Being a working mom can feel like a balancing act in which, eventually, you realize you just can't do it all. So many employers claim to be "family-friendly," or promise they'll accommodate employees' needs when they have a baby and return to work. However, in practice that usually means providing the minimum "required by law," and there are times when the law falls horrifically short. So when you have a baby and decide to pump or breastfeed during the work day, you learn there are times when an employer says they're breastfeeding "friendly" is nothing more than a big, fat lie.
Personally, the veil starting lifting when I was unable to take enough parental leave and had to return to work early. I continued to be productive at work while simultaneously attempting to breastfeed or pump throughout the day. Sure, my employer was large enough to be required to offer me parental leave, as protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act, but when I learned that I had to take part of that leave unpaid, I had to make some tough choices. It was amazing to be offered breaks for pumping, as required by the Affordable Care Act (thanks, Obama), but I couldn't always take those breaks, because my workload and schedule was too demanding.
To make matters worse, at the place where I worked when my second child was born, the designated pumping room was in another freaking building. Rather than walk outside and five minutes away to pump twice a day, I opted to put up a sign (provided by human resources) on my door. It turned out that not everyone understood the "Not" in "Do Not Disturb." I had a co-worker walk in on me, several knocked repeatedly every time I pumped, and I finally resorted to shutting off the light so people would think I was away from the office. Seriously. Don't get me wrong, though. I'm more than aware that I was far more privileged than many working parents who want to breastfeed or pump. If I was lucky, what must pumping at work be like for them?
Your mileage may vary and some employers might actually be telling the truth, but in my experience, when employers claim they are breastfeeding "friendly," it's totally is a lie. No really, a big lie. Here are some of those times:
When You Don't Get Paid Parental Leave
Figuring out breastfeeding was unbelievably difficult, especially because I was suffering from undersupply. Trying to feed my child when I had to go back to work early from maternity leave made it so much harder. Our family couldn't afford for me to take unpaid leave, and I felt like I had to choose between really bonding with my newborn and figuring out motherhood and having a career. It really sucked.
When employers don't offer paid parental leave, can they really be breastfeeding "friendly?" I honestly don't think so.
When There Is No Place To Pump
I've had to get really creative with finding places and time to pump. I have literally pumped while on conference calls, in my car while driving between meetings (made possible by a hands-free pumping bra), and in the freaking bathroom when my job took me away from my office (as it often did). This was when I worked for an employer that was supposedly breastfeeding "friendly."
When The Pumping Room Is Your Office
When I came back from maternity leave after my second child was born, one of the first things I asked my employer was where I could pump. I was informed that the closest "designated pumping area" was in another freaking building, but that I could choose to pump in my office if I wanted to. Not really, but it's better than taking time to walk someplace, having to go outside, and then not being available if someone needed me.
When Your Staff Complain When You Put A "Do Not Disturb" Sign On Your Door
My staff didn't understand why I chose to pump, and they constantly interrupted me as a result. A coworker actually complained to my boss that I was inaccessible, and that the "Do Not Disturb" sign on my door made me seem "cold and closed off" from my staff.
What did they want me to do instead? Not pump? Actually, don't answer that.
When You Are Expected To Attend Day-Long Meetings With No Breaks
Providing time and space for pumping is great, but it doesn't necessarily make an employer breastfeeding "friendly" if you literally can't take those breaks or use that space and still do your damn job. It's so frustrating to feel forced to choose between your career and breastfeeding, but that's a reality for many parents, myself included.
When You Get In Trouble For Taking Too Many Breaks
I actually was called to HR and written up for taking too many breaks and not being a "team player." The staff member who reported me was not a parent, thought breastfeeding was weird, and ironically had provided me with the HR-approved sign for my office door to use while pumping. I may have sworn during that meeting. You should have seen the look on the HR guy's face when I told him why I took those breaks. It was almost worth it. Almost.
While I got an apology from HR dude and my boss, I decided to look for a different job that day.
When Your Male Boss Reacts To You Leaving Work To Breastfeed Your Baby During Your Break
One day I mentioned to my male boss that I went to my son's daycare to breastfeed him during my lunch break, and his jaw literally dropped open. He said, "Seriously? Can't they just feed him for you?" to which I responded, "Why do you care what I do on my lunch hour?" I mean, he and several of my male colleagues often spent their afternoons on the golf course, but he was giving me the side-eye for feeding my damn kid? That's some major misogyny right there, and another way I learned that I probably couldn't have it all, but not for lack of trying. If I had problem finding balance between work and parenthood, it was because my employer was lying about supporting me in feeding my baby.