It's not often that you see something as mundane as pumping breast milk in art, but this California mother, who is using her artistic talents to celebrate pumping on Instagram, will make you really appreciate this daily task for so many moms. #pumpinggoals.
We see lots of beautiful images of women breastfeeding—but not so many of the comparatively unglamorous act of pumping. Well, one mom is aiming to change that with her refreshingly honest (and beautiful) illustrations of what providing milk for your child often looks like. "Even through maddening exhaustion, I was so proud that my body was able to supply my baby with care and nourishment," artist Joy Hwang says. "Making this drawing was my way of giving props to us moms and owning it." After posting the illustration (see left) on Instagram, her pumping illustration starting gaining attention.
Unexpected challenges of new motherhood
When I saw the image, I immediately identified with it, because I spent the first month or two of my son's life attached to a pump every couple of hours. Unable to latch, he had ended up in the NICU for low blood sugar, which is where I was first introduced to the machine. After he returned home, I struggled to keep my supply up with the pump while he figured out how to breastfeed—which took nearly six weeks.
Hwang, whose daughter just turned one, had a similar experience. "I nursed every three hours for 45 minutes, pumped for 20 minutes, then spent the next 10 minutes cleaning the pump and carefully labeling and storing my milk, even on days when I made only a spoonful," she says. "That gave me less than two hours to rest my tired, engorged, and blistered boobs. Keeping my daughter nourished was a bigger challenge than anything I had ever put on my resume."
After 15 years as a multidisciplinary studio artist, Hwang found herself out of work when she was laid off after she had her daughter. "I didn't want to make the difficult choice many women face about choosing career or family, so my 'Mom Is Drawing' project has emerged to combine my vocation and my baby," she says about the Etsy shop she established, inspired by the emotional moments of new motherhood she was capturing in her journal (the drawing Hwang did to the right is of Fit Pregnancy editor Julia Dennison pumping at work). "When my baby fell asleep for nap or bedtime, I'd rewind my day with a pencil in my hand to recreate the emotion fresh and raw. Nowadays I use iPad Pro and Apple Pencil to draw and color digitally—and it fits compact in my diaper bag."
What pumping's really like
Hwang's pumping illustration was actually the first she created after her daughter was born. "My first drawing as a mom was a self-portrait of me falling asleep in a chair with my breast pump pumping away while my left side made more milk than my right—thank you, left boob!" she says. It was only later she realized the universality of what she depicted. "I made this illustration when I felt most alone and vulnerable, while I was still healing from giving birth," she says. "What I didn't know then was that millions of new moms in the same time zone were also awake at that very moment—12 to four a.m.—going through the same struggle to keep little humans alive."
Right down to the iPhone in the woman's hand, the drawing shows a scene many pumping moms can relate to. This is a task that—let's face it—is generally not very pleasant. "Not in a million years have I thought I would shove a contraption on my boob to pump milk out of me," she says. "There were so many days I've felt that my body—myself—was inadequate to raise my baby because my milk was always low. I was jealous of moms who had ample supplies with their babies full from nursing."
Pumping is a challenge for every mom, no matter if you exclusively pump, pump to increase supply, or pump while at work. "I wanted to give up every single day," Hwang says. "It's true love, the length we'd go for our little ones. There is an untapped source of love and strength that opens up when you become a mom." She hopes her drawings provide a source of support and inspiration. "I want pumping moms to remember we are all in this journey together as nurturers, and that we are the gold medalists in every baby's heart!"
If you're pumping, try these tips to make it a little easier:
- Buy a hands-free pumping bra, or make your own by cutting holes in an old sports bra.
- Store pump parts in the fridge between uses to avoid washing as often.
- Look at pictures of your baby on your phone while you pump to increase output.
- Speaking of your phone, definitely have it on hand to keep you occupied.
- Keep snacks, water, the TV remote, and whatever else you need close by.
- Never quit on a bad day. It can be rough and it's okay to stop—but make that decision with a clear head. Hang in there, pumping mamas!