Academic journal article Western Folklore

The Talking Breast Pump

Academic journal article Western Folklore

The Talking Breast Pump

Article excerpt

On a mommy blog in July 2008, Amy S. responded to a post about breast pumps with the following entry from her journal:

Mar 16, 3:14am: "Snap my arm, snap my arm, snap my arm..."

I truly think I'm losing it. It's the middle of the night, I'm sitting in the dark, on the edge of my bed, pumping and pumping for eternity. One ounce. My robe is agape, the AC coaxing goosebumps from the frigid expanse of each exposed breast, and the whirring message of the breast pump only offers more confusion to my already muddled, sleepdeprived mind.

"Snap my arm, snap my arm, snap my arm..."

Two ounces. If I'm not just sitting here in a stupor, with literally no thoughts slogging through the muck that passes for my mind lately, I am puzzling out my secret message. Is it telling me to snap its arm? My own? It doesn't even have arms, so it must be mine its speaking of. But why is it saying "my" then? Is my subconscious speaking to me through the breast pump? Why should I snap my own arm? Am I self-damaging? Delusional? Is this PPD? I don't feel depressed... Do I? No, of course not. No, maybe I'm taking this too literally. What does snap my arm mean? Really mean? Broken arm, broken limb, useless limb, crippled limb, crippled. Crippling, is the pump crippling me? It's never enough, not for Caiden, not for working. I can't be a good mother if I can't breastfeed, can't breastfeed if I can't pump. Can't pump at work so I can't breastfeed so I can't be a good mom. Working is crippling me as a mother. AHA!!! STOP WORKING!!!

Three ounces. "Snap my arm, snap my arm, snap my arm..."

- End of entry. I put in my two weeks notice shortly after that long night. (AmyS. 2008)1

This post displays a tired, sleep-deprived mother having anxiety over what her breast pump is saying to her. How should she interpret the pump's "secret message"? She wonders if her subconscious is speaking to her through the machine. "Snap my arm" leads to intense anxiety over why she is using the breast bump and whether or not she is a good mother. "Working is crippling me as a mother" she decides; "snap my arm" becomes a message from the pump to stop working, giving her permission to quit her job. This is a wonderful example of how the voice of a machine comments, commands, cajoles, and taunts the pumper to action, which in this case leads to the pump's own disuse.

The phenomenon of the talking breast pump is not uncommon. Many mothers report anecdotally and on blogs that they have heard their pump speak to them and confess that they are relieved others have experienced the same. What is striking in these accounts is how often mothers admit to the underlying fear of going crazy or suffering from postpartum depression when they hear the "messages." What is even more striking is how the women interpret the comments as often being full of some kind of significance, such as anxieties over milk production, motherhood, and work. As one blogger, who identifies herself as a psychologist, mentions, the voice of the pump is a kind of psychological test that reveals aspects of a woman's psyche: "What a wonderful projective test (like the Rorschach)!" (Lauren 2008a).2 The importance is that women suggest the pump says something about their own deep concerns.

To pump or not to pump is a deeply charged issue. Women pump for all sorts of reasons, most often because they are working or otherwise occupied and need to supply their baby with milk during times when they cannot breast feed. Others pump to increase their milk supply; some, like me, pump because our children have disabilities that make breastfeeding difficult or impossible.s But with breast pumping comes many emotions, from freedom and liberation to a sense of servitude/ enslavement to the pump, as women compare themselves to milking cows plugged into a dairy machine. Many blogs and comments about breast pumping demonstrate mothers' conscious anxiety over working and their desire to still be there for their children. …

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