The pump entered my life when Eliza was just days old and my milk came in with a vengeance. I sent my husband out to buy the most powerful pump he could find, and my new, souped-up machine had me on the first th-rump th-rump: It could suck circles around the wimpy pump I'd had before. I was de-engorged in no time and had my first batch of milk for the freezer. For the rest of my maternity leave, even after Eliza nursed to bursting, the pump could still extract a few ounces to be set aside. And when I went back to work, my thrice-daily pumping sessions were efficient and productive. Because the pump was not only powerful but designed to empty two breasts at once, I quickly figured out how to hold both funnels in place with one hand and answer e-mails with the other. I could feed my baby and earn my paycheck all at the same time.
The pump's portability and discreet design (when not in use, it looks like a chic black backpack) also served me well. I was never shy about breastfeeding my babies. I could empty my breasts in a public restroom while on a field trip with Will's sixth-grade class; during an overnight business trip, when I stored the pumped milk in the ice bucket in my hotel room, getting up to replenish the ice during the night.
Was I a little nuts? Maybe. Was my obsession driven purely by reports that breast is best? Absolutely not. Sure, the research findings nagged at me. (Although I got over my initial worries that I had set Will up for a lifetime of illness by weaning him: He got ear infections because he was prone to them.) But the roots of my obsession went to the very core of what being a good mom means, at least for me.
Most any woman who chooses, or has, to work after having kids will tell you that no matter how much she likes her job, the motherhood-career combo can be fraught with guilt. It necessitates leaving your children to be cared for by someone who isn't you. Each day that you put on grownup clothes and walk out the door, you feel as if you're abandoning your child anew. That, at least, was my experience. Every time I shut the door to my office and hooked up my pump, though, a little bit of the guilt drained away. With every yellow-capped bottle of milk that I tucked into a corner of the office fridge, the longing that I felt for the infant at home was assuaged. With the help of my breast pump, what I couldn't give my babies in hours of time, I could make up for in ounces of milk.
So now that I've teased out the complexities of my relationship with my breast pump, what will become of it? The next time I have a bag full of clothing to take to Milk Money, I'll bring the pump along and leave it. I don't need it around anymore. I have my beautiful children -- college-bound Will; Eliza, my 8-year-old writer; Lucas, my 5-year-old musician and gourmand; and Wyatt, my all-boy toddler who needs new slippers -- to remind me that I have been, and am, a good mom.
Maura Rhodes is the author of Baby Must-Haves: The Essential Guide to Everything from Cribs to Bibs. Rhodes lives in Montclair, New Jersey.