10.26.2008

Breast milk

There are lots of things you learn about only after you have a child. One of those things for me has been the insane value of breast milk. We all know that breast milk is good for babies. I learned a number of academic facts about breast milk in my few days in the hospital, like the fact that colostrum is so loaded with antibodies and nutritional value that even a few drops rubbed on the lips of a child in the NICU is useful. But this isn't what I'm talking about. What I'm talking about is how highly, almost irrationally, significant breast milk becomes to moms who pump.

I've been pumping since Maybelle was born, first to boost my milk supply so that she'd gain more weight, and now because I'm stockpiling milk in the freezer for when I go back to work in January. I've developed a kind of neurotic anxiety about the milk, only wanting to heat up an ounce at a time to feed Maybelle if she's hungry and I'm gone. Anything you heat up that she doesn't eat within an hour has to be thrown away, and I can't stand to pour the milk down the drain. Biffle calls me a breast milk fascist.

What I've learned is that this is a common phenomenon. A mild-mannered colleague shared the experience of her husband heating up way too much of her frozen milk to feed their son, and she described herself getting uncharacteristically angry. A friend told me about being painfully engorged when her child was young and having to express milk into a public toilet. "I cried," she said, "because I couldn't stand to waste it!" At a La Leche League meeting a woman shared the trauma of her deep freezer breaking and hundreds of ounces of frozen milk going bad, and every woman in the room gasped as though she'd described a death. This afternoon I talked with a woman in Texas who's going to sell me her breast pump, and unprompted she made mention of the tensions surrounding breast milk: "I always got so upset if too much of it got heated up and it had to be thrown away!"

The good news is, it's not just me being neurotic. It's a pretty wild thing to be able to create food out of your body--a wonderful thing and a potentially scary one, too. While I find the experience of breastfeeding to be mostly sweet and convenient, it's not pleasant to pump. And while I'm proud of how well Maybelle is growing, it can be somewhat anxiety-provoking to realize that another being's health and well-being depends on this stuff that my body is producing. Given all this, I find that it's comforting to look into the refrigerator and freezer and see plenty of milk there. So comforting that I'd almost rather just keep it there than use it.

2 comments:

Cindy said...

Welcome to the world of crazy breast milk women!
My husband thinks it is particularly funny when I gets obsessive about "replacing" whatever breastmilk I have used from the freezer. I have enough to keep a small third world country alive but I FREAK OUT if I even use 3 oz without replacing it...
Glad to hear I am not alone in my craziness.

Kaethe said...

Pumping is a drag. I finally decided I was more comfortable expressing by hand. And I learned how to write my name in the snow. It's a very freeing moment.