My first foray back to the office after giving birth came just nine days after my son was born. I was still on maternity leave, technically. But I needed to be present for something that couldn’t wait. I hadn’t had the time or energy to figure out how to use the complicated breastfeeding pump I’d ordered on Amazon, so I dragged my bleary-eyed husband and newborn son along with me while I met with the executive team to discuss a coming merger. My husband and son hung out in my office while I went off to a conference room 50 feet away.
As I sat in the meeting, I surreptitiously checked my cell phone. Frantic texts started coming: “he’s hungry,” “now he’s crying,” “you have to come now.” My breasts were already starting to leak; after 10 minutes, I muttered a quick excuse and ran down the hall to feed him. But of course by then he had already fallen asleep (crying) and I went back to my meeting with full boobs and a fresh shirt.
When I went back to work officially a month later, I was better prepared: I had started pumping regularly at home, had a decent stockpile of milk in the freezer, and was planning on continuing to pump at work through at least the first year.
What I wasn’t prepared for was what the experience of pumping at work would be like. During the merger, I was splitting time between two offices. I would lug my pump with me each day to and from work, and then shuttle it between offices. If I went too long between pumping sessions my breasts would start to explode out of my bra, and milk would drip from my nipples. I stashed sweaters around the office to hide the stains that seemed to appear on every shirt I owned.
In the end I ended up with two double electric pumps and one manual pump. No more lugging pumps and no more forgetting parts. (For the uninitiated, breast pumps come with many parts that tend to get lost and/or forgotten.) Over these last nine months I have pumped in many different locations both at work and traveling for my job, including:
- In the tech storage room, balancing the electric pump on a mountain of keyboards, leaking milk as I transferred it from bottle to bag on mice (the computer kind) and the floor. This was the lactation room until we had a private office reserved.
- In an executive’s office at a hotel during a conference, because I refused to let them tell me to pump in the bathroom.
- At a casino bathroom in Las Vegas, again for a work conference, but this time in too much of a hurry to argue with someone over a pumping space.
- In a smoky hotel room in Las Vegas, because all the hotel rooms smell like smoke, and even though I travel for work, I’m not going to give up breastfeeding.
- In a storage room with a sliding, no-lock door and a customer service representative assigned to be my pumping guard (poor guy).
- In a bathroom for another conference, where there truly wasn’t another room to do it, and – again – I’d grown tired of arguing.
- In the car, while I was driving, on the way back from New Jersey to visit my dad. The baby was crying, I was stuck in traffic trying to get onto the George Washington Bridge for an hour, and boobs were leaking (as usual).
- In the bathroom on a plane on the way back from a client meeting. This was the grossest of them all!
Even though I might complain and joke about the horrors of pumping, I truly wouldn’t give it up. I love the connection breastfeeding has given me to my son and I will do it again if I have another. Only now, I will be much better prepared for the ups and downs of pumping milk at work.
I would encourage other moms to learn more about the laws in their state regarding breastfeeding. The Affordable Care Act mandated the “Break Time For Nursing Mothers Law,” AKA employers must grant breastfeeding moms reasonable break time to pump milk for one year, as well as provide a place other than a bathroom in which to do it. (Businesses that employ less than 50 employees can get an exemption from this if it requires “undue hardship.”) My own company has been very accommodating, but many are not. I wouldn’t eat in a bathroom, or feed my son in a bathroom, so why should anyone have to express precious milk for their child in one? Here’s to hoping pumping will be better and easier in the future… and to everyone who has endured it so far.