I just survived 60 baby-free hours traveling to and from Denver. They were filled with trains, planes, automobiles, uninterrupted meals that I was able to eat with both hands, and the first time I’ve slept through the night in a long while. I missed my family terribly, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t nice to get a bit of a reprieve from changing diapers, endless laundry, cooking and more. I wasn’t off the hook completely though – as a breastfeeding mom, I still had to pump about 15 oz. of milk each day to maintain my supply.
This meant dragging my breastpump – encased in a stylish shoulder tote – and all of its glorious accessories, chargers, and spare parts with me. That bag has an unspoken power to connect people who know what it is. And now, after many months of pumping, my pump should probably be considered a significant other – we spend a lot of time together, things get pretty intimate, we’re never far apart, and we were finally taking our first plane trip together.
Want to see how it works?
On my way through security in LGA, TSA pulled me aside, inspected my bags, and swabbed the pump for explosives. We began talking about breastpumps, starting with the TSA agent asked me what “it” was. I mean, shouldn’t he have asked “who” it was? (My boyfriend, obviously.) Plus, he just got pretty personal with my pump when he started prodding with the swab. I explained it was a boob-squeezing, milk-sucking, monster of a machine.
“I need you to tell me how it works,” he said. “I’m going to open this bag with you. Would you like to go in private? I know this is a sensitive topic.”
Little did he know that in the recent past I had given birth to an audience in the hospital and along with the baby, pushed out all sense of shame I could ever possibly feel for the rest of my life about natural bodily functions. Private? AS IF.
I then did what any brazen, super-duper-pro-nursing-in-public-mama (who thinks the only way that we will normalize breastfeeding is by talking about it) would do: I offered him a demo with a straight face at 5:30am on a Wednesday. Not surprisingly, he declined. We then talked about how it worked, how I planned to bring my milk back, and he sent me on way to board my flight – another adventure in and of itself.
Joining the mile-high pumping club
Just some of the interesting places I’ve pumped include: a car parked in a pull-off on the West Side Highway, the bathroom of the corner deli somewhere around 49th and 10th, a locker room, and perhaps the most random: in a closet during a climate-change event being held at the Jewish Heritage Museum while listening to the audio of a movie about World War II.
The time had come for us to join the mile high pumping club. I thought about discreetly pumping at my seat, but the bathroom was a better option than sitting through another moment of being subjected the make out sesh going on between my row-mates – I’m surprised they weren’t capitalizing on the unoccupied bathrooms, too. Their loss, because “we” were headed in there to get down to business.
At this point in time I’d need to acknowledge how critical it is to have a battery adapter for a breastpump. Sometimes outlets are nowhere to be found, and if you don’t have the battery pack you better get to squeezin’. Also, if there is someone out there who can shrink a monster computer into a handheld rechargeable marvel of modern engineering and technology that is also a mobile phone then there has got to be something they can do about THE DUMBEST, MOST ENORMOUS, LOUDEST F&*KING MILK MACHINE CONTRAPTION EVER THAT REQUIRES EIGHT AA BATTERIES TO OPERATE. I repeat: EIGHT AA BATTERIES.
I got set up and things started flowing. My mind was wandering to places like, “I wonder how altitude impacts milk production?” when we hit a pocket of turbulence that almost knocked me off my feet. Becoming a parent has encouraged me to jump to the worst possible scenario so I immediately thought, “I DON’T WANT TO DIE WITH A MEDIEVAL BOOB TORTURE DEVICE ATTACHED TO MY CHEST. I WILL NOT GO DOWN LIKE THIS. THIS IS NOT HOW IT ENDS.”
The plane evened out, I finished up, and asked the flight attendant for a handful of ice. A handful turned into about 2 pounds. Since beggars can’t be choosers, I shoved it all in the cooler, settled in for the rest of the flight and crossed my fingers that the ice didn’t start to melt out of the overhead bin and onto someone’s head. After we landed, I made a pit stop in the airport bathroom to unload some of the ice when a woman spied my pump bag (I TOLD you so) and said she was a lactation consultant. She then went on to say the single nicest thing a complete stranger has ever said to me (yes, even better than that time the creepy pet store guy told me I had “nice thighs”): she told me that she was proud of me and that it made her day to see a nursing, traveling mama with her boyfriend breastpump. Lactation brings people together in some strange ways.
Just for lunch
48 hours and about 35 oz of milk later, I found myself back at DEN. Despite my best efforts to alert every TSA agent I saw that I was declaring breastmilk, I managed to hold up the line for a good 10 minutes while they found someone “authorized” to test my milk. I offered the agent a swig; he refused. Since my pump was the only one NOT rejecting me, I repeated my “pumping in an airplane bathroom” trick on the way home, again asking for ice from a flight attendant. He dutifully filled up my Ziploc bag and when he saw me putting it in the cooler he said, “Oh, I thought it was for a sprain or something. Turns out it’s just for lunch!”
“You’re right,” I said. “Just not for my lunch.”