Your motherhood is not measured by breast or pump, by output and ounces, by formula or bottle.
We've never met, but I get what you're feeling right now. And I wanted to write a fellow exclusively pumping (EP) mom a note of encouragement and support.
For when you feel like you are tethered to a machine that also kind of feels like it may or may not be sucking the life out of you.
When those moments creep up that make you feel like you've failed your breastfeeding journey because it looks different than you thought it would and because it is not what you expected.
When you are up all alone in the middle of the night so you can pump—expressing milk even though your baby is sound asleep.
When you feel like it is hard to find your place among other mamas.
When you are let down because you can't Instagram a cute photo of a milk drunk baby on your breast, because your breastfeeding experience is in a bathroom trying to juggle 12 pieces of plastic from falling on the floor—without your baby on your breast.
When you break down and cry because you got to work and forgot a dang flange and it feels like your life depends on it.
I want you to know that what you are doing matters. So. Much.
Every pump is an expression of love into a bottle. You are completely incredible. Your milk is making your baby healthy and strong. These experiences, good and very hard as they may be, are helping you to grow too, mama.
And I also want you to know, that if pumping didn't work out for you, or if you supplement with formula, or if you choose to stop pumping altogether—you are also awesome.
Motherhood should not be defined by this one thing, just like the rest of your parenting journey won't likely be about a single event or choice, but a series of experiences that add up to a wild and wonderful journey.
I have been where you are. I know how this feels. I was always hooked up to my pump. I was depleted of energy. I was constantly counting ounces. I experienced dips in my supply that led to sheer panic thinking, How will I feed my baby tomorrow?
I have pumped between two strangers giving me the side-eye on an airplane. I have been late for meetings, always because I needed to finish pumping. I have experienced the daily annoying ritual of washing of So. Many. Pump. Parts (since us EPers tend to have about 10 times the supply of these items on hand…)
Oh! And I could never forget that time I frantically drove around a foreign country looking for spare parts after I melted everything in a pot of water on the stove because I was trying to sterilize my pump parts. If I didn't locate foreign parts, we all know this story would have ended with mastitis (and a very hungry baby) if I didn't get my pumps in.
I remember what it's like to come home after a long day of work and cuddle baby for only a few minutes and then hand her off so I could…pump again. And I can vividly recall the times I spilled some of my milk and thought someone was going to have to clean my sobbing self off of the floor, too.
I also know the feeling of incredible satisfaction staring at a full bottle and then a full baby and thinking: this might not be the way I thought my milk would get to my baby, but it's equally magical.
And the joy when I found a special sisterhood with other EPing mamas ("OMG there are people JUST LIKE ME!"). And the pride I felt in knowing that I was working very hard to overcome some tricky circumstances. That I was determined to reach my breastfeeding goals and provide for my baby.
What I want to ask you today is: Did you know that you are an amazing mother?
Did you know your EPing experience fast-tracked the parts of motherhood we all encounter somewhere along the line: sacrifice, commitment, unconditional love, goals, exhaustion, fear, regret, and hope. It's making you a stronger mama.
There came a point in my EPing journey that I realized: this is less about breastmilk and how it is fed to the baby, and far more about my very special, "exclusive" connection to my child. I hope you know this, too.
Your motherhood is not measured by breast or pump, by output and ounces, by formula or bottle. You are showing up for that kiddo as the whole wonderful you and you are rocking it. Take credit for this and be gentle with yourself.
You are a mama superhero. There are many of us out here that understand what you're going through and we've got your back. Keep being awesome, exclusively pumping, you.