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12/18/2004

Pump and circumstance

PumpOne of the most reliable predictors of breastfeeding success is how supportive your partner is. I couldn't ask for more support than Paul has given. Not only does he prepare meals while I pump, and primly tells phone callers I'm "temporarily indisposed" when they call during a pumping session instead of mooing mournfully to explain my unavailability, but he happily takes the wheel, keeping the car gliding smoothly down the highway while my Pump in Style is wheezing a mile a minute.

What, you've never pumped on the interstate?

I've been trying very hard to pump every two hours while I'm awake. Charlie is taking breast milk now, and the amount he's fed increases by a few ccs daily. Before he's taken off his IV, he'll need to be consuming 30 ccs per feeding — that's about a cup a day. And his needs will only increase from here, so I've been pumping frequently in the hope of protecting my milk supply, a phrase that brings to mind nothing so much as the armor-plated bra of Xena, Warrior Princess.

Normally I use a rented Medela Symphony. It's a hospital-grade pump, which is code for "could suck the patina off the freedom-loving coppery tits of the Statue of Liberty." To negotiate the five-hour drive home without missing a couple of pumping sessions, though, I purchased a Pump in Style, a battery-powered portable breast pump discreetly sheathed in a fake leather shoulder bag. (That would be the "style" part, I guess, though I do find the plastic nipple cones utterly ruin the fluid drape of my filthy Polarfleece pajamas. Watch the runways this spring, ladies. I am riding the crest of the fashion wave.)

For the trip, I packed up my pumping apparatus and donned a zip-front sweater for easy access. I made sure there was a warm blanket within easy reach so that I could cloak myself modestly as I pumped. And I gave the keys to Paul. At the appointed time, I made him swear he wouldn't intentionally involve us in any vehicular carnage and I unstrapped my seat belt. I unzipped my sweater, unclipped the lanolin-glazed cups of my nursing bra, conscientiously rebuckled my seat belt athwart my naked rack, and hitched myself to the pump.

Now if you've never used a double-pumping system, you might not know this: it is impossible to do it without using both hands. I suppose if you adjust the sucking strength to the "black hole" setting, the nipple cones might not need supporting, but otherwise you need to hold the collection bottles in place. This presents a problem when you're watching TV while pumping and want to change the channel (what, you think I watched "The Price is Right" because I wanted to?), or when, oh, I don't know, you're flying down I-91 in broadest daylight and want to cover your exposed nipples.

We had the blanket, so I let go of one of the suction cones for a moment to try to retrieve it from the back seat. Milk was spilled. Hilarity ensued. Sweater must be laundered, but blanket was retrieved.

Traffic cone Then I tried to arrange the blanket around myself without using my hands. Naturally this involved my mouth. I repeatedly grabbed the edge of the blanket with my lips and tried to tug it into place. The only thing this achieved was to give me a mouthful of fleecy lint, not unlike what you might expect after going down on a Muppet.

Finally I gave up on the troublesome convention of modesty and let the blanket go. The only people who might have seen me were any interested truckers who happened to pass. Just to be safe, when we were within striking range of a truck, I kept my eyes forward, my spine rigid, and my chin high, regally ignoring any slack-jawed stares I might have inspired.

I imagined Queen Victoria passing through the streets of London in an open barouche, infrequently offering her subjects a stiff-armed wave. I'd have waved at the truckers but I couldn't let go of the cones. Nevertheless, as Paul safely steered us clear of curious state troopers and incredulous road crews, I was every inch the naked-breasted, funnel-nippled, sticky-sweatered monarch.

A veritable goddamn Dairy Queen.

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