I used my breast pump in a cemetery
Graveyards aren't really my thing. I guess they're not really anybody's thing. But they're really not my thing. Which is why I was a little scared — and very curious — when we were invited to attend a wedding reception being held in one last October. I wanted to attend, but my six-week-old baby was eating every three hours. Missing a feeding meant disrupting the delicate supply/demand balance of my milk. So if I wanted to go to the party, I had to figure out a way to pump.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect in terms of pumping logistics. This was, after all, a graveyard. It's hard enough finding a place to pump in the average American office, or any public space, really. This was an outdoor event, so there would be no electrical sockets. No coat check meant I'd have to carry everything for the duration of the event. My in-depth Google Earth sleuthing of the location indicated there was no indoor bathroom, so privacy would be limited. I deduced that my options were as follows: not go, go but stop at home for a pump break, or figure out a way to pump at the reception. It was basically a lose/lose/lose situation. Yay, motherhood!
For better or for worse, I chose option number three.
Logistically, the reception was exactly as I had suspected it would be. The only restrooms were four port-o-potties. They were shockingly well decorated with photos and fancy lights and such, so for a minute, I did consider pumping there. But one glance at the long line convinced me that I couldn't clog up one of the few johns for 15 minutes without someone pounding on the door.
Then, I spotted a forgotten corner of the cemetery with a single wrought-iron bench and a trampled mini-garden. It was surrounded on two sides by tall bushes and faced away from the crowd. I suppose it was designed as a place one could belly cry without being judged, but it was also perfect for my pumping purposes: far enough away so as not to be noticeable, not too far away as to make me feel alone in a graveyard.
Three hours in to the reception, I retreated to that little area and sat down. I promptly realized the entire bench was likely being held together by rust and a prayer, so I tried to put as little weight on it as possible. I carefully pulled out my pump and stole a quick glance over my shoulder to make sure I wasn't being watched. Then I got down to business.
As I pumped, I thought about the absurdity of this situation. I was at a huge party, but not really part of it. It was like I was one of the ghosts in that graveyard, if you believe in that sort of thing. And I do. Ghosts are one of my three irrational fears — the other two being mummies and aliens, of course. Funny — I haven't thought about my irrational fears in ages, probably because I became a mom almost three years ago and have a laundry list of very rational fears to contend with.
What nobody tells you about motherhood is that, while you will almost never be alone, you will likely be really lonely. At least at first. Exclusively breastfeeding compounds this reality. Exclusively pumping makes it even 10 times worse. Breastfeeding in public is begrudgingly acceptable, but pumping isn't. I know this, because I pumped like clockwork every three hours for the first six weeks of my baby's life — she was in the NICU for a month and was slow to adjust when we brought her home. I'm fairly modest, so it's not like I was dying to whip out the pump in public anyway. So I was always isolated when I pumped. Often I could hear the sounds of people chatting on the other side of a wall but I was never able to be part of the conversation. Sometimes I was happy to have a minute to myself, but more often, pumping felt like a punishment, especially when I had to pump in a number of odd situations — while riding in the car, while driving the car, at the doctor's office, in various department store dressing rooms, during intermission at a Broadway show, inside a parked minivan at a gigantic Penn State tailgate while drunk college kids stumbled by ... even in the disgusting stall of a Port Authority Bus Station bathroom.
This isn't to say foregoing the pump and just breastfeeding is a dream, either. With the help of a miraculous lactation consultant, my girl suddenly figured out that nursing was way more satisfying than drinking from a bottle. I was delighted by her progress, but it also meant that she didn't let go of me. Like, ever. She was attached to me from about 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. every night and went on a complete bottle strike for an entire month before I went back to work. My husband could come and go as he pleased, but I was chained to the smallest, loudest jailer in the world. Did I love holding my baby in my arms? Absolutely. Was I insanely proud that I could provide for her this way, overcoming all our initial (seemingly insurmountable) nursing obstacles? Totally. Did I miss my pre-baby friends desperately and want just one afternoon without a baby in my arms so I could be a normal human being again instead of feeling so smothered that I wanted to scream (which I would never do because it would wake the baby)? YES. YES. A thousand times YES.
Enter my new mommy group friends. I somehow found my way to a new mom support group at a local hospital. Just hearing the words "support group" makes me shudder, but it was there that I found other moms who said all the things I was thinking and feeling. Moms who went in groups to lunch and made breastfeeding in public feel collectively okay. Moms who didn't blink if I was late because I was nursing or I had to leave early because I had to pump. Moms who would totally understand if I canceled plans at the last second because one of my kids was giving me a run for my money. Moms who are still in my phone as "Darcy New Mom Group" or "Emily New Mom Group," even though I now know their husbands, their nannies, their in-laws, and their second babies. I realized those moms would be hugely amused that I was sitting there pumping in a cemetery.
Just then, I looked down and saw a spider lazily making his way up my leg. Okay, I thought. It's probably time to close up shop. Just as I was about to put all my paraphernalia away, I heard a chuckle behind me. I jumped and clutched my shirt to my chest, thinking I was about to be ogled by a stranger.
"This is hilarious." It was my husband. He strolled up to my bench with two cocktails.
"I know," I laughed. "I sure hope she appreciates it."
"She probably won't ever appreciate it," he said, taking a sip of his drink. "But I will. I do."
And just like that, I felt like I had come back to life. I pretended to rummage through my bag while I blinked back postpartum tears of relief. I delicately triple-bagged my baby's liquid gold cocktail and reached out for a cocktail of my own.
"Thanks for saying so. I really needed to hear that," I said, standing up. "Let's dance."