Extreme Parent: Milking It

Before giving birth to a second child, I had to get something important off my chest: namely, my daughter Beatrice. She was three-and-a-half years old and still breastfeeding. I knew I would not have the patience to nurse her alongside an insatiable newborn, so I finally decided it was time to quit. My only two questions: how do I wean her, and how in the world had I nursed her for so long?

I didn’t know anything about babies when I got pregnant with Beatrice, but I decided early on I wanted to try breastfeeding. “Good for brain development,” the magazines claimed. “Great for health,” said all the experts. Plus, I’d lose weight.

Baby books recommended a minimum of six months or, even better, up to a year. I loved the idea: no clean-up and it’s free. I’m nothing if not lazy and a cheapskate. Still, I didn’t expect to get so carried away that my daughter would be fake-breastfeeding her own dolls by the time I even thought about retiring my tattered nursing bra.

When Beatrice was just a newborn, I rolled my eyes at mothers who breastfed toddlers, sure that they were compensating for troubled marriages. I smugly dismissed support groups that promoted breastfeeding beyond babyhood as clubs for women who crave dependent relationships.My sister said that a child who could ask for the breast was likely too old for it. I threw back my head and laughed.

When I told my sister I didn’t know how long I planned to nurse, she said that a child who could ask for the breast was likely too old for it. I threw my head back and laughed. Indeed. Who nurses a kid capable of reciting his phone number or knock-knock jokes? That’s creepy. But then there I was, years after giving birth, hoisting my shirt and lowering my bra cup for the budding comedian in my lap.

After my three-month maternity leave, I figured I’d be forced to cut Beatrice off, since the obstacles to pumping and storing breastmilk at work were high. My ultra-modern dot-com office featured acres of cubicles and several security cameras – hardly conducive to a plentiful let-down. More private options included reserving the futuristic conference room several times a day or locking myself in a bathroom stall.

The conference room was out of the question. Its walls were a feat of technology – at the touch of a button translucent glass became a one-way mirror outside the office while remaining clear from the inside. In a rush to collect a few ounces from my swelling bosom, I feared I would misread the wall’s opacity, treating the group of boy geniuses who ran the struggling start-up to a view of a miniature vacuum tugging at my leaking nipples.

I opted for a hand pump and the glamourless bathrooms.

Several times a day my slingbacks clicked against polished concrete floors as I made my way from the office fridge – where I stored my pump and baggies of the bluish-white breastmilk in an insulated lunch bag – to the women’s restroom. While co-workers privately diagnosed me with a case of bulimia (noticeable weight-loss, frequent trips to the bathroom), I balanced over a lidless toilet pumping ounce after meager ounce even as my wrists ached and distracting noises emanated from the other stalls. I reluctantly vowed to wring out what I could until Beatrice turned six months old.

Then I got laid off.