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Pump Talk

Is your breast pump trying to tell you something? You’re not alone.

Pump Talk

The other day, a mom friend of mine told me about a recent conversation about pumping she'd had with a coworker—also a mom—at the office.

"I used to swear that my pump was talking to me," the coworker told my friend. "It sounded like it was saying, 'grandpa, grandpa.'” My friend couldn't believe it. She had always thought it sounded like her pump was saying, 'loser, loser.’ A third coworker, who couldn't help but chime in, revealed that her pump was more sinister--she had thought her pump was saying, 'rapist, rapist.'

Now, admittedly, new moms are often sleep-deprived, but “Pump Talk” is anything but imagined. For those of you who haven't yet experienced the glory of pumping (or who don't ever plan to for that matter), electric breast pumps make such an irritating, mechanical sound that when you're pumping for what seems like the ninth hour that day in the janitor's closet-cum-makeshift-pumping-room, the whirring can start to play tricks on the mind.

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Personally, I’ve always thought my breast pump was haunted by not just one, but multiple spirits who used it as a channel with which to communicate with me. If my pump were a movie character, it would have been the one played by Whoopie Goldberg in Ghost.

Sometimes my pump was inhabited by the spirit of someone whose heart had been broken by a guy named Edward. “Edward! Edward!” it moaned the minute it was hooked up to my nipples. You gotta be careful with Edwards, I’ve always said. (They tend to have very thin moustaches and eyes that are too close together. Right?)

Other times my pump was possessed by a spirit who spoke in tongues–some kind of Voodoo Queen I assumed–or who had secret messages in very high pitches that only my dog could understand.

There were times my pump channeled a more lighthearted spirit who I sense was once a doula or at least a big supporter of Attachment Parenting. “Milk it, milk it," it would say, like my own little breast pumping cheerleader. Sometimes I'd even get into the rhythm, allowing my head to bob to the beat as the pump pulled at my nipples in a synchronized fashion.

On bad days, the pump seemed to be haunted by the spirit of my 9th grade French teacher, a portly man who spoke in an impossibly nasal voice and who was rumored to have been a disgruntled postman before finding his calling teaching. "Idiote! Idiote!” it would shout furiously at me in a very bad parody of a French accent. This tended to take place on days when I would be expecting to express at least a five ouncer and would only turn out with three and a half. Where did the other two and a half ounces go? Perhaps my French teacher had scared them away?

Once in a while, my pump would get cute with me: "Feed me, feed me," it would say. “Very funny, Medela,” I would chuckle.

At its most eerie, the pump would turn on in the middle of the night, on its own accord. It reminded me of one of those spooky dolls in campy 80's movies that cries, "Mama! Mama!" at one in the morning. I would wake up to a strange motorized sound, hoping it was a car stalling on the BQE outside my window, only to realize it was my pump hard at work with what I could only imagine to be a mournful ghost of a Mother Who Died Too Young.

My pump has seen things. Some scary ass shit. It has seen cracked and bleeding nipples. It has seen breasts lined with swollen and blue veins like that of a vampire in the fatal stages of Hepatitis V from HBO’s True Blood. It has borne witness to strange happenings, like the time I found myself engorged in midtown and without any breastmilk storage bottles in which to pump. I ended up having to pump into two Chinese takeout containers that a lovely salesperson in a bra store let me use.

So it is not entirely surprising that somewhere along the way, a minor tear in the force field that separates the dead from the living allowed spirits to enter my pump and make it their new (and hopefully temporary) home. I’m not sure what will happen to them all when I’m done using it. Will they remain trapped in there forevermore, never to have a voice via a motorized pumping apparatus? Or will ending its use set the spirits free? Only time will tell.

In the mean time, I’ll be here, hooked up to my pumping valves and breast shields, wondering a bit about that guy Edward, and if he was worth all that heartbreak.

What about you? Is your pump haunted? Does it speak to you? Tell me, Mother Dear, what is the message it is trying to send?

Illustration by Talia Handler.

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