Going back to work after maternity leave ended was hard. It seemed impossible to meet everyone's needs at home and at work. Every single day I couldn't help but feel like I had to choose between either being good at my job or being a good mom. I just knew the cards were stacked against me, and I couldn't be both. Then, to make matters worse, I was shamed for breast pumping at work. It made my transition back to "normal" life so much harder than it needed to be, especially since I was judged by my co-workers, my boss, strangers in the hallway, and even other moms. It was humiliating, demoralizing, and isolating.
I'm not alone, either. According to the Moms Rising's "I Pumped Here" campaign, 60 percent of moms don't have what they need — namely time and space — to pump breast milk at work. Which means that a lot of us are forced to pump in weird, gross, cramped, and embarrassing places, wait for lactation rooms to be free, or stop pumping before we want to. When I asked other moms about their own experiences pumping at work, I heard some shocking, appalling, and rage-inducing stories of shameless behavior. It seems that even when your employer gives you break time to pump, or provides a lactation room, that doesn't always stop you from having to face dirty looks, comments, and shade from your co-workers.
Pumping breast milk is no easy task, so you shouldn't be forced to endure shame, judgment, and condemnation when you try to pump at work. If we are going to champion breastfeeding and constantly highlight the benefits of breast milk, we should be supporting working moms pumping at work, not creating additional road blocks for them to travers. Unfortunately, these moms' co-workers and employers didn't get that memo.
"I took my break and lunchtime to pump. It wasn't excessive and my job performance was never impacted. I didn't know there was a problem, until I was given a sub-par annual review, with the only negative thing being too much time away from my desk. It was not written, but I was told verbally that I spent too much time pumping. In retrospect, I should have contacted HR, but I felt so intimidated and caught off guard. I was disappointed because my supervisor was a woman with teenage children. She felt that she didn't get these conveniences when she was raising her kids, so somehow I should suffer as a result."
"I work at a grocery store in a department consisting of mostly college-aged men. One guy would ask me why I pumped, would say things like 'have fun pumping your boobs,' and would knock on the door and walk away, so I would get myself covered up and open the door to find no one there. I still regret not reporting. As the one of two women in my department, I didn't want to make a big deal about it."
"I used to work at a public university. I could only afford a single electric pump, and it took twice as long. The pumping rooms were first come, first serve, and it took time to go to another building and hope the room was available. This lead to an encounter where my boss claimed she had no idea that I was pumping. While I had mentioned it, apparently she ignored me and the signs of what I was doing for months. She told me I was taking too much time and would have to stay late to make up that time or get docked on my pay."
"There was no private space anywhere else in the facility. I was given a computer control room to pump in. It was hot, loud, and had about 12 square inches of space next to a keyboard where I could set my pump. There was no lock. Maintenance workers barged in on multiple occasions. The other pumping mother there was openly shamed for using the break room, so I guess I should consider myself lucky I was given that space."
"Our pumping spot was the sensory room where children in the special education classes go to when they’re overstimulated for trampoline-jumping, swinging, and yelling. We had a partition you could see over to sit behind in a child-size desk. No one verbally shamed us, but it was despicable. Luckily, the janitor let me use his office in the basement. It was dirty, next to an open shower and toilet, but it was private."
"I used to work at a large bookstore with my now-husband. At the time we could barely stand each other. One time, I left my lunch cooler with the breast milk on the break room table. When I ran back for it, I overheard several young men, including him, complaining about how unnatural and gross it was. I told my supervisor. He and all the others got written up over it."
"I consider myself lucky, because I had an office with a door that locked to pump in. I got reported for answering the phone while I was pumping because that’s 'disgusting.' I also had several physicians complain that I was pumping when they needed technical support, even though there's a support line they could have called. One doctor in particular told me I should be a stay-at-home mom if I was going to waste company money by pumping."
"I’m a teacher. I’ve been pumping for my 9-month-old since I went back to work around three months postpartum. I pump in my classroom, during my planning periods or lunch. I’ve had to deny requests to cover other teachers' classes during pumping breaks. According to administration, I’m the only breastfeeding mother that has ever worked there that has had the audacity to make my pumping other people’s problem. I’ve also been forced to give up my pumping space for the day with no notice and with no direction as to where I can pump instead."
"There was no space for me to use, so I was always trying to hide in conference rooms. I had to jam a chair under the door knob. When we moved buildings, there wasn't even a spare conference room without giant windows. They made a huge deal about how much a lock was going to cost for one of the rooms. I still work for the company, and the good news is that I managed to get a storage closet converted into a mother's room."
"A woman at work refused to train me in an essential part of my role, because it would take too much time away from training to pump. I was docked in my performance review the next year and lost a portion of a raise because of her refusal to train me."
"My boss will fall all over himself to say I am entitled to breaks, but my work load was not been adjusted, so I am constantly behind. Within a month of being back I’ve dropped down to two pump breaks, and I am counting the days until I can drop to one because I struggle so much to stay afloat at work. I’ve already received a verbal warning on my performance, and my boss pressures me to stay late to stay caught up, but I have a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old at home, so I hate to be away from them more than I have to. If I stayed any later she would need another bottle, so I’d have to pump again because I make just enough. It’s incredibly frustrating, and I want to find another job, but I feel like I’m not really hireable right now because of pumping."
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.