“When are you going to stop…” asked nanny Elizabeth, squeezing her hands in front of her headlights. “Pumping?” I asked. The next morning I announced to Aaron that since we just celebrated Leo’s first birthday, it’s the right time to wean him—at least for daytime. Then our fair-headed, blue-eyed baby boy clambered onto my lap and tugged at my shirt with a smile. “Maybe not today?” Aaron laughed.
Nanny Elizabeth has Leo for 18 hours a week and I’m still spending some of those valuable hours of that time hooked up to the little blue and white robot we call Nurse Nippler. Over the past year, I’ve learned to use my pump efficiently, to trigger a second letdown, and to increase my supply by pumping persistently. That’s a lot of work for the privilege of feeling slightly uncomfortable while electrically milking myself. And as the media has recently been buzzing about, pumping—and perhaps the larger fixation on exclusive breastfeeding—can become a distraction from the real priorities of parenting.
Yet I’ve been militant about breastmilk. When I asked my pediatrician if a tiny bit of formula was the end of the world at the 9 month appointment she looked surprised. “Not at all,” she said. She explained that she didn’t advocate using formula at first because it can interfere with the establishment of breastfeeding, but there’s no harm in a little formula. I don’t know that Leo will be healthier and smarter if he’s breastfed, but it’s in line with my general approach to food. Breastmilk is the freshest, most natural-seeming food I can offer. Formula, which has a long ingredient list, tastes about as chalky as you’d expect something that starts out as a white powder to taste. It has seemed like a luxury to stay home enough to keep breastfeeding. If my full-time gigs had been any longer, I’m fairly certain I would have weaned Leo to formula during the daytime. Or if, like my best friend, I was pumping in a mouse-infested supply closet.
But now that Leo is old enough to start drinking cow’s milk, why am I still pumping? My hesitation is partly that I’m prone to plugged ducts, so I know I can’t quit cold turkey. But the greater part of my reluctance is a sense that this is the beginning of the end. The end of Leo loving me not just because I am his doting caretaker, but because I am the most delicious sustenance too. The end of the time when the practicalities of breastfeeding underscore the importance, to both me and Leo, of our being near each other most of the time. The end of infancy. The end of a whole way of being a mom that I am just getting the hang of. Ain’t that always the way?