Taking My Breast Pump to Rehab

I’ve been able to write quite a stack of essays about different times in my life, little snapshots of moments, some more painful than others.  I’ll post them from time to time, as another glimpse into the reality of alcoholism.  And the miracle of recovery…

The staff had no idea what to do with me.  The rules clearly stated patients could not be in their rooms during certain hours, and never with the door closed.  I had to plead my case, explaining through tears how I wanted to be able to keep my milk supply going while I was there so I could breastfeed when I got back home.

“But we have no way for you to keep your milk here and we can’t allow you to alter your schedule for special treatment.”

“I am just going to throw away the milk.  And I promise I won’t miss or be late to any classes or sessions if you can just let me go into my room to do this.  It’s more important than I can even say right now.  Please let me just try.”

And they did.


I set my alarm early each morning to pump before breakfast. During the day, I was able to work in two more, and then I’d pump before bed.  My roommate was a dream.  She’d wake up to the swish swish sounds in the morning that equated to a washing machine in the silence as if it was no big deal.

The old model breast pump attracted lots of attention during the day.  Since I couldn’t close my door, id hide on the floor behind my bed.  Inevitably someone would walk by and stick their head in. I was fairly polite to most, but this was a co-ed rehab and to be honest, sobering up on top of post partem hormones was like messing with a stick of dynamite.

“hey, whats going on in here?”

“None of your business. Privacy! Get out thank you bye!”

The women respected the blunt embarrassment for what it was.  Mom shame. But others had a more difficult time getting the message.

“Yeah but what’s that noise?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Seriously, Emily, what are you doing?”

“Ok, I’ll tell you exactly what I’m doing.  I’m sitting here hooked up to a machine that is sucking my nipples out about 5 inches for some milk to come out and I’m trying to do it ALONE without you bugging the shit out of me.  How’s that?”

“Jesus, sorry I asked.”

Everyday I did that, with one thing missing.  There was no baby.  No feel of his soft head cradled in the crook of my arm, no lifting him out of the bassinet during the stillness of a sleeping house for a midnight feeding, no rocking him in a chair and just staring at this human my body had created. I wanted to touch him, hold him, hear him, smell him.  I craved Spenser more than a drink.


Before I arrived in treatment, I was sitting on my couch one afternoon.  Spenser was a few weeks old, and I sat there mesmerized by him like any new mom.  And just like I had with my other 3 kids, I lifted him up to smell the sweetness of a newborn baby’s breath.  He did what babies do, when they arch their backs and tuck their feet underneath them into the perfect stretch.  The war zone inside of me slowed to soak in the moment.  I held him up until we were nose to nose and I took a slow deep breath. Closed my eyes.  And tears flooded my cheeks until they dripped off my face. I smelled his breath.  It smelled like wine.  Just a hint but it was there.  A clear indication my breast milk was not the liquid gold once talked about, the magnitude of reality was unbearable. If I could have crawled out of my skin and disappeared into a pile of ashes, I would have.


On the surface I was an ordinary mom.  I had a beautiful house, a loving husband, and a pretty face with a smile that convinced you I had my act together.  I had a newborn, a toddler, a preschooler, and another in elementary school.    And I was also an alcoholic who relapsed.

Being an overwhelmed mother is a common occurrence nowadays. We can relate and understand as women to the demands of the job, and what it takes to raise kids today.  We  moms, regardless of where we are in life, struggle with the same insecurities.  Am I doing this right?  Will my kids turn out ok?  Am I a good enough mom?    People often commented about how much I had on my plate and how great my kids were.

“Wow, how do you do it all?”

I’d sort of shrug and smile, because I knew inside I was completely imploding trying to keep that image alive.

But once the disease of alcoholism was in the picture and there wasn’t much compassion.  I desperately tried to stay sober.  It tore me to shreds.  I left everything I had to try and get better, and my fellow mothers saw me as selfish and cold.  Despite what the future held for me when I got home, regardless of the judgment and gossip that awaited me, the undeniable truth was my love for my children.  I had no power over opinions.  But on the floor in a drug and alcohol treatment facility, away from everything that I loved, sat that breast pump.  It symbolized humiliation, shame, remorse, grief, determination, but most of all, the universal love a mother has for her child. No matter what my disease may be, I deserved to get well.  Right? Even I had a hard time believing it. But that ridiculous pump was my lifeline for 31 days, reminding me that maybe, just maybe, I was worth something more than the lonely alcoholic I had become again.

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