I was now thirty minutes past my normal pumping time. My shirt and bra were getting tighter and the pain was beginning to distract me. I glanced at the back of the office, to the room that was supposed to be the “Mother’s Room.”
A sign and a reservation schedule were posted by the door; my boss thought it would be too awkward to have the room listed as the “Mother’s Room.” He’d nearly vomited at my suggestion of “The Milk Barn.”
I sighed as I walked to the room, furious with the person who ignored every sign and was occupying the room. My irritation was growing by the second and I almost pitied the person. Almost.
I knocked quietly and waited. No answer. I knocked again. After the second non-response, I tried the handle. The door was locked. Awesome. I knocked one last time, but again, no answer. Someone had locked the door and then closed it as they left.
I could feel my eyes beginning to burn, as my breasts reminded me, again, that I desperately needed to pump. Taking a deep breath to quell the tears, I found our office manager and asked for the key to the room.
“We don’t have one,” he said. “How badly do you need in there?”
“Pretty badly,” my face flushed, and I had to force back tears.
My co-workers, sensing my frustration, sprung into action. They tried to jimmy the lock with a paperclip, personal credit cards, and random keys. Nothing worked.
My pumping room was locked down tighter than a white collar prison, with my pump and supplies inside. Had they been at my desk, I would have just popped my boobs out and started pumping in front of everyone.
Maintenance finally showed up an hour later, and I ran into the room to relieve the pressure. I may have also given in to my tears.
Now that I am nearly seven months into my second go-round as a working, breastfeeding mother, I am quite used to the hurdles that come with this. I am committed to providing for my daughter as I did for my son.
I believe that breast is best (for my children) and worth every sacrifice. But it does not mean I am immune to feeling the stress and frustration.
While I was pumping for my son, I started traveling for work. Thankfully, I produced enough to have a freezer stash to provide for him while I was gone.
Work travel is a challenge.
It often involved calling ahead to ensure my hotel room was equipped with a refrigerator, only to find out, upon arrival, that it was not. The hotel clerk assured me I could bring my breast milk to the front desk and they would store it.
The next morning I realized they accidentally froze it, meaning it would thaw and spoil before I made it back home. My sympathetic co-worker had to listen to me cry over lost milk as we drove to the airport.
I was excited to learn that the airport had a mother’s room, only to discover it was not in my terminal. My only option was to pump in the bathroom or in the middle of the terminal. I’ve done both.
You haven’t fully lived if you’ve never had a twenty-something TSA agent ooh and ahh over how thick your breastmilk is, all the while your boss and co-worker wait patiently for him to finish scanning the bags.
“WOW! This looks like whole milk! I normally see watery milk, but this is THICK! And, dang, it’s like a gallon!” His eyes wide with shock.
With both my children, I started new jobs around their fifth month of life. I agonized more about needing to have a space and the time to pump than salaries or benefits. I constantly worry that my need to pump will be an inconvenience to others, but I also find it annoying when they are inconvenienced or weirded out when I mention my need.
I am fortunate to work in a corporate setting but I have seen how difficult it can be for mothers that work in retail or restaurant environments. I have worked in those positions.
I pumped in my car because the restaurant or store did not have a private space that wasn’t a bathroom or monitored by cameras. Those instances were rare inconveniences for me but for many moms, this is reality and most don’t fight it.
Part of the issue is the fear of asking, similar to the argument of why women are paid less. We are afraid to ask for what we deserve. I struggle with this regularly, both in pay negotiations and asking for time and space to express milk. We need to stop apologizing.
Essentially, the law requires companies with 50 or more employees to provide a private space that is not a bathroom for mothers to pump but many either do not care or do not have the space for it.
Like any mom, I make it work. Even if that means pumping in my car in the heat and humidity of a Nashville summer.
Andrea Nourse is a working mom and a self-published author. She lives in Nashville with her husband and her two children. Her work can be found at andreanourse.com.