This is the second of a two part series on pumping. The first covered supply issues in the early post-partum weeks. This one details the post-post-partum return to professional life.
Pumping Condition #2: You are going back to work.
I have heard stories of work places that allow women to book a conference room to pump, and know that some women have an office with a door that closes for privacy. I imagine that, if not ideal, these conditions could provide for a sustainable and secure pumping environment. I, however, am a designer that works in a very open office. Thirty of us young-ish, creative things share a large, single room with no doors or private conference areas. We do have two unisex toilets with doors that lock.
Two women had previously attempted the pumping-at-work scenario in my office. The first found a convent across the street. She was not Catholic, but she couldn’t handle the knocking every 2.5 minutes as she sat on the toilet trying to pump with people waiting in line to pee. The nuns were amazing, and they let her sit in a room without a toilet to pump until she was finished. Unfortunately, this situation was not long for the world. It turns out pumping off-site takes you away from work for a long time, especially if you have to thank (very kind) nuns every time you pump. She moved on to an office with a better pumping policy: her home.
The second woman was not worried about the knocking on the shared bathroom door. She printed and laminated a sign that read ‘PUMPING IN PROGRESS’ in bold sans-serif text. She posted it on one of the two restroom doors and no one bothered her. She pumped for 6 months on the toilet with great success. I admire this woman. I am not this woman.
I actually considered bringing my great, gold, rented Medela Symphony breast pump with me to work. I even repurposed a really fantastic (and enormous) leather bag that I bought I Argentina to hoist around the 7 lb machine, knowing that the Pump in Style I had responsibly purchased before giving birth would leave me with less than an ounce of milk within days. But there was no outlet adequate to handle the machine in the bathroom, and I was managing too much at work to take hours a day to sit with the nuns (though in retrospect, I really should have given that a shot).
I did try using my Pump in Style, a really useful little portable pump, for a short period of time. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it as a great route for anyone that doesn’t have supply issues. It’s battery operated (you can even pump in the car, which is very entertaining at stoplights), and it’s often covered by insurance if you’ve had a diagnosed struggle with breast-feeding. N.B. to users: The loud whooshing in the background can be distracting on business calls.
My story does not have a happy pumping ending, however. I was not able to retain my supply once I returned to work in spite of my bathroom pumping efforts. I tried breast-feeding again with my daughter two years later. I was prepared with a pre-rented Symphony in my post-partum hospital room, correctly sized nipple shields, and a prophylactic appointment with an amazing lactation consultant named Susan. My daughter latched immediately after birth, and sucked vigorously, but my milk supply was still too low after the first weeks. I lasted for several months, supplementing after the first three weeks and pumping until my supply diminished dramatically. I finally accepted that hugging my baby without tubes and holding my jilted 2-year-old was ultimately more important than pumping.
Although this post may sound like a cautionary tale, it is truly a critique of the industry that surrounds the products available to us during a time of incredible transition in our lives. Even Wikipedia’s take on breast pumping – which can be backed up by that guy that got stuck next to me at the stoplight while I was ‘Pumping In Style’ on the way to a meeting – states that a breast pump is analogous to a milking machine used in commercial dairy production. And that is exactly how the products associated with pumping encourage us to feel. Breast pumping products are the overt, physical counterparts to the unmet and largely invisible challenges, such as our cultural procedures for re-integrating mothers into the workplace and increasing awareness about post-partum depression, that make the transition into motherhood more difficult than it should be.
How is it possible that there is not a better way? Is it because we are ensconced in a culture that largely lives in ignorance of the fact that many women, by choice or need, return to work less than 12 weeks after giving birth? Are we more accepting of sub-par products because we’re too busy trying to keep our babies alive? It certainly isn’t because corporations are blind to the trigger of childbirth as the perfect opportunity for customer development and loyalty.
There’s an opportunity here. If you are looking to overhaul the mommy-milking industry, call me. I’ll design for free.