Being a working mom is like being a circus performer. You need flexibility, skill, athleticism, and the confidence to be OK with being occasionally stared at while you contort your body into weird positions. So many employers claim they'll accommodate your needs when you return to work, but then you get back and learn there are so many horrible things your coworkers will do when you're pumping — no matter what the official "rules" say — that can make your experience suck (no pun intended).
For me, returning to work after maternity leave was stressful and emotional. Then I had to figure out how I would go about pumping in my workplace. I did it, though. I brought my pump and extra bottles and the first thing I did after walking in the door was ask about the logistics of breast pumping. "Don't worry," our receptionist said. "We are a breastfeeding-friendly workplace." I soon discovered the company was playing it fast and loose with the word "breastfeeding-friendly," though. Collecting milk for my newborn was so different in practice than it was on paper, and my co-workers were horrible during the entire experience.
When I gathered my supplies to attempt my first pump at work, I discovered that people were having a meeting in the designated pumping room. They glared at me and audibly sighed when I asked if I could use the room. I returned to my office with rock-hard boobs, and put the sign on the door that our receptionist provided (complete with a picture of a cow, you guys, because that's not degrading or anything). I discovered that some of my coworkers thought "do not disturb" meant "knock louder." As time past, I had to get used to someone glibly asking me what I was "doing in there," followed with a wink, at least once a day. I tried talking to Human Resources about it, but learned that jokes about my boobs aren't sexual harassment when pumping is involved. Ugh.
There are so many reasons why pumping at work sucks, even if you are privileged enough to have time and space to do it. For me, my coworkers were at the top of that list, and in the following ways:
They Use The Pumping Room For Things Other Than Pumping
At the University where I worked when my second child was born, the designated pumping room was in another freaking building. I walked outside and five minutes away to pump in this supposedly "protected space," only to find people using it for a conference call. The sign on the door said "lactation room," not extra conference room. I was told I could come back later, but the room was booked for the rest of the week.
They Throw Away Your Flanges
I left my pump flanges on the counter in the break room to dry one day. Harmless, right? Wrong. When I went to retrieve them they were in the trash. I asked around, but no one would fess up. One co-worker told me that if I didn't want people to throw them away, I shouldn't leave them in the kitchen. I guess the same rules didn't apply to her day-old take-out or ancient bottle of sriracha.
They Walk In On You
Pumping at work was, at times, humiliating. It didn't have to be, but apparently my coworkers thought they could walk right in while I was pumping. So many people saw my boobs. Awkward.
They Constantly Ask You Why You Pump
My staff didn't understand why I chose to pump at work. My boss turned green every time I mentioned that I needed to take a break and my co-workers actually claimed I took pumping breaks too frequently. Apparently they thought I was trying to "get out of work."
They clearly had never pumped before, because, pumping is work.
They Knock Loudly
It turned out that not everyone understood the "Not" in "Do Not Disturb." Most of the time, they would simply knock louder if I didn't answer.
They Schedule Meetings During Pumping Breaks
Providing time and space for pumping is great, but it doesn't necessarily mean you can actually take those breaks or use that space and still do your damn job. My co-workers would schedule day-long and/or off-site meetings, then role their eyes if I asked where I could pump. Most of the time I ended up pumping in a bathroom or my car.
They Dump Out Your Breast Milk
So, yeah. My breast milk, stored in clearly marked bottles, was dumped out more than once by my co-workers, usually with the excuse that they didn't know what it was. I cried, you guys.
They Complain To Your Boss
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. I actually was called to Human Resources (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. Unreal.
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