I can’t imagine how someone could return to work from maternity leave after only six weeks. Six weeks into my leave I could hardly handle being out of eyeshot of my tiny infant daughter, let alone actually going outside my building. We were physically tethered together for as many hours as possible, just to get my milk supply going. The idea of parting company with my child and heading off to a different zip code to do Adult Stuff was anathema to me.
But I can imagine how someone can return to work after three months. I’m not ready to put on work clothes (none fit) and head back into the office yet, but I can see how one might be. By three months, you’ve begun to figure things out. You no longer launch into a panicked flurry of attempted soothing the second your child begins to fuss. You know when naptime is. You can leave a bottle with the sitter and walk out the door without difficulty. And you’ve started to reclaim, in significant measure, the things that were important to you before you gave birth.
I’m back in rehearsal two evenings a week, had a concert this weekend (complete with my Cathedral solo debut), auditioned for a gig at the ballpark on Saturday. I’ve started baking again: flan, pie, a wedding cake for my voice teacher last month. This week I telecommuted back to my day job, for the first time, while my neighbor’s nanny watched both her baby and mine. I can leave Natalie with someone else and dash out on an errand without freaking out, or sling her into a carrier or her bucket and take her along. My daughter is three and a half months old, and I’ve finally come to understand that she’ll be fine.
The only hitch in my resumption-of-life-as-we-know-it is the same thing that’s been obstructing it for the past two months: my increasingly absurd Lactation Campaign (perhaps better dubbed “Napoleon’s March on Milkscow“).
My neighbor, the one whose nanny we’re sharing, leaves her son a half dozen Medela cylinders and a bottle for good measure, all full of pumped milk dating from the previous day. One look at that stash makes me feel about an inch tall. (No wonder her son, a month younger than Natalie, already outweighs her by several pounds.) My ridiculous udders, which have grown so bloated and unwieldy that I can barely zip my choir robe over them, are sad sacks in comparison. I couldn’t pump that much in several days. Clearly size does NOT matter.
For weeks now I’ve been torturing myself and my family with the electrical milking machine. It hasn’t been entirely unsuccessful: I’m producing a good deal more milk than I was, Natalie still seems to be happy and healthy and growing, and I’ve more or less made my peace with Louise the portable pump, even though I wouldn’t call us friends. But even now it still takes multiple sessions with the pump to pull together a single bottle. And it shreds my soul to see a whole day’s agony at the pump disappear within minutes, particularly when her alternate caregivers feed Noodles a bottle “because she was crying so hard, I couldn’t wait for you to get home” and then another “because she started crying again when she finished it, like she just wanted more.”
There is an animal element to motherhood, something I can’t explain. I’ve never been this kind of person before. I prefer education to instinct, metrics over feelings. It still surprises me when I catch myself nuzzling Natalie, brushing my nose along her eyelashes and the swirls of her ears, drawing deep lungfuls of the scent of her scalp. The porcelain perfection of her sleeping face takes my breath away. I can lose hours just rocking and gazing at her, long after she’s stopped even nibbling at the breast and has drifted off into contented slumber. I would nurse her with the blood from my veins if I could.
So it shouldn’t bother me that the kid burns through any milk I pump, faster than I can pump it. Right? It shouldn’t affect me when I come home to find that another bag of frozen milk is spent, that our donated supply is exhausted, that the poor sod stuck watching Natalie in my absence finally could no longer stand her squalling and mixed her up a bottle of formula. (Yes, she’s had it. No, I was not home.) Because the most important thing is that she gets enough to eat. Right? Right? And if she’s hungry, what kind of mother would instruct a caregiver not to feed her? (Leaving aside the question of what kind of mother would leave her with a caregiver in the first place, rather than indefinitely postponing the resumption of Adult Stuff, fastening the infant to the teat, and leaving her there for days, weeks, months, until the milk sufficed.)
For my Lenten discipline this year, I have resolved to lay in one (1) six-ounce freezer bag per day, on top of Natalie’s regular feedings. Assuming that nobody decides to feed it all to her while I’m out, this should leave us with well over two hundred ounces of reserve milk. But I suspect that this may be the last mountain I will attempt to move in this Campaign. I’ve already lost the battle to breastfeed exclusively, and over time, as it must, my supply will eventually dwindle and erode beyond utility. We’ll keep up with the nursing as long as we can, as long as it makes her happy. But actual nutrition will come whence it will, and I think we’ll all benefit from making that Not Our Problem.
I’m already looking forward to the time when I’ll be able to teach her to cook.