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Why working moms are frenemies with breast pumps

Every morning I leave the house for work with so many bags (and one small human) draped across my body that one might confuse me with someone who is headed to the airport for a month-long sabbatical. If only.

I'm really just dropping my son off at daycare and then taking the F train to work. But out of all the bags I lug every day, there is one that I despise. This bag has the capacity to ruin my day on a number of levels. God forbid I forget this bag at home. If I forget even one of the items in the bag, my day takes on a frantic pace. And even on the best days, when I remember the bag AND everything in it, the bag still annoys me. I am talking about my breast pump and the fact I need it to pump breast milk at work.

I have a complicated relationship with that tan and black box-shaped tote that never seems to blend with anything I wear and makes anything I do wear look instantly not chic. On one hand, I feel fortunate that I am able to continue breast-feeding my nine-and-a-half-month old son. Pumping at work has been a big part of why I'm able to still produce lots of milk. But I really didn't think it would be this much of a chore.

Misery loves company. NBC correspondent Contessa Brewer is still breastfeeding her 9.5-month-old twins — yes, we can all bow down in awe. She told me, "Pumping at work is like having to go up five floors in order to use the ladies room." She also says her pump talks back to her. Sometimes it says "Mad men, mad men" and sometimes "Toy boat, toy boat." 

Today.com senior editor Rebecca Dube just finished pumping at work (a day I think about often) and I just happened to talk to her on the last day. She was so joyful I thought tears were going to flow at any moment. She showed me a photo she took of the very first bottle she pumped at work one year ago. I was standing before a woman who had gone on a journey. There was a lot of pride in that iPhone breast milk photo and I beamed right back at her with a silent understanding. I, too, have a photo of my first pumped bottle on my phone. She simply said, "I will no longer have to stress about how many ounces I am not pumping each day." Amen, sister.

To be fair, NBC is an amazing place to be a breast-feeding mom. They do everything possible to make pumping at work a comfortable, convenient and relaxed experience. But even a fabulous lactation program is no match for the actual act of pumping and lugging that pump all over the place.

But yet, we (well, not Rebecca anymore) continue to do it. I realize I could stop at any moment but something inside me compels me to lug that pump to work every day. For Contessa, pumping at work takes on a much deeper meaning.

"It's not fun…but I feel like giving the babies this breast milk is the one thing I can do for them. So much of the process of having them was scientific and medical and not a natural experience," she says, noting that her boys were born after she went through a miscarriage, IVF and an emergency C-section. Breast-feeding, she says, "is the one part of this experience I’m holding onto for the natural part of being a mom." 

The breast pumps may be our frenemies, but I think one day we'll look back on our work pumping days with a lot of laughs, a fair amount of pride... and maybe even a hint of sadness that we (and our babies) don't need our boxy companions any more.

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