishment all its own. Exclusive pumping is an enormous commitment, sacrifice, and ultimately, gift of myself to my baby.
It’s truly a unique journey that any parent undertaking should rightly feel incredibly proud of.
The alarm every 3 hours, the endless sterilizing and washing and bottles scattered over the house, the ingenuity and creativity in entertaining your baby as you pump, the hours spent hooked up and feeling like an actual cow (side note: if you’re an EP parent too, get yourself the Elvie, it changed my life and I will forever sing its praises) — they are all part of the sacrifice that you have made to try to do what you believe is best for your baby.
I wanted desperately to nurse my daughter and that didn’t happen for us, but I have still been able to give her the gift of breast milk because that was important to me. I persevered through sore nipples and mastitis and missed family time and cutting events short to pump, and I did it all for my daughter.
And after 10 months, I can finally say that I am a proud EP mom, not because I failed at nursing, but because I succeeding at feeding my baby in the way that was right for us.
Chaunie Brusie is a labor and delivery nurse turned writer and a newly minted mom of five. She writes about everything from finance to health to how to survive those early days of parenting when all you can do is think about all the sleep you aren’t getting. Follow her here.