One of my greatest fears in having another baby is gearing up for another year of breastfeeding. No, scratch that, for nursing creates many tender and even heart-melting moments and, quite practically, insures I don’t have to schlep around leaky bottles in a diaper bag.
Rather, it’s pumping I fear. Before Ian, my friend Stacey warned me “you’ll feel like a cow”. Nah, I thought, the world could not possibly fail at producing some sort of luxury pump in this advanced age of techno-science. I dutifully read every word of Baby 411 (a book that catalogs & reviews the secret “other” world of baby products), thinking it would point me to the Tesla of pumps. Turns out, they are all entry-level Fords. I guess scientific advancement only happens for products that interest males. Breast pumps seem stuck in the 1940’s or, worse still, just right after the invention of the light bulb. While the iPhone reinvents itself every year and updates every two months, pumps do not.
This is all neatly outlined in Jessica Winter’s September 17 New Yorker article on “Why Aren’t Mothers Worth Anything to Venture Capitalists?” She observes that “Venture capitalists… do not appear to share my enthusiasm for breast-pump #disruption, perhaps because the industry is ninety-three per cent male.” This is especially evident in the response of potential investors when pitched a breast pump; they commented on Winter’s ‘body and questioned her ability to run a startup while raising three small children. She recalls one pitch meeting where investors looked at a porn site, and another where a V.C. rep refused to touch her product, calling it ‘disgusting’—which is, incidentally, the same adjective President Trump used to describe a lawyer who took a planned break during a deposition to pump milk for her infant.'” While four million women will have babies this year, the industry lacks innovators.
Author Anne Lamott describes life behind the pump with ample humor and blunt truth: “I hate the fucking breast pump. It’s the ultimate bovine humiliation, and it hurts, the suction is so strong. You feel plugged into a medieval milking machine that turns your poor little gumdrop nipples into purple slugs with the texture of rhinoceros hide. You sit there furtively pumping away, producing nebbishy little sprays on the side of the pump bottle until finally you’ve got half a cup of milk and nipples six inches long. It’s so incredibly unsexy and secretive, definitely not something you could ever mention on “Wheel of Fortune,” nothing you’d ever find in a Cosmo piece about ten ways to turn on your lover — crotchless underpants and a breast pump. I sit there there in the kitchen miserably pumping away” (Operating Instructions, 62).
Perhaps we could take all the International Women’s day feel-good posts and memes and make something exclusively for women, by women, and funded by women. Or is that too much to ask?