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#MomTalk: Tales of Pumping at Work

Today's #MomTalk comes from Christina Kuhl, a working mother of twins. Interested in sharing your breastfeeding journey on the Milkful blog? Email your story to [email protected]

As you walk down the hallway of my building, each office has a giant interior window starting about five-and-a-half feet up the wall and extending to the ceiling (about another three feet). This completely see-through section runs the full length of the office, and most people walk by with no issues. But there is always the possibility that someone could look in, and often does – especially when your door is closed. Someone is inevitably going to get up on his/her tippy toes to peer into your office and see what’s up.

What’s up is pumping at my desk.

My company’s go-to solution to preventing this unintentional (well, I at least I hope it’s unintentional) voyeurism is to ask women who are pumping in their offices to put butcher paper in the window to completely block anyone from seeing in. Only problem is, you won’t be able to see out, either! I wasn’t down with this idea – and the thought of putting up paper in my window made me feel like a zoo animal whose keepers decided it would be better “off display” so as not to frighten small children – so I not-so-politely declined and was determined to find some other way to get the job done without overly exposing myself or embarrassing others during the 40-plus-minute mini-marathon of pumping I tackle every day between noon and 1 p.m.

One more thing on this ever-present threat of embarrassment: who is going to be embarrassed, exactly? I used to be pretty self-conscious, but after giving birth to twins and pumping for seven-going-on-eight months I am completely desensitized to anyone seeing anything. Embarrassment went right out the window after I opened my second (and third, and tenth) package of adult diapers postpartum. If they want a show, I’ll give them a show! Just kidding, hubby and company lawyers.

So I said “no” to the paper and went instead with a subtle and chaste “Unavailable until 1 p.m.” handwritten note on the white board immediately outside my door. If I was feeling particularly silly, I’d throw a small “#moo” on there too. Those who know what I’m doing can easily infer what I mean; everyone else is none the wiser, probably assumes I’m on a call and thinks M.O.O. is the latest acronym for some project or initiative.

This plan succeeded for five days until my 70-year-old male colleague reads the note on my board, peers in through the window, sees I’m at my desk, and opens the door. I’m wearing a shirt that covers my Madonna-esque milk cones completely, but there’s no mute button for the rhythmic wheezing of my hospital-grade pump. He walks in, drops some files on my desk, and then, thinking it odd I didn’t stand up to grab the files, asks if I was on the phone.

No sugarcoating the answer. “Nope. I’m in the middle of pumping.”

Big smile from me.

Him? Not so much.

The look on his face. I almost felt bad for him. His eyes got wide, pupils darting around nervously, doing everything they could to avoid looking at me. Once the shock wore off, he sheepishly slinked out of my office, walking backward until he reached the safe, breastmilk-free sanctuary of the hallway.

That evening, my husband, not as amused by this story as I was, suggested I be a little more forthcoming about the activities taking place when my door is closed to prevent future undesired encounters. And at the very least get a lock on my door.

The lock was installed the next day, but I was once again confronted with the feeling I was being hidden away to avoid scaring the guests. And what was I doing to create a safe, supportive environment for other moms who were currently or would, in the future, be pumping at work? As a working mom I have three primary goals: providing milk to my hungry critters while we’re apart; fulfilling my job obligations; and showing through my words and actions that it’s not only possible but completely ok to pump at the office!

It’s a little thing, but I felt a new door sign could serve as the vehicle through which I could show my support and spread a little inspiration and encouragement about pumping at work. Before going out on leave I had joked about putting up a sign of engorged udders on my door. As much as I like to push the envelope, I realized that was likely a bit too far. But the succinct subtly of “Unavailable” clearly wasn’t hitting the mark either.

My compromise?

Yes, I know I’m in communications and using graphics with a watermark on them is a cardinal sin and very amateurish, but it’s just for my office door so I gave myself a pass.

I’m sure most people immediately halt upon seeing the stop sign, get the message and come back later. They probably saw the cow and thought, “Hmmm…that’s weird. But Christina is a bit quirky. I bet it has something to do with whatever Netflix show she’s watching this week.”

But if you’re more attuned to the goings on of a new mom, the cow leaves nothing to interpretation. You know exactly what I’m saying. And I hope you even get a little laugh out of it.

Can we stop and marvel at her majesty for a moment? There she is – proudly displaying her udders, telling the world, “Look at me! I make milk and I’m proud of it!” as her glorious red cape sways in the wind. She’s an inspiration.

I know it’s a small, silly thing, this door sign. But it’s my small way of putting positivity about pumping at work out into the universe. Well, out into the halls of my office, at least.

We should all be proud of our commitment to breastfeeding, whether it’s for a few weeks, a few months, or more than a year. Pumping is hard – physically, mentally, and emotionally. That’s why we’ve got to have some fun and laugh about it when we can.

And we need to own it. There’s absolutely no reason to be ashamed of what we’re doing; no reason to fumble around when people ask you why your door was closed. Just tell them! Be proud of everything you’re balancing, and send the message that what you’re doing is great and shouldn’t be a secret. You don’t need to be as blunt as a sign with a cow on it, but spread the gospel of pumping at work success however it works best for you.

But I will say, I have yet to be interrupted since that sign’s gone up.

 

Keep Reading  Tips for Traveling with Breastmilk in an Airplane or Car  

#MomTalk:  Tales of Pumping at Work by Christina Kuhl>

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