Nightmares of a Working, Nursing Mom

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

(Originally published in the Vacaville Reporter, May 24, 1998 – author couldn’t resist making some editorial changes from original, but self-embarrassment quotient remains undiluted.)

Lactating mothers are finally getting their day in court.  It looks as if legislation will be passed mandating employers to provide time twice a day for their breast-feeding employees to express milk for their little ones (not to mention for their own personal comfort).

When I was working and breast-feeding my first child, I was fortunate.  My boss readily gave me the time I sought.  I thought that would have been the end of breastfeeding travails, but I was mistaken.

Lactating mothers, take heed.

Though you may have a private office and a lock on the door, interruptions happen.  As an Air Force captain serving as chief of military personnel, I was often compelled to answer the phone in the midst of breast expression.  Fortunately, I’m fairly certain the individuals on the other end had no idea they were talking to a half-clothed officer.

Worse yet, my “personal” time was prone to violation by various higher ranking officers who would drop by to discuss a problem.  Apologetic knocks on the door by young airmen were followed by a hastily buttoned shirt (more than once misaligned) and my subsequent attempts to appear unruffled.  Fortunately my breast pump, quickly thrown under my desk, still warm, was never discovered.

Beware of sudden milk let-downs.  I found myself wearing a sweater often, even in the sultry summer months for just that reason.  On one memorable occasion, I was working on a young airman’s issue, only to become aware that his eyes were opening wider and wider as they fixed on my bust region.  This was accompanied by a sudden release of his lower jaw. I glanced down to see not one, but two rapidly spreading circular dark pools on my all-too-thin light blue military blouse.  Not even double breast shields had saved me.  Ignoring this mortifying development to the best of my ability, I finished my assessment and hastily retreated.

Let’s say you’ve successfully mastered the art of breast expression on the job.  What to do with the milk until the end of the workday?  My vessels of choice were small Tupperware containers “hidden” in plain brown bags.  Unfortunately the only refrigerator I had access to was shared by the entire office.  The disguise of brown paper aside, everyone knew what was in those bags.  You would have thought by the furtive glances I received in my twice-daily gauntlet to the refrigerator I was toting something akin to hazardous waste.  On the plus side, my little brown bags were never touched; in fact there was an unwritten office policy to leave a six inch perimeter around them.

Face it.  Breast expression means more stuff to remember to bring to work.  When you’re feeding, burping, changing a messy diaper, getting the car seat, diapers, diaper wipes, changing another messy diaper, comforting, etc., you may forget your pump and container. (Heck, some days matching shoes is too much to ask for.)  In this case, you have to improvise – manual expression and a Dixie cup, or a not-so-convenient sink in an emergency.

There’s something a little absurd about either of these measures – you start to have great empathy for unmilked cows.

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