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That Last Bag of Breast Milk? I'll Never Let It Go

Spring is a traditional time for cleaning out closets and basements. It's a welcome chance to rid ourselves of the clutter we've accumulated through the long, dark winter. Armed with my copy of Marie Kondo's Book, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," I set about making my home a model of order and simplicity. Bags of clothes ready for donation lined my hallway, and my long over-burdened bookshelf no longer sagged from the weight of textbooks and classics I'm never going to read.

I patted myself on the back, put my feet up and let my family revel in my cheery industry.

"What about this, Mom?" My 5-year-old daughter asked, squatting by the freezer.

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At first, I thought she was calling me out for holding on to a holiday dessert that was dry and tasteless back in December. I sauntered over with my palm up, ready to toss it in the trash. I was serious about my new motto: "Letting it go ain't just for princesses, people."

But she wasn't presenting me with Christmas brownies or freezer-burned popsicles. My daughter held up a square Ziploc bag about the size of a postcard. In my handwriting, the date was scribbled across the top. "July 13, 2011." Its contents? A frozen, yellowish mass dotted with tiny crystals of ice.

The last bag of my breast milk.

Two years ago, we moved across town, and I'd insisted that the bag come with us. "Toss the jelly, soy sauce and mustard, but my breast milk is coming." I defended my right to relocate six ounces of expired milk like a combat sergeant defending the "no soldier left behind" principle. I wasn't ready to let go.

That bag is a piece of my motherhood as much as my C-section scar.

Every time I look at that bag (which, admittedly, isn't very often since it's at the bottom of the freezer door behind Trader Joe's burritos ), I think of the hours that I spent pumping, begging my breast to yield "just one more ounce!" Please God, one more ounce.

That bag reminds me of the time I used my battery-operated pump to express milk on a flight from Jacksonville to Chicago, much to the distress of my middle-aged male row-mates. It reminds me of pumping milk into a bottle on the highway from Memphis, Tennessee to Oxford, Mississippi, then turning around and feeding it to my daughter who was strapped in her car seat behind me. It's a symbol of those hours I sat at my desk with conference calls on mute, hoping no one would hear my breast pump hissing in the background. It's a ghost of the time I ruined 16 ounces by leaving it on the counter overnight by accident, then wept like Tammy Faye Baker when I had to pour it down the drain the next morning.

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That bag is a piece of my motherhood as much as my C-section scar or the little onesies that remain folded in a treasure box on the top shelf of my closet. And it's not going anywhere yet.

Maybe someday I'll casually toss it into the trash, confident that my memories are enough. More likely, one day in the distant future I'll let my husband know that he can sneak it out someday when I'm not looking. Until then it stays.

Image via Twenty20/deja_vu5

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