A few weeks ago, in an anxiety induced grocery spree, I found myself standing in front of our deep freezer with multiple items I needed to cram inside. Our freezer was already pretty full, but I hadn't consulted said freezer before ordering more items, so I was having a hard time playing frozen potato Tetris and needed to get rid of whatever superfluous items we had shoved in the back. I pulled out a half full bag of ice, some scraps of ham from multiple New Year's past that never made it into stock or whatever I was saving it for, and a gallon size freezer bag full of frozen breast milk.
I have two children, and I breastfed them both for a time, but it was for me the hardest part of motherhood. The actual nursing of my children was fine, easier with the second for sure, but the act of pumping breast milk out of my body induced such anxiety, frustration, and depression that it clouds both postpartum periods with my kids.
My first kid lost over ten percent of her body weight in the hospital, so I was met with the choice of begin a three step feed process or give her formula. Oh, how I wish I could go back to baby me and just hand her a formula bottle and tell her everything will be fine. No, I was full of hormones and internet articles, and I did not sleep for three days as I tried to nurse my baby, then immediately pump, then give her the thimble full of breast milk I'd extracted after forty five minutes of pumping, then cry and stare at the wall for approximately twenty minutes before I'd have to start the entire process over. I kept up this three step feed for the first month of her life, and to this day I can't imagine ever going through anything like that ever again. So, pumping right off the bat was terrible and anxiety inducing, and my daughter was a normal, hungry baby that never seemed to get full. Yet, I persisted.
We bought a deep freezer just for breast milk, and I pumped every morning and every night of every day of my maternity leave, painstakingly filling that freezer with gallon size Ziplock bags filled with individual 4 oz bags of milk. I pumped and pumped, and I washed pump parts when I could have been sleeping, and I worried about how much I was making. At one point, the power went out in our house, and I freaked out, filled a cooler with all the milk, and carted it over to my sister's house. Breast milk was gold, and I horded it like a spiny dragon. From the first day she went to daycare, my daughter would eat what I pumped plus some of the freezer stash. After three months of being back at work and pumping five to seven times a day, my stash was gone. I started supplementing with formula and realized that the world didn't end, my daughter was healthy and happy, and I had let this machine act as a barometer for how well I thought I was doing as a mother.
As I prepared for the birth of my second kid, I looked back on that time and shuddered at how naive, misguided, and unprepared I was. I vowed that if my second kid began to lose weight, I'd be the first to feed her a bottle of formula. My daughter was born, and my boobs immediately kicked into gear and from day one nursing number two was a joy. I always felt like my supply was good, and she seemed satisfied, and we left it at that. My pump stayed in the closet for months as I enjoyed maternity leave, nursed my kiddo, and went on with life. Then, my return date for work started looming, and I realized I should probably start building a stash to send those first days at daycare. So, I started pumping. With the pumping, though, came the anxiety. I started to freeze little bags full of two ounces, three ounces, but I also began mentally tallying up how much I was getting versus the time and effort it was taking to produce that milk. I had a few bags saved up in the freezer by the time I went back to work, but I could not pump with the frequency or fervor it had taken to keep up my supply the first time, and after a month back at the office I quit all together. I was happier and able to be more present with my daughter, and it was easier to make formula bottles for school, so a half full bag of breast milk servings sat in the freezer.
When my daughter started eating solids, I told myself that I would use the breast milk for her purees, but it was always easier to reach for the formula. When she was teething, I told myself I would use it for popsicles. I never did, though, and it just sat there. As she turned one and I was faced with the task of cramming all of our new pandemic emergency foods into the freezer, I pulled that bag of breast milk out and threw it directly in the trash. I had taken time to pump that milk, and it had been difficult, but I learned a long time ago that it wasn't actually gold, and it didn't define my worth as a mother, so in the end it was not hard to part with. It helped make space for nourishing foods that will be there if we need them, and in that I can find some peace.