Pump Life – Jenna Pastuszek
"And oh the places I pumped! From the bathroom stall at my dentist’s office, to my car, to the hotel balcony at our resort in Hawaii, to off camera during zoom calls, to my JetBlue middle seat between two very confused businessmen, I diligently never missed a session."
I thought doing a live performance of a one-woman Judy Garland tribute show at 10am for the JCC of Toledo, Ohio would be the craziest thing I’d ever do over zoom, and then I showed a
stranger my nipples.
I even dialed in from my computer AND phone so she could get a better look.
Add in an assortment of plastic flanges, a discussion about elastic nipples, some coconut oil, and set it to the steady pulse of a Spectra S2. Yep, definitely crazier than the muted jazz hands of the JCC.
My son was born breech, via labor-induced c-section on August 3rd. The combination of his tightly tucked fists and arms, his posterior tongue and upper lip ties, his Leo love of drama, and slow arrival and undersupply of my milk, made breastfeeding “complicated.” After countless tears, lots of pain, many botched attempts with supplemental nursing systems, and hours of Three am googling, I discovered another way to breastfeed: exclusive pumping.
Possibility permeated by joining a Facebook group. Its members included thousands of women also choosing, for whatever reason, to exclusively pump, sharing tips and tricks that I scrolled/devoured while pumping at midnight, three, and six. I replaced panicking about my low supply with taking action in the form of eating Oreos (science-backed or placebo, they helped, okay?!?!), making oatmeal with brewer’s yeast, drinking gallons of electrolyte water, and taking supplements like sunflower lecithin and goat’s rue. I downloaded free sample pumping schedules, pump hack guides, recipes for lactation cookies, and finally understood why the wearable pumps didn’t work for me (#elasticnips).
Three weeks into parenting, I told my lactation consultant my plan to give up on triple feeds, throw out the nipple shields, and concentrate on exclusive pumping. I asked her to meet with me to do a flange fitting, and she stopped answering my texts. Our last exchange was her sending me a screenshot of coins to compare to my nipples- something I easily could’ve googled myself! Just when I was at my most vulnerable, her lack of empathy made me feel ashamed and embarrassed for not being able to figure out how to make latching work.
And then I met Barbara. Because I rented a hospital grade pump from The Pump Station, I was eligible for a free 30-minute consult with the staff lactation consultant. After my previous experience, I was hesitant, but at 8 weeks postpartum, I was sleeve deep in Oreos and still underproducing. Mid- chew I decided facing possible shame again was worth it to feel like I had explored everything, so I wiped the crumbs off my face and booked an appointment.
One bright morning, we met over zoom. I unhooked my pump bra, slid in a flange, and the rest is history. Turns out, I had been wearing too big of a flange which was contributing to my irritated areolas and decreased output! With Barbara’s guidance, I went from wearing a 24mm flange down to 21, 19, and finally landed at 17mm. Before giving birth, I had never heard of a flange, let alone the possibility of wearing the wrong size. Without Babs, I never would have known there was something within my control to make pumping more efficiently comfortable.
Barbara also helped me see that anything I gave my baby- breastmilk or formula or a mix of both- and however I gave it to him, for whatever amount of time, was a gift. Instead of dwelling on my inability to produce exactly as many ounces as he ate every day, I focused on what I could provide instead. And instead of fixating on being a “shitty mom” for not being able to breastfeed “the natural way,” she helped me see that continuing to tell myself THAT was shitty. Any way a parent feeds their baby is hard work worth championing.
My plan pre-pregnancy was to exclusively breastfeed until my son turned one. If you saw my previous post on planning and pregnancy, you can guess how that panned out. I spent the first 12-weeks post-delivery pumping 30-minutes per session, 8 times a day. Once I regulated, I spent the next 2 weeks pumping 7 times a day, just to make sure my supply didn’t drop. By mid-November, I finally dropped my MOTN (middle of the night pump) and enjoyed my first stretch of more than 4 hours of sleep since August. Whether it was a magic number of pumps or the uninterrupted sleep, I produced the most ounces at 6ppd (pumps per day).
I began traveling again more frequently for work in December, so I tried dropping to 5 pumps per day and stayed there until I realized my supply was accidentally decreasing, so I went back up to 6 and stayed there for another 6 weeks. And oh the places I pumped! From the bathroom stall at my dentist’s office, to my car, to the hotel balcony at our resort in Hawaii, to off camera during zoom calls, to my JetBlue middle seat between two very confused businessmen, I diligently never missed a session.
By the beginning of February, I was tired, both physically and mentally, from the amount of logistical planning it took to prioritize the pump for three plus hours each day. We were almost out of cold season, so when my son turned 6-months old, I decided that it was time to wean from the pump. Having that full eighth of my day back would allow me to be the mom and the person I wanted to be with a little less caffeine fueling my system.
What I didn’t realize is that weaning takes time, especially if I wanted to continue avoiding clogs and mastitis. My plan (ha!) was to drop one pump session per week, but I hadn’t accounted for the physical adjustments I’d need to make as I dropped as well as the emotional ones. Like how I felt about gaining weight while pregnant, I had a hard time seeing a decrease in ounces. It was weird to celebrate smaller outputs.
As I dropped pumps, my hormone levels also fluctuated, so I was also more emotional than
usual. I mentioned feeling guilty about giving up breastfeeding to my best friend Bev, a mother
of two. She told me that I could quit feeling guilty about it as there’s always another thing to
feel guilty about in motherhood. For some reason, the Ukrainian in me took comfort in that,
and two months after I began weaning, I finally pumped my last pump as my son turned 8
The idea that there’s always something else to feel guilty about when it comes to motherhood
is equal parts laughable and painfully accurate. But reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned so far on my parenting journey, the most important have been about self-forgiveness. Acknowledging my humanness alongside my motherness, accepting that balancing my needs with my baby’s needs does not make me a selfish person, and embracing a never-ending change of plans.
Whether you’re breastfeeding and nursing exclusively, pumping, supplementing with formula, using donor milk, or feeding your baby only formula, you’re doing a great job. Can you see and hear my muted jazz hands from there?! Because they are as exuberant as those of the wonderful people of Toledo!
PS- If you get the chance to meet Barbara and show her your nipples over zoom, I promise you
won’t regret it.
Jenna Pastuszek (she/her)is a professional actor, singer, voice over artist, musical theatre educator, and voice teacher. Jenna has performed in theatres across America in a variety of mediums, including her acclaimed solo shows GET HAPPY! and ME,MYSELF & BARBRA. She is a voiceover artist, voicing household brands like Starbucks Cafe, Pepsi, Amazon, KIND Bar, Target, IKEA, Crest, Toyota and more. She is the Co-Founder of Innovative Voice Studio, where she trains Broadway performers and works with leaders across industries through Innovative Performance. Previous faculty positions include The University of the Arts, New York University, The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, The American Musical Theatre Academy, and Musical Theater College Auditions. Pastuszek received her Masters in Teaching in Elementary Education and a BA in History and minor in French from the University of Virginia and her Masters in Vocal Performance and Advanced Certificate of Vocal Pedagogy from NYU Steinhardt. She is an Estill Voice International Master Trainer and a graduate of Seth Godin’s altMBA. Learn more at www.jennap.com.