When I first started pumping, I had an oversupply of milk. For a long time, I was one of those people who had an abundance of milk; the joyful burden of leaking breasts and spraying milk all over the room. It was funny, but it was comforting, knowing I didn't have the supply struggles of so many new moms. It was a luxury I was grateful to have. Over time, as I was pumping more often than I was nursing during the day, I went from often pumping in excess to pumping "just enough" for the next day. In my three pumping sessions per day, I would pump the requisite 16, then 12, then 8 ounces - my body somehow knowing to adjust output based on what my baby needed. It felt something like magical, and I tried to trust my body to make what my baby needed. I felt lucky, and #blessed and all that. And my body has continued to keep up with Margie's needs, even though that means now I'm barely getting 3-4oz per day. "It's ok; that's all she needs," I tell myself, though it's hard to reconcile.
It's not a problem; it's a natural phase. My baby is almost one. Eating solid foods. Not requiring as much breastmilk in her diet. And my body knew this, though my heart didn't want to accept it. My baby is growing up. I would come home from work to find she hadn't finished her second bottle; she'd only consumed 6 ounces while I was away, and now I had to feed her from a bottle instead of from the breast to avoid wasting precious pumped milk. But even though this change was happening, and I could see in front of me what she was drinking, coming home from work with "only" 6 ounces of milk felt like a failure. And over the next few weeks, I started coming home with 5, or 4. Occasionally 7, for reasons I don't really understand, but blame on hormones. I'm grateful that my body has been able to give me this experience, even if I don't fully understand the "magic"-seeming parts of it.
And now that I'm producing just enough for one bottle, and she's old enough to have cow's or non-dairy milk in a bottle, I've decided to start weaning myself off of pumping. She will likely still nurse in the morning and before bed, and she is still waking to nurse at least once overnight, and often more than that. But during the day, she doesn't need the one 4 ounce bottle I've been pumping three times a day to bring home to her. It's time for me to give myself a break, and release myself from the routine of pumping.
I had an epiphany in therapy recently: one of the reasons I've kept up with pumping for so long is that it feels like something I am doing for my daughter, even though I'm away from her all day at work. The milk I bring home is a gift I've made for her each day. While I'm away for 9 hours, I'm still spending 90 minutes thinking of her, working for her, producing for her. It feels like a kindness, a motherliness, something that tugs at the most biologically basic need inside me to provide for her. And I didn't want to sever that connection.
A friend told me that when it's time to stop pumping, "you'll just know." But I couldn't decide when to start weaning off the pump, and I was losing my mind going around in circles about it - clearly I didn't "just know". So I just decided to keep on keeping on, three times a day, until I "knew" I was ready. And last week, I knew.
It's not that simple, of course. It's not easy to just stop cold turkey. I am a person who is apparently quite sensitive to changes in my hormone levels -- when Margie consolidated her afternoon bottle and post-work nursing session into one, I started having hot flashes and hormonal mood swings. I've heard that it's best to be gentle on your body if you can, dropping one pumping session per week until you're down to zero. I had planned on this week being the last of 3x/day, and dropping to 2x/day next week, and so on, but a delayed work meeting schedule meant that I had an accidental 2x/day on Monday, so I just took it as a sign to start now. I wasn't in the office Tuesday or Thursday, so this week hasn't been a full pumping week, but I figured I might as well rip off the emotional bandaid anyway.
It's weird to only pump twice a day. When I clean up after the second session, I have to remind myself to clean all the way up and not just stick things back in the fridge until next time. When I'm pumping for the second time, I have to accept that that's all I'm getting for the day - I won't squeeze another ounce or so out of a third session. I have to remember to get the bottles at the end of the day, since my final session isn't immediately followed by my leaving the office anymore. It's not a big deal, and I recognize the privilege of even being in this position, but it's still taking emotional and mental energy to sort out.
So today is Friday. My last day of pumping twice a day. Next week it'll just be one session, midday, assuming my breasts can handle that (I assume they can, since I very rarely even have full-feeling breasts, much less engorgement, anymore). I've barely taking home 3-4 oz per day so far, and I'm guessing that next week will be even less. And that's ok - that's kind of the point. When we run out of 4oz bottles in the fridge, we'll move on to the 3oz bottles. There are some 3oz bags in the freezer. We can supplement with cow's milk or soy milk, or nothing, says her pediatrician, as long as she's still eating dairy (and this girl loves cheese in all forms, so no problem there). After next week, when we run out of milk in the freezer, we'll be done with breastmilk in bottles.
I'm feeling an odd combination of relief and freedom and sadness. I don't even want to imagine how it will feel to be done with breastfeeding altogether, but I'm not ready for that yet, and thankfully, neither is Margie as far as I can tell. I'll be glad to be done with the "brain weasels" of counting ounces and timing how long bottles have been out or thawed or frozen or not. It will be nice not to have my work day broken up by my dates with the machine. I'll miss catching up on Netflix or just looking at baby pictures.
When I enter the pumping room (which is great; it's lovely; I designed it - I'm very lucky), I sigh at the effort of getting myself set up. Locking the door. Closing the blinds. Taking off my shirt. Putting on the strapless pumping bra. Attaching the pump parts. Etc etc etc. repeat in reverse at the end. I'm definitely ready to be done. But when the letdown starts, and I'm watching videos of my baby while watching little drops fall into the bottles, I think it's not that bad (thanks, oxytocin) and feel twinges of sadness about this part of my life ending. I've been doing it for almost 10 months now. That's a lot. It feels like a lot. And yet, I can't believe it's almost over.
But it's time. I suppose I'll report back when I'm officially done pumping. It feels like I should have some sort of ceremony or celebration on my last day, or at least tell my officemates that the pumping room is no longer being used. But I feel a little too melancholy and not quite celebratory enough for that. Guess I'll blame the hormones.
I'd love to hear your pumping and weaning stories below, if you want to share them!