Friday, April 15, 2005

The Pumping Pioneer

Not so very long ago it was “unseemly” for a pregnant woman to be seen in public. I can remember reading the story of the sound of music and Von Trapp family singers. Maria became pregnant just before she went on-tour. They outfitted her with 3 prosthetic “tops” to balance out her belly. I think she said the third looked impossibly large. When she finally delivered, she was incredulous that the press didn’t know she was pregnant. I think she said “I am described as stout.” My own mother was employed as a social worker when she was pregnant with me, her fourth child and a Christmas surprise. When she was 6 months pregnant she went to court with a client. To this day she keenly remembers the judge peering over the bench at her, admonishing “You’re the social worker?” You see, just 35 years ago women were expected to stop working when they were pregnant.

But a few pioneering women worked when they were pregnant. I can imagine the whispers and sneers of their colleagues. “When is she going to stop? Isn’t this enough? My god, look at her.” I can imagine these whispers and sneers every time I walk proudly down the hallway with my discreet black shoulder bag. I’m a pumping, working-mom and I’m not real quiet about it. I feel like a pioneer. By being sensible and matter-of-fact I’m on a little mission to let people know that mothers are here in the workplace and babies need to be breastfed.

Not long after I returned from maternity leave, my cubicle moved from a remote location back to the corporate campus. Shortly before the move, my boss and I had business together at the corporate offices and he suggested we scout out my new location. After inspecting the grey box with a window location, I casually mentioned that I wanted to check the ladies lounge in the rest room to see where I would be pumping. “You want to what, he said? Oh that…” To his credit he waited outside and asked if everything was OK. “Not bad I said, but there’s no outlet. I’ll have to use battery power. You know, the spot we have at the remote location is really good. I like the desk height table and chairs and the outlet nearby.” OK, I thought, that went well. Maybe now he'll know if he ever has another employee. But then I know him pretty well and he does have a kid with another one on the way. Would I really say this to someone else? An older baby boomer? A young grad without children?

In my first month back to work I was able to finagle and in-town seminar with a guru in my field. About 20 other people in my field are already seated as I arrive at the downtown hotel just as the guru begins. My discreet black shoulder bag is on my arm as I try to slip unobtrusively into the seminar. But the black has a wider profile than my laptop and as I try to work my way to an empty seat it knocks over a pitcher of icewater. The icewater lands in the lap of another attendee. Did I mention it’s a small field in my city? Said guru makes a joke about monsoons and I insist on buying the affected woman lunch. At lunch she politely declines and has several of her co-workers with her. I insist (WTH – it’s on an expense report) and several of us end up eating together. We are mostly women in our early 30s. The talk naturally goes to children. Others have pumped. I finally admit that I “took her out with my breast pump.” We are all able to laugh.

Fast forward to my baby being 9 months old and a quick overnight business trip. OK – I’m taking the pump, but not the darn laptop. One carry-on and one personal item is enough. I’m privileged that an Assistant Vice-President from another area will be attending the meeting as well, though he is only flying in for the day. Before the trip I ask him who he knows and who he would like to meet? What networking opportunities would he like to make? I let me close colleagues at the conference know that and AVP will be accompanying me. I rehearse my introductions for the veep. I’m am ready to shine.

He meets me that the hotel reception desk. I have pumped that morning and the night before I am asking the front desk manager to place my ice pack in the freezer. Moments earlier have stashed 4 small plastic ziploc baggies in the same bag. “Ice packs? Says the veep, “you brought ice packs?” Well, you know I just had a baby right? Well, I’m freezing my pumped milk so I can bring it home for the baby.” “Oh yes of course,” he mutters. “There’s a continental breakfast before the first session,” I reply.

I wonder if he has children. I believe he is married and someone of his level would be expected to have a stay-at-home wife. Would she then be more likely to breastfeed? I long to ask him this, but am more afraid of the answer than the impropriety of the question. I know if he tells me she didn’t I will feel sorry for them. I might even look down on him with the sanctimonious self-righteousness reserved only for religious and mommy wars. And it really is none of my business. Best to not know.

When lunch comes, I casually mention that I will be returning to my room to pump, but will meet him at our table in about 20 minutes. I take my seat as if I haven’t just removed my shirt and plugged my nipples into a sucking machine whirring and whirring. I graciously accept my “exceptional achievement” award.

These are my seeds. This is common. This is normal. And this must be done if we are going to have mothers in the workplace. Today, pregnant women are a common sight in the work place. Celebrity pregnacies now fascinate us. We watch them get bigger and bigger. We are excited about their future. We have special maternity clothes for expectant women. We have official work policies on wedding and baby shower gifts for women as well as men. Pregnancy is really common today. But it wasn't always that way. Some brave souls, my mother for one, pioneered the way by working, even while pregnant. Should my daughter choose to have children and work outside the home, she’ll know that she’s going to pump. And she won’t be embarrassed by it or try to hide it. Her mission will be to pioneer the way for women to bring their snuggled, slinging, breast-feeding co-sleeping babies to work with them.

And really, pumping is no big deal.

Who Raised Me

There’s a lot of talk these days about “strangers raising our children.” A lot of piousness and self-righteousness is getting thrown around toward people who allow “strangers” to impart “values” into children. Well, I guess I was raised by a stranger. I had a Nanny.

When my mother found herself pregnant with me, her fourth child, she had already committed herself to going back to social work. She’d already given up a full scholarship to graduate school when her first child was born in 1957. My mother was 29 at the time and had been the first in family of either sex to go to college. Being a 25 year old divorcee and “fallen woman,” I guess her only option was college.

Mother found Nanny through a mutual acquaintance. I guess they were technically strangers in the beginning, but we still keep in touch to this day, nearly 35 years later.

Let me tell you a little bit about Nanny. Her house was neat as a pin. She had a family room, where I recall spending my time playing. And a “living room” that was dark most of the time where sheets were kept on the furniture. I remember one Christmas when I got old enough and was allowed to sit with the adults in the living room while they had coffee. What a treat. Nanny really didn’t have any toys around. I’m not sure what I did all day, but she did take me on errands. Getting the car washed in the automatic car wash was always a treat. And when we were at the mall, she held me above the potty so my but wouldn’t touch it. Nanny had a pantry with “just” enough food in it. You could see the back shelves. Nanny had one drawer in her house that was full of “junk.” But you could still see the bottom of it. Nanny was Catholic. I’m sure she was ‘for life’ and against a woman’s right to choose, though this never came up. Nanny would take me to Catholic mass on occasion and instruct me to stay in the pew while she went up for communion. Nanny has several grand children around the same age as me. From what I can tell they live a traditional life. They married and have wives who stay home. They are prolific breeders.

Let me tell you about myself. My house is full of stuff. I’m a packrat and I married a packrat. Creativity reigns. I have a family room and a living room, too. But the living room sofa has cat stains and cat scratches on it. My house is littered with plastic toys that light up and go beep. I consider myself “frugal” and once a year I indulge in the luxury of getting my car washed by a machine. My parents were 70 year-old retirees before they had ever gone through a car wash. My pantry is a tribute to Sam’s club with industrial-sized spices lining the deep back and jars of baby food that haven’t been needed in over a year. My kitchen drawers are packed with broken ice cream scoops, disintegrating spatulas and gadgets only an actual cook would know how to use. My mother’s daughters all went to college and enjoyed productive careers. We all voted for Kerry. Two of us have had abortions. Mother was the first person we called in crisis. I belong to an open non-denominational church that performs same sex unions.

Now, you tell me who raised me? Who’s values did I gain? Who’s habits were instilled in me?