2 May 2016 - Washington, D.C. - Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez stops by the newly created lactation rooms at the Department of Labor. Joining him on the tour were Latifa Lyles (Women's Bureau) and son Max, Elisabeth Grant (Office of Workers' Compensation Programs) and son Dashiell Drew, Portia Wu (Employment and Training Administration) and daughter Anwen, and Carrianna Suiter (Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs) and son Theo. ***Official Department of Labor Photograph***

When I started my tenure as an instructor of English with the Alamo Colleges, I was juggling the demands of teaching a full load of composition courses and finding time between classes, holding office hours, and what felt like never-ending committee work to pump breast milk.

Time spent running between academic responsibilities and pumping my breasts was stressful, rushed, and time-consuming, and all of my frustrations were heightened by the fact that my college did not provide a relaxing, quiet place for its employees (or students) to pump.

I remember when I first searched for a place to pump, I was actually told to use the bathroom because, “There are electrical outlets in the bathrooms.” The thought of intermixing my child’s sterile bottles and milk in a germ-filled bathroom quickly led me to rule out that option. 

I remember I was encouraged to use the office of an administrator, who would kindly exit her office and give me privacy when I needed the space. This was my regular place to pump, but because the space was so intimately hers, and I was doing something so intimately mine, it heightened the level of stress I felt as the incoming freshman faculty member using an administrator’s office to conduct such personal business.

I remember the worst experience I had happened one afternoon when the administrator’s office was not available for me, so I had to search for an alternative space. I found a classroom that was empty, and figured that since classes were in mid-session, I would have enough time to pump before the next class meeting was scheduled. I placed a “Do Not Disturb, Pumping In Progress” sign on the door and began the process. About 10 minutes into the session, I heard jangling keys in the door knob and a loud male voice saying, “Why is it so dark in here?”

I was frantically trying to squeeze in and button up, and I quickly realized I wouldn’t be able to get fully dressed before the door opened, so I spoke loudly: “Could you just give me one minute? I’m pumping my breast milk.”

The faculty member walking into the classroom was totally caught off guard, as I would imagine anyone would be to see a woman with half-exposed breasts connected to a pumping machine. Even so, the faculty member didn’t step out or say “Excuse me,” as I was hoping he would. Instead, he said, “I have a class in here. And it’s starting right now.”

As I pushed my breasts back into my bra and buttoned my blouse, I asked him, “Could you just give me a few minutes?”

“The class begins right now,” he repeated, walking into the classroom with a few students following.

I was both embarrassed and humiliated as I unplugged and sealed the baby bottles. By the time I walked across the hall to my office, I felt discouraged with my decision to breastfeed while trying to establish my career. 

That afternoon, the summary of trying to pump at work, teach a full load of classes, and deal with “flashing” a colleague was just too much. Soon after that incident, I stopped pumping at work, and while I know that this one incident didn’t solely lead to my decision to stop breastfeeding my baby, I am certain that lacking a calm and serene place to pump at my workplace did influence my decision to stop. 

As the international community recognizes World Breastfeeding Week this week, I encourage women who are breastfeeding their children, or those of us, like myself, who have already breastfed our children, to speak out about experiences with breastfeeding – both positive and negative. It’s important that we share our experiences so that other women who choose to breastfeed their children can know they are supported.

The choice a woman makes to breastfeed her child should be something encouraged and accepted, not something that could lead to discomfort or shame.

https://rivardreport.wildapricot.org

Top image: Newly created lactation rooms at the U.S. Department of Labor’s headquarters during a facilities tour on May 2, 2016 in Washington, D.C.  Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Labor. 

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Melinda Zepeda

Melinda Zepeda divides most of her time between single-mothering her daughter Marisol and her son Diego and serving as Associate Professor of English with the Alamo Colleges. Contact her at melindazepeda@gmail.com.