Milk Madness

Monday, May 3, 2010
These days I’m wearing more than a few hats. I’m an untenured assistant professor, a consultant, a blogger, a daughter, a mama, a sister, a wife, a granddaughter, a friend, a boss…and also a human being’s food supply. Yes, five to six times a day I generate enough milk to satisfy the appetite and growth requirements of a nearly 15 pound 4-month-old baby girl. For the record, she consumes about 13-15% of her weight in milk every day.

Annie was born in January. I resumed work when she was just two weeks old. I resumed full-time work (e.g. at least 40 hours/week) when she was a month old. I began flying with her when she was 4 weeks, and started traveling 1-2 nights away from her on trips when she reached 3 months. Yes, you heard right-- I didn’t have a maternity leave. Sure, I was offered one: 12 weeks unpaid. I just wasn’t in a financial position to do it. So, here I am— the pumping, productive professor.

You should see the newest breastpump (even if you don’t really want to). You should see how tiny it is (it weighs less than the amount of milk I express each day). They call it the Freestyle, and its maker, Medela, advertises it with the claim that it’s now possible to pump while doing dishes. (Yippee, just what I always wanted!!) You should see how tightly I can pack its parts into my luggage, and how I can cram it and me into the tiny spaces to get our work done. The pump and I spend a lot of time together—if I’m not with Annie, I’m with my pump. In the last three weeks I’ve pumped in airplane bathrooms during turbulence (“ladies and gentleman please return to your seats”—yeah right!), in narrow toilet stalls in conference hotels, in university conference rooms and colleagues’ offices, and yes (I’m sorry), even when I’m driving (please, don’t peek in my window).

I relay all this and suddenly I feel myself typing those saddest of words: I have no choice. But even as I do, I see how silly they look. Oh poor me, with my R1 university research job, my supportive telecommuting husband, my two beautiful children, and all of the incredible speaking and travel opportunities constantly offered to me. Sure, I spend nearly two-thirds of my 9-month academic salary on childcare every year, but hey, at least I have a steady income. And I’m blessed with incredibly supportive nannies and babysitters, family members who will fly out to help when needed, and no real fear of losing my job in the immediate future. I really have it quite good.

But the milk madness always feels, no matter what the truth, like madness. Last week I took a red eye, stuck in a window seat with two sleeping gents beside me I couldn’t get out, couldn’t pump, and my laptop battery died. Full of exhaustion, full of ideas, and full of milk, I nearly lost it. Now I write this sitting in Denver airport, waiting for the last flight of the night, 2 hours delayed, trying like heck to get home and be there to nurse my baby in the morning. I have to get there—I only have two little plastic storage baggies left. Think of me.