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.
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.