If you’ve never been hooked up to a clamorous machine that routinely vacuums vital fluids from parts of you that were once considered private, well, this article may not resonate with you.
Perhaps you’ve never even really considered the existence of Ye Olde Breast Pump and its accompanying realities. If that’s the case, it’s very possible that the concept of sitting and being milked — part Lotus and part factory farm cow — didn’t ever cross your mind as something that you might actually, like, do.
And do you might: in front of family sheepishly trying to ignore the noisy attachment on your boobs, or (the very greatest — if you’re into things like utter humility) in a closet at work whilst you type big important-y, work-ish emails and try to ignore the fact that there are a pair of plastic funnels on your breasts greedily gobbling your choicest commodity.
And yet, pumping is a rite of passage many, many mamas undergo during their tour of duty in the mommy trenches: balancing their newborn’s need for the purest milk on the planet with their own life demands, which sometimes dictate that baby’s hunger and mama’s proximity may not align perfectly. Hence, these pumped bottles of liquid gold, manufactured drop by precious drop with the help of a sucking mechanism that could be as humble as a hand pump, but more likely, is a electric contraption that hems and haws like a cranky donkey in the late day sun.
I repeat: if you’ve never used/seen/heard one, the aforementioned comparison to a donkey is a bit, how shall we say, “Whhhhhaaaaaaa?” But those of us who are card-carrying pumpaholics know that the sounds that spew forth from this little machine are mystifying, mesmerizing and oft times menacing. If you’re a yogi on the path, you might even suspect that Miss Medela is chanting a secret (and ever-changing) mantra to you while you’re being milked.
So what to make of it? We’ve turned to an expert in language, yogic philosophy and mystical poetry to decipher what your pump might be telling you. Shawn Parell not only has undergraduate degrees in English and Religious Studies at Georgetown and Oxford University, but she has a delightful new guru in her just-turned-one daughter Kavi, thus we felt she was singularly suited to the task of translating the best of the breast pump incantations.
WAKE UP! (click to listen)
KM: Shawn, I’m honoured and humbled to have your ears, eyes and aura assist us in deciphering these cryptic messages for milk-making mamas everywhere.
Let’s dive right in and explore the first breast pump mantra. It’s not unusual for a new mama to be exhausted beyond description, but isn’t it a little rude of my breast pump to be chastising me to “Wake up!”, with all the subtlety of an overzealous, over-caffeinated high school gym coach?
SP: Well, it’s nice to know I’m not the only mama out there who’s developed a meaningful relationship with her breast pump. Miss Medela has been a stalwart pranayama and japa mala companion to me at all hours of the day and night (seriously, you have to jump on those practice moments wherever they present as a new mom). I’m a practical yogini – if your breast pump is offering you the darshan, I say listen! After all, the guru comes in all forms. The words arising from that slushy pulsing machine may just be exactly what you need to hear in the moment.
Sounds like your breast pump-ji is a mitra with a message like “wake up!” On the one hand, becoming a parent is a complete physical and emotional overhaul (read: totally exhausting). On the other, when else does life lend itself so generously to our spiritual growth? Amidst the endless vignettes of washing and dressing and changing and burping et al, somehow we discover new peaks of love and valleys of capacity within ourselves. Parenting opens up a whole new inner landscape rich with the soil of self-discovery, even – and sometimes especially – in its most challenging moments. “Wake up!” is the perfect reminder to appreciate this extraordinary moment of your life.
KM: Okay. I swear that this one time, my breast pump was straight up antagonizing me. You see, Pema Chodron’s “Don’t Bite the Hook” plays on my iPad from time to time when I wash the dishes. With two tiny rocketships zooming around my apartment pushing my every button with an astonishing rate of regularity, I figured Pema could teach me a thing or two on how not to take the bait. And then? Breast pump starts calling for precisely the opposite, screeching “Bite the Hook!” like a rabid hockey fan urging the goons to drop the gloves! Am I crazy?
SP: You’re not crazy; your breast pump is just amplifying the test of the moment. But don’t drop your gloves in sudsy frustration – guaranteed you’ll regret it if you do. Instead, heed Pema’s sage counsel: pause in the middle of the chaos, breathe, connect with equanimity, and find the freedom to respond with mindful presence rather than react in mania. Then rinse and repeat as needed.
WACKO! (click to listen)
KM: Well, okay, if you don’t think I’m totally crazy yet, this other time my breast pump just flat out disagreed. I sat there listening to it call me “Wacko!” the entire time and all I could do was sit for 20 minutes and watch the slow, milky drips fall one by one until those measly ounces had accumulated into something that would be slurped down in 2.3 seconds (or less).
SP: We all go a little bonkers in early parenthood. Those seemingly endless days and nights can be a dreamlike journey into the wilderness of ourselves – complete with mega survival hormones and heightened senses, things that go bump (or slurp) in the night, a few essential fire-tending tools (hello breast pump!) and absolutely no guarantee that we won’t get lost along the way. There's crazy wisdom in this hero's journey, though it may just feel straight up crazy sometimes. Good to keep your sense of humor with you, says Sri Pumpji plus a handful of close friends for reassurance when your breast pump starts lobbing insults at you.
REDRUM! (click to listen)
KM: I can’t be the only one who thinks that my breast pump has a dark side. Like this other time? Full on “The Shining” flashbacks. I can handle being called wacko, but enticing me to murder? Repeated “Redrum!” chants are just the encouragement I need to throw in the spit up towel and run for the organic, DHA fatty acid-added (processed hexane-free, naturally) formula.
SP: Now may be a good time to remember we’re talking about an appliance. This is all just a figment of our sleep-deprived imaginations. But maybe you should get a new pump. You know, just in case.
LET GO (click to listen)
KM: Okay, last one. Maybe it’s because I took on a mantra of my own once I figured that motherhood was more akin to a Hunter S. Thompson novel than a yoga class, but this was the one time I felt like my breast pump really got me, you know? My husband swore I was just sleep-deprived and delusional, but hearing Miss Medela encourage me to “Let go!” was just what I needed to hear after 6 dirty diapers, 5 hours sleep, 4 trips in the double stroller, 3 glasses of white wine, and 2-under-2 wild raccoons mopping the floor with me.
SP: It’s true, becoming a parent is a total a-la-the-caterpillar letting go. Resistance is futile. The life you’ve always known is over (cue the horrified look on non-parent friends' faces)...
Students often ask me how I keep up my yoga practice as a mom. I share with them that I don’t – not in the sense of yoga as something that happens on a sticky mat, at least. When was daughter was born, I said sayonara (at least temporarily) to the early morning hours of daily sadhana, extended silent retreats, regular trips to India and repertoire of complex asana that were once threaded into the fabric of my pre-baby life.
My practice has evolved. Caring for my daughter has made me a more disciplined, compassionate, and available person; a person I can respect and even admire. It’s affirmed my highest commitments and served as a prayer of release from unproductive ways of being. It’s helped me glimpse the heart of wonder at the center of what it means to be alive. And it’s provided humbling opportunities to struggle and stumble in order to rediscover my capacity to stand up, brush myself off, and continue on the path of devotional practice.
You see, the cosmic charm of parenthood is that what we gain and grow is magnitudes more worthwhile than anything we’re called to surrender. As practitioners, the best way we can work with this profound initiation is to allow ourselves to be transformed by the experience – to let go of old paradigms in order to give way to new possibilities. The question isn’t really what are we letting go of, but what are we letting go into. Your funny little breast pump is just a tiny part of a brave, wondrous new world.
Guest Author Shawn Parell is a mama, prana vinyasa yoga teacher, and writer working to illuminate a path of authentic, evolutionary practice. With undergraduate humanities studies at Georgetown and Oxford University and a graduate degree in Eastern Classics and Sanskrit from St. John’s College, Shawn blends yogic philosophy, language, and poetry with the alchemy of mindfulness gleaned from twenty years of daily practice. Her work has landed her in far-flung pilgrimage destinations around the world, at high vibrational festivals like Wanderlust, on the cover of Om Yoga Magazine — and, most importantly, rolling around on her mat with her baby girl at home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Learn more at www.shawnparell.com; start a conversation on Instagram, Spotify and Facebook.
Karina Mackenzie has pursued many passions at Wanderlust HQ, including producing the Speakeasy Lecture Series and running all-things-digital back in the day. Currently, as in right this very moment, she is tapping out an author bio on an iPhone in the dark whilst nursing the youngest of two beautiful babes she proudly raises in Brooklyn with her husband, Wanderlust co-founder, Sean Hoess.