Dear Moms Pumping In A Closet,
When I decided to breastfeed my daughters, I anticipated being uncomfortable nursing in public, but I never worried about how I would feel once I was back at work spending mornings and afternoons spent pumping. Naively, I assumed I'd have one of the best lactation rooms America had to offer, where I could comfortably assemble the tangle of tubing and flanges and maneuver myself into position. How wrong I was.
On my first day back at work, I asked my manager where I should pump, expecting to be directed to a discrete little oasis, maybe a quiet, little room with a fridge. In fact, there was no designated space for me to pump, and they scrambled to find an open office that I could use three times a day.
I want you moms pumping in a closet to know I see you.
Despite all the various organizations and agencies advocating for breastfeeding and pumping moms in the workplace, it’s intimidating asking your boss for the space and time you need to pump during the workday. Sure, providing a "designated private space for women to breastfeed or pump milk" is one of the recommendation’s in the United Stated Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention's (CDC) "Guide to Strategies to Support Breastfeeding Mothers and Babies," but I stress it is only a "recommendation." I understand how hard you have to fight to get the accommodations required to pump several times day in a sterile and safe environment that isn't a closet filled with accounting manuals. Please know that it's not going unnoticed. According to the 2016 CDC Breastfeeding Report Card, low breastfeeding rates among infants who are 6 to 12 months suggest that mothers may not be getting the "support" they need from employers. What a shock!
That language makes breastfeeding sound like an exotic skill that only survives in the wild, but the reality of it is that breastfeeding should be accessible to all mothers. And even when you do get a designated place to pump, your milk production isn't helped by the mysterious Arctic breeze whipping through the spare office you're only allowed use for 20 minutes at a time, because Jim in recruiting needs to use it for phone calls.
I understand how on edge you feel every time you sit on the foldout metal chair in a supply closet next to an industrial-sized cylinder of Borax bent on pumping as much milk as possible in 30 minutes because you have to get back to work and your child is going through a growth spurt and needs more milk, more milk, more milk! Your back turned toward the door in case someone barges in (because of course the door does not lock). Trust, I'm right there with you.
I know it still feels strange whipping your breast out in a place where your co-workers are only a few feet away — kind of like a nightmare I once had about running naked through my high school, only I couldn't run. Likely, you've been overcome by elaborate mental visions of embarrassment while pumping in a closet at work where everyone knows what you’re during behind that door.
I see you discretely carrying your milk to the fridge, hoping no one will find out that "human milk" is being stored next to their kale pesto pasta in the fridge and freak out. I used to carry my pumped milk in a lunch bag so it would not stick out from other co-worker's lunch items. Ridiculous, I know, but just believing that all my co-workers knew what I was doing in that supply closet three times a day was enough to make me blush.
Moms pumping in a closet, I see you!
I see the frustration in your face when your boss schedules a meeting during the time you need to pump. I know how difficult it is to listen to your co-worker's presentation on marketing plans and ad rates when your breasts feel like they are on fire and you worry the milk will leak through your blouse. I see you grabbing your pump in that ugly black carrypack as soon as the meeting is over and run to the supply closet to expel all the milk threatening to leak out onto your one of three nice work shirts (there isn't going to be one to wear by Thursday!). And then, when Rob is in the closet looking through supplies, it takes everything in you to not tell him to get the hell out or burst into a cartoon of fountain tears. Oh boy, I see you trying to hold it all together until he locates the ballpoint pens and finally leaves. Rob!!!
I see the embarrassment on your face when your co-worker Susan ignores the "Meeting in Progress" sign on the door and swings it open. She closes it once you scream, “I’m in here!” but you’re positive that Susan saw your side boob.
Ugh. It's easy to laugh from a distance, but let me tell you I see you, because I experienced the same struggle with previous employers who did not understand or believe in supporting working, pumping moms.
You may not have support in the workplace but you have mine. Please know that so many moms are on your side supporting you, advocating for your rights to a designated space and the time needed to pump that liquid gold for your babies.
A Fellow Mom Who Pumps In The Closet
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