It was Tuesday, January 3, in the evening after Chris had put Kaia to bed in our hotel room. I was doing my second (and last) pump of the day, reading news in the food world, scrolling through Instagram mindlessly while finishing yet another hour-long pump session. And as I approached the end of that pumping session, suddenly, out of nowhere, the suction on the pump stopped, and all I could hear was a sad, faint clicking sound coming from inside the pump. The screen was still on, recording seconds that passed as though the suction was still working, but it was not. My Spectra S1 Plus pump, my primary, battery-operated pump, the one that I had purchased via health insurance about a month before I gave birth to Kaia, had finally died. Nearly 1,400 pumping hours later, my pump’s motor just stopped.
Name: Yvonne’s Spectra S1 Plus: the machine that enabled Kaia Pookie to have breast milk for almost 13 months
Date of birth: Thursday, November 4, 2021 (okay, fine… date of purchase, which is LIKE a birth in some ways)
Date of death: Tuesday, January 3, 2023
(and a mic, somewhere out there… drops)
I was in a hotel in Santa Ana, and I had no idea what to do next. I started panicking. I got emotional. My mind was spinning. This was NOT the way my pumping journey was supposed to end!!!!
My supply was already going down. It plummeted after I weaned down to 3 pumps per day in early November. It started going down even further in the days approaching Kaia’s first birthday, which coincidentally was when I got my second postpartum period. I knew my periods were to blame for my decreasing supply, since when estrogen in your body increases (that’s the hormone that enables your menstrual flow), prolactin, the hormone that enables your body to produce milk, decreases. But there was nothing that could be done about that. I knew that at this point in my journey, just days away from the 13-month mark, that my pump dying while on the road would be like a death sentence for my supply. I needed the stimulation, and even one or two days without any pump stimulation would force me to prematurely wean, whether I wanted to or not. And what’s even more ridiculous: if I didn’t pump and get any stimulation, I could even get another clog, which sounded so awful given how low my supply was at this point, but I’d heard of many weaning mothers having this happen to them. I needed another pump, and I needed it ASAP.
The next morning, I contacted Spectra’s help line. I had a two-year warranty and knew they would send me a new pump. After sending a video showcasing the sad clicking noise and sharing my proof of purchase, they sent me a new pump with new parts… which were supposed to be delivered by UPS 2-day, but instead due to some internal communication error on their side, was received on the following Monday. And in between, for 1.5 days, I borrowed a Spectra pump from a wonderful, selfless mother in Fountain Valley near our hotel, via the Facebook group Modern Asian Moms. I got so many responses in that group from my cry for help. I’d never felt like I belonged to a more inclusive and empathetic village than that day, when endless local “MAMs” as we call ourselves offered to lend or even GIVE me their Spectra pumps.
On Thursday, January 5, we flew back to New York and arrived back in the evening, and that night, I didn’t pump. I was just too tired. Until the evening of January 9, I only used my Baby Buddha breast pump with my Spectra parts. And as frustrating as it was, the Baby Buddha just wasn’t doing it for my body. No one ever warned me that your body gets “used to” a certain pump, and then it just doesn’t work well with other pumps. So the output was never the same, and because I wasn’t removing enough milk, my supply finally went down to the double digits in milliliters. It was so depressing… to see all my hard work over the last 13 months go down to almost nothing in just a matter of days. My output increased with that first pumping session back with my new Spectra, but at that point, it was too late already. My body had gone days without proper stimulation and milk removal, and I was barely pumping a total of 2 oz (60 ml) per day. And then it hit me: I really needed to draw the line there. I need to finally stop.
So I arbitrarily called it: January 24 will be the last day I pump milk for Kaia Pookie. On January 17, I will begin only 1PPD, which will signal to my body to produce even less milk. And I may only get drops, if anything, in the days following. But I need to stop now, as the tiny output just wasn’t justifying being connected to an electric nipple sucker for two hours each day, not to mention the constant measuring and storing of milk, the washing of the bottles, the time spent away from doing other things for the baby, Chris, or for myself. My baby will have had breast milk for the first 13.5 months of her life. My body has done a good job providing for Kaia — I kicked exclusive pumping in the ass. Unfortunately, though I wanted to go to 15 months, my pump made this decision for me, which I hate. But it is what it is. And when I really think about it — when I started this aggressive, exclusive pumping journey, my original goal was to get to six months; when my supply was still doing great at six months, I thought, okay, things are looking good. I have a good cadence, and I’m at peace with pumping, so then I extended my goal to one year. At nine months, when Kaia started consuming less milk and more solids, I saw all the breast milk piling up in the fridge and thought, wow! Maybe I’ll go past 12 months! Let’s do 15 months! And…. well, now, it’s not going to happen. And that’s okay. I need to give myself grace. My periods coming back, my pump dying.. these are forces outside of my control. I exceeded the smaller goals I set out, and 13.5 months it will be. I am proud of the work I have done, the diligence and perseverance and dedication to providing my baby breast milk. My baby is healthy and happy and safe, and that’s all that matters at this point to me.
So this is the beginning of the end to my exclusive pumping journey. It’s been a good, miserable, intense, and exciting ride, but I’m grateful for my pump and the advanced technology behind it, grateful for what my body has done, grateful for all the support I’ve had from my family, friends, colleagues, night nurses, lactation consultant, nanny, and especially to my Chris along the way. More people had to see my nipples than I ever thought. More people had to listen to me banging on collection bottles to ensure I got out every last drop of breast milk, of liquid gold. More people than I ever thought had to see me carrying around an electric device connected to my nipples in lobbies, hotels, restaurants, and different countries. But this all has been worth it. I am a better, more disciplined and learned person for it. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge and humility for this journey. And I have never, ever had more respect and awe than ever before for all the mothers out there who pump milk for their babies… and especially to those who exclusively pump. None of us pump because we love it… but we all pump because we love. And there’s nothing greater in the world than pure love.
Pumping mamas unite. <3