To date, Marissa has dutifully breastfed our daughter for seven months. That’s not to say it’s been easy, (for her). There were those endless nighttime feedings that took place when Harper refused to sleep for more than three hours straight; those two-in-the-morning pump sessions; and those daily commutes with a giant breast pump that looks like a pocketbook that the prison system would distribute to inmates, (if there were a prison program to give pocketbooks to the incarcerated).
But my wife’s biggest challenge loomed as we approached the six-month mark. In May, Marissa’s company sent her to London for a week. We had three concerns: Would the stockpile of breast milk in the freezer be enough for Harper while Mommy was gone? Would Marissa be able to keep up her supply? And would she be able to return the milk that she would pump in London back to New York?
Little did we know, her greatest obstacle would involve traveling with a breast pump.
On the flight to London, the machine stopped working. Thinking it had something to do with the power source on the plane, my wife decided she would address the issue after landing. Meanwhile, she slowly filled with milk like two water balloons attached to dripping taps for six hours. (See the physical effects of flying on the body in my last article about air travel to better understand her pain.)
As soon as Marissa landed, she ran into Heathrow’s baby-care bathroom with her pump, removable cord, and adaptor. The pump did not turn on. Not in the first outlet; not in the fifth outlet.
She wanted to cry, but this was a business trip and she figured it was best to look professional in front of her team. She kept her composure through customs and then waited for her colleagues to go off on their tour of London before feeling comfortable to slip into full panic.
“Can I help you, Ma’am?” the manager at a baby store asked when he spotted my wife standing before the wall of breast pumps. She must have looked like a breast pump addict, manically contemplating the purchase of another $400 machine, while already having one device slung over her shoulder.
Marissa explained her predicament.
“Why don’t we try something?” The manager found a lamp with a detachable nine-volt cord and plugged it into her breast pump. The cord from the lamp worked; the pump was fine, she just needed a replacement cord. He gave her the addresses to three electronics stores.
Desperate and frustrated and bursting now with ten hours of milk in corporeal storage, Marissa hopped into three separate cabs and visited all three electronics stores. None of the stores had the part. She nearly lost it. But if the day had been a cartoon, outside of the third electronics store, Marissa would have been standing in the scene where the protagonist feels all hope has been lost and then suddenly pauses to allow that illustrated lightbulb to spontaneously appear over her head. Marissa’s bright idea, however, appeared like a lamp.
Back at the baby store, she purchased the fifty-dollar lamp and ran back to her hotel, pumping for an hour in a state of bliss only shared by addicts rediscovering a fix.
The Things I Learned About Traveling with a Broken Breast Pump
When I travel with a surfboard, I always bring extra fins, an extra leash, and a ding repair kit in case something breaks. I didn’t realize this then, but after Marissa’s experience in London, I’d say that it would behoove new mothers to treat their breast pumps like a surfboard.
If you’re wondering about our three original concerns, I’ll address them now.
The milk lasted; I fed Harper the very last ounce four hours before Marissa’s flight landed at JFK and then brought my daughter to the airport just in case she demanded food upon arrival.
Not that it’s any of your business, but Marissa’s supply remained as full as the Fijian reservoir that fills those wasteful plastic bottles.
In America, where airplane policies are increasingly dictated by paranoia, you are, interestingly enough, allowed to fly with a large supply of breast milk, even if you’ve left the baby at home. Paradoxically, Britain’s flight regulations treat breast milk like bomb fluid and only allow passengers flying without infants to board the plane with a few squirts. Marissa did get most of her milk home in checked-baggage and ostensibly replaced the freezer supply we had used in her absence. But a few days later, the milk had soured and we had to dump eighty ounces because the ice packs had apparently not done their jobs.
To all mothers out there who might one day find themselves traveling with a broken breast pump: Bring a spare breast pump cord, or at least keep extra room in your suitcase for some dry ice and the possibility of bringing home a lamp.