Photo by Sydney Everett
Being a working mom comes with a variety of challenges. One of the most difficult is figuring out how to keep your baby fed and happy while you’re at work. My first baby was supplemented with formula, but when my second baby came along, I decided I would try to pump at work. But I ended up pumping in secret.
Being an elementary school teacher, there were not many opportunities for me to slip away from my students to pump. For weeks I suffered through embarrassing leaks and uncomfortable engorgement. My husband told me I just needed to talk to my principal about the situation, tell him I’m breastfeeding and that I need time to pump. To which I always replied, “No way! I can’t say the word breast in front of my principal! I’ll figure it out on my own!”
Thankfully there were a few other teachers who took their classes out to recess at the same time I did who were kind enough to offer to watch my class while I took care of business.
At first I attempted pumping in the faculty bathroom… but it didn’t take long for me to realize it was not the ideal location. For one thing, there was nowhere to sit other than the toilet, which, besides being uncomfortable, didn’t seem like the most sanitary place to pump. Also, it turns out the echoing acoustics of a public restroom didn’t exactly provide the discrete, private atmosphere I was hoping for. When it was brought to my attention that anyone within 100 yards of me could hear the ironic “mooing” sound of my electric pump resonating down the hall, I quickly moved my pumping sessions to the comfort of my classroom. It was quiet, secluded, and relaxing…and it worked for me.
Until one fateful day there was an incident out on the playground with one of my students. Let’s call him Bobby, for all intents and purposes. It was my job to prevent these kinds of situations from happening. My principal went from mildly upset to foaming at the mouth when he confronted Bobby, “What did Mrs. Younker have to say about your behavior on the playground?”
Bobby replied innocently, “Mrs. Younker wasn’t out at recess. I haven’t seen her at recess for weeks.”
With steam coming out of his ears, the principal marched down the hall to my classroom, fully prepared to give me a piece of his mind. When he came to my door he was surprised to find it was locked. Without even thinking of the various reasons WHY it might be locked, he whipped out his master key…
Up until that moment I had been sitting at my desk, hooked up to my machine like a cow in a dairy farm. Suddenly, I heard the door rattling, as if someone was struggling to get it open. Frantically, I yanked my shirt down, ignoring the streams of white milk now cascading down my torso. In one fell swoop I leaped up from my chair and shoved myself as far away from the pump as possible.
Just then the principal bounded into the room. “There was a problem with Bobby on the playground.” He said, each word dripping heavily with accusation.
“Oh no.” My voice caught in my throat as I asked, “What happened?” Just then, I looked down and realized that although I had managed to pull my shirt down, my bra was still twisted and bunched around my neck. I could feel heat rushing to my face as I casually crossed my arms over my chest, hoping to hide the damage.
“Do you want to explain to me why you weren’t there? Why you haven’t been out to recess in weeks? “
“Well….” I stammered, “I … uh…”
“It is your responsibility to be out on the playground with your kids every day.”
“I know… I just…” At that moment I realized I had to choose between complete and utter embarrassment, or my job reputation.
“I had to pump!” I blurted out.
At first he looked confused. Then, for the first time since he barged in, he took a good look around the room. His eyes fixed on the bottles of milk sitting visibly on my desk. His face turned a deep shade of red as realization dawned on him.
There we stood, the very definition of awkward, shuffling our feet back and forth waiting in agony for the other person to say something. Finally, he turned to me, careful to keep his gaze at eye level, and said, “Yeah… uh…we need to find a time and place for you to do that.”
And with that he turned and left… and avoided me for the rest of the week.
Let this be a lesson to you ladies. Don’t be afraid to talk to your employer about your needs as a new mother. Turns out, they are required to give you time to pump– It’s the law. Don’t worry, you are probably not the first person in the world to bring up the subject, and it is far easier to have a slightly uncomfortable conversation now than it is to have an extremely uncomfortable conversation later. Trust me.