Photo: Jessica Todd Harper
Still, pumping your breasts is nothing like nursing. Instead of the tug of a baby's mouth, there is strong mechanical suction from two plastic cones that screw onto plastic bottles. When you nurse, the warmth of the baby tucked against you, skin to skin, stimulates the release of the feel-good hormone oxytocin, which helps trigger milk flow. When you pump, all you get is the whine and wheeze of a motor.
Reese had arrived so early that Lynn hadn't even unpacked her pump from its box. While she set it up the first time, Chris had to read her the instructions. Within the first weeks of her daughter's life, though, she fell into a routine. Every day, every three or four hours around the clock, at home, at the hospital, at work, Lynn pumped for Reese. Without the aid of a crying baby to rouse her, without even needing an alarm clock, she woke every night at 2 a.m. to sit and pump in the old-fashioned upholstered wing chair that had belonged to Chris's grandmother. In the still of the night, she'd phone the hospital. Always the same question: "How's Reese doing?" The nurses knew to expect her call.
Even though breast milk is easy to digest, Reese was so premature that her stomach couldn't handle it. Instead, she was given, intravenously, a liquid that looks like yellow Kool-Aid and contains carbohydrates, electrolytes, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Only on rare occasions were the nurses able to give her tiny amounts of Lynn's milk, through a tube inserted directly into her stomach or intestines.
When she was a month old, Reese developed necrotizing enterocolitis—a condition that causes portions of the intestines to die—and underwent surgery to remove withered sections of her intestine. But as the weeks passed after the surgery, she began getting stronger. When she was 2 months old and weighed 3 pounds, Lynn got to hold her for the first time. By June she had gained more weight. She was looking at her toys and using her pacifier and figuring out how to keep the doctors in line. When they came to do a procedure, she'd make as if to cry, then relax when they backed off. The doctor who'd once called her a little pistol was right.
All the while, Lynn kept pumping, stockpiling her milk for the day when Reese would be strong enough to digest it. Get up, shower, pump. Eat breakfast, go to work, pump. Head to the hospital, see Reese, pump. The more, the better. It was a gift for her daughter, but it helped Lynn too. It was a way to prepare for the future, for when Reese would come home. She had already passed a billion hurdles; it was just a matter of being patient.
At the hospital, there were two pumping rooms near the intensive care nursery: the lavender room and the yellow room. Both were furnished with gliders that moved back and forth in a soothing one-two beat. Lynn would sink into a glider, thumb through parenting magazines, think about Reese, and pump.
The nurses were incredulous. They'd never seen a woman pump so much for so long. One day a lactation consultant mentioned that with so much milk, Lynn might consider donating some.
Donating? Lynn barely paid attention. Why would she donate her milk? Reese would need every drop of it herself someday soon.
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