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Of Breast Pumps, Feeding Pillows and Feeding Bras
by The Man from Matunga (MFM)

The Shopping List

The shopping list that WFM gave me on my trip to Zurich and Erlangen included among other things, the following items:
1. Battery operated electric breast pump
2. Feeding pillow for twins
3. Feeding bras

I was told that apparently these things were not easily available in Mumbai and I presumed that WFM had done adequate background research.

A Breast Pump is for "Pumping" Breasts?

I first tried to buy them in Zurich. The pharmacies in Zurich are called Apothekes and they also handle beauty-care products. I went into a dozen or so Apothekes over two days; the result was always the same. I would start with the breast-pump and never progress further. The saleswomen typically only spoke German and I knew only English. On most occasions, it took at least five minutes for me to make the person understand what I wanted; me, using my breasts, some silly actions and baby English to show an instrument that can express milk and the German-speaking lady opposite me, trying to understand my actions. A couple of times, some kind customers who knew English tried to help, but it still didn't make a difference.

What I did eventually figure out was this. In Zurich, the only breast pumps available are manual. The electric ones were big and only for rental. Moreover, there wasn't a single Mothercare shop in Zurich. I called WFM and told her that I probably would have to come home empty-handed. 


In Erlangen, after having finished with my meeting, I took a stroll on the main shopping street. I found a shop that seemed to be a cross between a pharmacy and a lingerie store and decided to try my luck there. I again had to go through the same combination of words and actions that I had mastered so well in Zurich; I was a pro now and went through the motions without even the slightest embarrassment. The counter-girls were amused no doubt, but they made a genuine effort to understand. The concept of the breast pump was not difficult for them to grasp and they first brought me a manual one. When I asked for one "mit baatterie" they actually got me a small, portable, battery-operated device. Success! 

Emboldened by this, I decided to try for the feeding pillow. Miming two kids in my arms in the feeding position, I tried to show them that I needed a base on which to rest them. They could not understand what I wanted for quite some time, until one of them led me to an area of the shop that had nothing but feeding pillows. Huge, big, feeding pillows in different sizes and shapes with an equal number of pillow covers in a bewildering array of designs. I checked out one of the pillows by putting it around my waist. I presumed this was what WFM had wanted and asked them to pack it up after having selected a pillow cover for it. With two items down, I was now on a roll and asked them for a feeding bra by miming the act of showing a bra over my breast and then opening it from the front; I had no actual idea of how feeding bras were supposed to work.

I guess my practice with dumb charades in college paid off. The girls understood this part pretty quickly and took me to the feeding bras section and I chose a couple, mentally converting the "inches" size that WFM had given me into "cms". Luckily, the sizes actually turned out accurate when I got them home.

All This Effort in Vain?

A month later though I realized that all this effort had been in vain. On the day before the delivery, when we were out shopping for baby cots, we went to Premsons and Just Moms at Breach Candy and found dozens of battery-operated breast pumps. A reasonable range of feeding bras was available at Amarsons. I was furious at WFM, but she passed the blame on to my sister who apparently had told WFM that these things were not available in Mumbai. This was based on my sister's experience of three years ago, when she had tried for battery-operated pumps. WFM tried to placate me by telling me that the feeding bras I had got were of a much better quality that the ones available in Amarsons.

WFM had also emailed a cousin in Chicago for a feeding pillow to be sent with the cousin's father who was travelling to Mumbai that month. They brought a smaller and more compact pillow with a Velcro strap at the back that allowed it to be fixed properly around the abdomen. When she started feeding the babies, she used this pillow rather than the one that I had brought and this upset me again. It was only when the babies were two months old that she shifted to my larger pillow.

The next major shopping session was for baby cots.


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