One of the things they don’t tell you you will be doing a great deal of as a new mum is expressing your breast milk. Yeah, sitting down with a breast pump and emptying your breast milk into a bottle.
There is something undeniably primitive and animalistic about the whole exercise.
Granted, technology has evolved the breast pump into a dandy, ergonomic and sleek device, but its primal function is not subject to this technological evolution.
New mums have been expressing breast milk as long as babies have been born. No, that’s not quite accurate. I’d say it caught on from the 1940s, when feminism was in its second wave and women began building something of themselves outside the home. Pursuing careers, rediscovering themselves.
But you know what, my own mother isn’t privy to the mechanisms or science behind expressing. Which means that I don’t know what I’m talking about.
You know what, ignore this. Ignore that I associated a breast pump to feminism.
Anyway, as modern working mums, we express breast milk so that our little buttons can continue to enjoy our breastmilk and reap all its nutritious goodness when we’re get back to economic grind. You can also express so that someone else can feed your baby while you put your feet up and catch up with yourself at your local over unhealthy platter of nyama and a sweaty glass of white wine.
It’s all good, this dandy breast pump. I know of some moms who name their breast pumps but our relationship has not matured to that level of intimacy. (Although, if I would, I would name mine Paul. Don’t ask.)
I am using a manual Lansinoh breast pump.
I usually express my milk three times a day. I express in the middle of the night, at around 4AM, in the dark, the light from my device illuminating my face. Then again at mid-morning, from around 10AM, unshowered, sleep stinging at the back of my eyes.
And lastly at 11PM, knackered and looking for every excuse to jump into bed. Expressing at that hour is the little bow I tie on the day that was. It’s like a gift to myself. I want to say that I wrap up the day but that is a low-hanging fruit.
I won’t tell you how much milk I express in a day because I like to play my cards close to my vest.
It takes me 40 minutes per session, give or take. The quantity of milk I express dwindles as the day wears on. Science and stuff. So I don’t need to tell you that I get the most milk within the shortest period at 4AM and the least amount at 11PM.
And in case you’re wondering, yes, I sometimes liken myself to a dairy cow. Like the ones my Ol’Man keeps on his farm in Kaplong. “Hey there. My name is Bett, I’m a new mum, and I share a kindred spirit with a lactating cow.”
Most of the milk I express goes into milk bags that go in the deep freezer. Baby Njeeh will drink it in the later months to come. Now he drinks a fresh 200ml from the bottle every day and still breastfeeds. He’s only two and a half months old but the young boy is chugging milk as if it’s a cold Tusker Malt on a hot day.
Anyway, there are life lessons I have mastered while sitting down with my breast pump for all those hours over the past months. I have mastered consistency, something most about anyone struggles with. In whichever fashion, in whichever unpleasant task we must undertake.
Njeeh was born on a Friday, by Sunday I was expressing my first 10ml. I am proud to tell you that I have never skipped a day to express since.
I have mastered the fine art of having fun while working. Expressing is a hell load of hard work to the body and to the mind. I counter this by using expressing time to engage in solo pursuits that colour me outside my lines: I will read a book I enjoy from my Kindle, usually for the mid-morning and late night pump. I am currently rereading ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn. I read it every so often because the writing is top drawer shit. It’s always a go-to when I am in between reads. Plus I love Nick as a character.
Mid-mornings sessions are the best time to catch Netflix. You know those useless Netflix-produced low-budget shows that you catch for the sake of catching? They are good for keeping my focus away from the bottle.
On other mornings I listen to podcasts from Castbox. Although they can get pretty wearisome, pretty quick, they hold plenty of wisdom. Kwanza that chick for Unf*ck your brain, Kara Loewentheil. She has some mind-twisting truth bombs that will blow the blinds right out of our eyes. “Hello, my chickens. How are you?”
Late night sessions are perfect for winding down with 90s R&B.
Most importantly, pumping has had me mastered what it means to embrace abundance.
Allow me to explain the abundance theory through my breast pump: with our first baby, a daughter, I was burdened with this nagging fear that the milk would run dry at some point. I remember In the process I inadvertently regulated her intake and maybe – just maybe – limited her growth, her sleep.
Muna was not necessarily a crier. She must have constantly been bawling her lungs out because she was still hungry. The poor thing.
Well, I have matured now. I’m a big girl. I know better as a mommy.
The abundance mindset has me absorbing such reassuring positive truths as, ‘There is enough milk now and there will be enough for tomorrow.’
‘The milk will never run out.’
‘I know I won’t get much into the bottle at dusk but it will be spilling over at dawn. Don’t sweat it, eat a banana, a bowlful of ndengu then get some rest.’
‘Let Njeeh have that 200ml, hell give him more if he wants, he has the appetite for it, anyway – the more he has, the more you will make.’
‘I can picture the deep freezer stashed to the brim with milk bags.’
‘Speaking of which, the purpose of ndengus was never to accompany them with chapo. They’re to make milk – they’re not a boring cereal, they are an underrated power house. I love ndengus!’
‘When you get tired, don’t quit on yourself, rest.’
‘You got this, Woman!’
Now, if only I can export this wisdom to other areas of my life that badly need it.14