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.


Blogger Jen-Jen said...

Looks like the other comments are spammers, but just wanted to say thanks for posting your thoughtful blog. It really made me think!

12:33 AM  

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