When my daughter was born, I had sixteen weeks of paid maternity leave. For most people in the US, this maternity plan is almost unheard of. I am very fortunate to have a job that not only do I love, but has great benefits (health insurance, flexibility, etc). It took two months before Row and I mastered nursing together. It was one of the hardest things I did, but once we finally got it, it quickly became my favorite thing to do with her. I knew, though, that I only had a few more weeks of being a 24/7 milk machine before I would return to work and she’d have to start taking a bottle from her father. And so, after I nursed her and put her down for the night, I’d plug in my breast pump and get to work. In the early morning after nursing her, I’d do the same thing and begin pumping.
I want to note, because I feel it important to say, that this is entirely my own experience and none of what I share is meant to shame any other mother for how they’ve chosen, or maybe not chosen, but had no choice but to feed their child in the best way possible. Whether that’s nursing, pumping or formula, every body, every baby, every personality and every experience is different. I believe that to survive as a mother, you have to learn grace, over and over again, in order to succeed.
For me, pumping was excruciating. I realize the gift modern technology has given us. Me pumping during my maternity leave meant that my baby would continue to have breastmilk once I was back working. This is a huge blessing! But it came with many tears. I don’t know why, but I always felt very degraded when pumping, which is strange, because becoming a mother has made me feel empowered in every other way. Perhaps it was just exhaustion. After caring for my sweet girl all day while my body was healing from labor and adjusting to a crazy new sleep schedule, the last thing I wanted to do at night or early in the morning was pump. I hated that I was using some contraption to extract milk from my body when I wanted to simply hold my baby and feed her. I felt like an object. A machine. It was really, really hard, but I stuck through it so that Row would be able to have breastmilk for as long as possible.
As it turns out, I pumped way more milk than she’s needed. She loves eating solids and when I’m home, still nurses 5-7 times a day. But on days when I have a full schedule of photo shoots and she’s with my husband, she maybe goes through 1 bag of breast milk that day and for the most part, sticks to solids. When I’m home, she goes back to nursing. And so I was started to feel really defeated that I had an entire freezer of breast milk that was going to go to waste.
That is, until yesterday. A woman I know and consider a friend, but whom I mostly know through other friends, reached out on social media and asked if I had extra breast milk to spare. She had returned to work and since doing so, her milk supply had dropped and they were supplementing with formula. Again, there is nothing wrong with formula whatsoever, but for this woman, she wanted to see if there was any way possible she could keep her baby on breast milk for a bit longer. For her, this was reaching out to friends and friends of friends, trusted people, to see if there was any extra milk to spare.
I don’t know if she felt nervous asking me for milk since we really haven’t ever hung out one on one, but truthfully, she lifted a huge weight off of my shoulders. I read her message and immediately teared up. Suddenly all of those long, tiring hours of pumping that often left me in tears weren’t for nothing. They were for a purpose, that purpose being to feed another child.
It takes a tribe. It really does. My husband has been a huge support for me and has been with me every step of the way. We both have full time jobs (mine takes me out of the house part time, his he can do at home) and have (mostly) figured out how to juggle working and both caring for our daughter. ( As a side note, working from home doesn’t mean you’re available to be a 24/7 caregiver, in fact, working from home and running your own business means working way more than 40 hours a week, so I don’t ever want to give the impression that it’s easy for my husband to watch my daughter while I dash off to a photo shoot). Back to my original point, though.
It takes a tribe to raise a child and I’m so grateful for the mother tribe.. The middle of the night text messages to each other while we were all up feeding our babies, the other frantic text messages (whether at 5am, 2am or the middle of the day) about some new thing we were facing with our child and had no idea what to do about. It’s been the countless women I’ve formed deep friendships with since having babies, because while motherhood is one of the most beautiful things in the world, it is also not only the hardest, but one of the loneliest things in the world. And it’s been the tribe of women around me who have helped pull me out of countless postpartum funks and dilemmas and made me feel like I can do it.
So thank you, to all of you in my life, but especially to the other mothers.