DECEMBER MAMA CRUSH: OLGA
December, 1 2017
To pump or not or pump? Is that your question? For some women, it really is a difficult one and comes with a lot of emotional, physical and social ramifications. Every mother wants to do what’s best for her baby, but the choices are not always as straightforward as what the “doctor ordered”. Add to that the fact that there is still not enough research on the pros and cons of breastfeeding vs pumping vs bottle feeding vs feeding at all (ok, scratch that last one!). The public debate is overwhelming the media, it’s enough to make anyones’ head spin. In the end, the pressure to do the “right” thing falls on the mother. But, what IS the RIGHT thing?
I was delighted to talk to Olga, who lives with her husband and three little boys in Park Slope Brooklyn, about what makes her happy as a mom, her breastfeeding journey (including some practical tips!) and the social stigma surrounding exclusive pumping. What I learned from Olga is the importance of finding joy in all aspects of motherhood:
“People say parenting is hard. I agree, but I like hard - whatever is easy becomes boring to me very soon. My favorite thing is that life is never dull or boring, that just will never be the case anymore, at least while the kids live at home. And I love it this way.”
So, this is a shout-out to all of you, breastfeeding mamas, who for one reason or another, decided to exclusively pump the milk for your baby. You’ve embarked on a difficult journey to benefit your child and we salute you for it!
Where are you from? I am originally from Moscow, Russia. I came to the US 14 years ago to get my Masters. To be completely honest, attending graduate school back then was more of an excuse to move in with my boyfriend, and now husband.
What is your occupation? I am a Strategy and Management Consultant at a large consulting firm.
Tell us about your children?
I have 7-year old twin boys. Also a little 1-year old baby boy. Yes, my house is "full of dudes" as one of my colleagues said recently.
Describe each child in a few words:
One twin is a very kind, compassionate boy, he has natural charisma and other kids and adults just cling to him. The other one is a very strong-willed boy, knows what he wants, very organized and articulate (think - a future lawyer). And the little one is just a mischievous bundle of joy, his curly blonde hair and new funny words amuse the whole family.
What is your favorite thing about being a mom?
It's a hard question - there are so many things to love... and it changes as kids grow. I love the feeling when I go to bed at night - feeling the warmth of the full house, being dead tired, but pleasantly satisfied after a full day of weekend activities with the kids and recalling little cute moments from that day. Listening to stories they tell me before bed. Watching my kids grow and develop, helping them navigate through emotional ups and downs, enjoying their goofiness and energy - it just makes my life full and happy.
How has motherhood changed you?
Big picture - it definitely put my whole life into perspective, gave it a purpose. It made me realize the value of time and taught me to prioritize and set boundaries at work. I am a perfectionist by nature and the kind of individual that gets immersed in what she does. Before kids I would find myself thinking of a problem or project at work 24/7, so now I can't afford to do that. I have to have mindshare and cleared mind to devote to my kids. So I learned how to switch and be more organized. I learned to leave my phone at home and turn it off in the evenings and during the weekend. I say 'no' more often to things I would have definitely said 'yes' before kids.
How would you briefly describe your breastfeeding journey?
When my little ones were babies, people would casually ask me: "Do you breastfeed?" and I would respond: "Yes". They would have a satisfactory smile on their face and say "Good for you." Now - what did they mean by that question, really? Most of them, if not all, thought about an image of a mommy nursing her baby and enjoying the connection.
My breastfeeding experience was different - I exclusively pumped, both with my twins and the third one. Meaning I would pump my milk and give it to them in bottles until they were 9 months old. The boys still got all the nutrients they needed, we had our bonding experience, though quite different from what the nursing mothers experience.
However, when I tried to explain this to someone - they would inadvertently pass judgement - I wasn't strong enough to figure it out and not doing the best I could for the baby. I got all kinds of reactions, interestingly even from relatives and close friends: "Wait, but it's so natural to breastfeed the NORMAL way? Why would you do it any other way?" or "You should try harder - invite a lactation consultant, they will figure it out" . I realized that similar to choosing not to breastfeed altogether, giving babies milk in bottles is still a social stigma.
But sometimes it's not a choice. I am convinced that every mom who cares about her baby makes the best choice for her situation. In my case - this was the best choice.
With my twins, I tried breastfeeding for a month, but with two hungry little ones trying to nurse at once and excruciating pain I felt the whole time, I realized that they and I are going to be better off if I pump while they sleep and feed them from bottles. This was a 24/7 pumping-feeding game, but still worked out better than nursing two at the same time.
With my younger one - I was determined to breastfeed and read all kinds of books on breastfeeding before he was born, opted for exclusive breastfeeding in the hospital, but then after having an after-birth complication, which took me away from the baby for 3 days - there was another month of struggling to get him to latch on, another month of excruciating pain and unpleasant times for both him and I. So I opted for pumping again, and happily pumped until he was 9 months old. At that point, I knew what to expect and had the routine down, so it didn't bother me as much as the first time around.
Was I happy with my choices? Yes, it worked for me. Did I enjoy it? Well, those who pump know that it takes lots of determination, persistence and sacrifice to do this, but the thought that you are giving your baby what they need nutritionally gives you strength and energy to do this. Ladies who pump deserve a lot of credit and just like mothers who breastfeed naturally they are trying to do the best for their babies. Pumping ladies - you rock! ;)
What do you wish someone told you about breastfeeding beforehand?
A good friend of mine, who had a baby at the time that I was pregnant with my twins, said: "You know, everyone obsesses over birth process and experience, but the most difficult thing is actually figuring out breastfeeding". I heard that from her and thought - "well, who cares, I want to finish the pregnancy marathon and then I will figure it out - at the end of the day, it's natural and women have figured out breastfeeding through generations". How wrong I was.
Birthing experience may or may not go perfect, but it's a 24-hour endeavor, but if you don't figure out breastfeeding it has impact on you and your baby for the long term. I think figuring out breastfeeding is one of the most difficult, but also most rewarding things a woman can do, so it takes some work and preparation. For many it wasn't that hard, but for others - there needs to be more support, education and open choices.
Do you feel there is a stigma about exclusive pumping? How does it make you feel?
Yes, absolutely there is. It's understandable though. Our opinions tend to be influenced by social marketing and societal trends: What's "in fashion" today? Nursing and bonding with the baby! Everywhere we go - we read about benefits and positive experience of nursing. Breastfeeding as a verb means nursing. This becomes the social norm and what others expect of a perfect mother. Even though we consider ourselves a progressive society that welcomes diversity of thought and decisions, deep inside we are still guided by the norms that have been established through generations by our families, communities, media and environment we live in.
How does it make me feel? I was fine, once I understood that I am just doing it differently from the norm and that's my choice. That was rational me on a good day. But of course emotionally I felt a little bit like an outcast - subconsciously I think I was trying to avoid anything that would remind me of the bonding experience I may never experience - my nursing friends, nursing accessories, bottle feeding my baby in public. I was somewhat fatigued of trying to explain myself to friends and family, so I started to avoid this topic altogether.
How did you manage pumping and working? Any practical tips?
I am lucky enough to have my employer provide private "wellness rooms" in the office for pumping. They are fully equipped: a sink, sterilizer, comfortable chair, fridge to keep the bottles, etc. The most difficult thing was sticking to the schedule and pumping as many times and as long as needed to maintain supply. Another one was to manage messaging about my absence. You end up disappearing from the team room for 30 min at least 2-3 times a day. I just tried to do it no matter what is happening on the project. Especially after the third baby - I really learned how to prioritize. A few practical tips:
- Be confident and persistent about sticking to the schedule. Have blocks of pumping time on your calendar and treat it as an important meeting you cannot move. Actually don't remove those blocks even after you stop pumping - they help you get some time to focus after. I still have my block from my pumping time - it says "Olga's time" and use this time to have some productive time for something else:)
- Never apologize for your absence in front of colleagues (it actually works against you), just firmly excuse yourself and if needed explain briefly to friendly colleagues why you need to step out.
- Don't be too open about your pumping details - this can actually work against you as well. Business is business and even though your colleagues are friendly - they may be uncomfortable about these details and feel awkward about not knowing what to respond. I had a colleague in the past, who was too open and bubbly about her pumping experience and struggles, and it made the team (including myself who is a mom and have gone through this myself) - quite uncomfortable.
What would be your one piece of advice for new moms embarking on the breastfeeding journey?
Figuring out what you do about breastfeeding is one of the most important decisions a mom could make in the first years after having a baby. My advice is threefold: 1) prepare yourself - it's not going to be easy. If you are planning breastfeeding - spend at least as much time on planning and educating yourself about it as you do for the birth experience. If you have resources - hire a lactation consultant and maybe meet with them prior so that they know you and able to assist you if needed. Important that the lactation consultant is a good fit for your personality. I had hired someone who had immense experience and many recommendations, but was too aggressive and pushy for my taste especially during the fragile time. Go off of recommendations, but make sure your gut is telling it's the right person for you. If it ends up being easy - great, but if not - you are prepared; 2) don't stress if you cannot get the hang of it - everyone is going through this and the more you stress, the more difficult it is. Remember you can always change your mind and there are other ways - it's ok! But if you relax - you will figure it out either way. 3) try to ignore opinions of others - it's a personal process and in this case family, friends and even significant others may not be helpful. Just do what you are most comfortable with and what your gut is telling you is right.
Can you think of a moment on your pumping journey that makes you smile when you think back?
It's interesting but now, after I stopped breastfeeding, I never have negative or unpleasant feelings about my pumping experience. I think I erased all of the bad feelings and frustrations about it from my memory. It was part of my way of bringing up my babies. I actually smile when I think about it. I have a weakness for going through the little clothes and things of my babies - every little item brings back the memories. Similarly when I think of my pumping journey, I smile and see my babies being so little, cute, cuddly, munching on a bottle of milk.
That is one amazing mama!