Ok, ok, I know how late I am to the game of commenting on the "World's Toughest Job Video" thing. (If you are even later than I am, watch it here.)
But I've been mulling over this video for a couple of weeks now, and finally had to put digital pen to digital paper.
First I ought to say that I mean no disrespect to the people who loved, got verklempt over, and posted/shared this video. If it made you happy, I'm happy for you. And if you are a mom, I bet you're awesome at it, and deserved a moment of feeling appreciated.
And I get it. I get that sappy "moms are the best" videos play to our nostalgia and gratitude for our own mothers, and for current in-the-thick-of-it moms, play to our exhaustion and deep desire to be appreciated and recognized for what we do. I also get, as might sometimes be overlooked, that this video was made BY AN AD AGENCY, TO SELL A PRODUCT FOR A BUSINESS. That business? Trying to sell us cards to give to our moms for Mother's Day. So, job done. A kazillion people have watched the video, and I'm sure both agency and card-selling-company have lavished in the click-bait.
One of the toughest parts of working and breastfeeding is the dreaded Business Trip. I'll cover other aspects, like pumping in clients' offices or at conferences, and storing milk in hotel rooms, in forthcoming posts. For now, we're going to focus on what it is like to *magically fly through the air* with breast milk.
Warning: none of this is fun or exciting. It is mostly stressful, messy, cumbersome, and weird. Excited? Here we go!
Packing for the plane
Some women call their pump "medical equipment" and try to get around the one carry-on and one personal item thing. But it's a good idea to pack as if this were not an option, in case you encounter an ornery TSA agent (so much of traveling with milk comes down to the individual agent).
First, pack your purse into your suitcase and cram a makeup bag down one side of the pump bag, and your wallet, keys, and phone down the other side.
I love my kids. I mean, I flipping LOVE them. I love their little faces, their funny smiles, the way they smell. I love that they are mine in a way that is unique to them and me. I love that they surprise me. I love that they are curious and happy and amazed by the world. I love that they don't judge me; they just love me. I love them.
I feel I need to state that up front, in case anything I am about to type seems to contradict that incontrovertible fact.
OK. Sometimes I don't want them to touch me. Not, like, not EVER. But there are some times - a moment, a minute, an hour - when I really think I'll just take leave of my sanity if someone touches me. I think breastfeeding has a lot to do with this. It is so much physical touching, which everyone says is supposed to be wonderful and borderline ecstasy-inducing. It sometimes is those things, but many months into it, it is just as often tedious, and it is sometimes even overwhelming.
I am having a holy-shit breastfeeding insight this week. Here goes: Guilt = response to what one does. Shame = response to what one IS. Which one is at work for me, and for other breastfeeding mothers?
Guilt played a huge role in my breastfeeding struggles, and in those of many, many women I've interviewed. Or at least, I have always thought of what I experienced as "guilt".
Recap: Guilt = response to what one does. Shame = response to what one IS. As women struggling with breastfeeding, are we feeling guilt?: "I had a hard time balancing breastfeeding and work/older siblings/whatever"? Or - so much scarier - are we feeling shame?: "I'm a failure." "I'm not a good mother." "I'm not enough." "I'm not fully a woman."
I remember exactly what I said to my husband when breastfeeding my first child was ridiculously painful and hugely anxiety-inducing: "I'm a failure. Women have done this for all of human history, yet I can't do it." That was shame. That was me feeling that who I was just wasn't good enough for my baby. Or, maybe, not good enough, period.
I've been around the block when it comes to working and breastfeeding - or, more accurately, working and pumping. I've interviewed hundreds of working moms for my upcoming book on the same topic (I'll take any title suggestions you've got - my best one so far is Pumping At Work Sucks), and I'm amazed at the hacks and workarounds we come up with to make this whole horrible thing a bit easier.
So here, I bring you my 10 Best Hacks for pumping at work.
10. If you forget a pump bottle, steam-sterilize a coffee cup to catch the milk in. Wash and rinse, then add 1 oz. of water. Cover with a saucer or plate, and microwave for 2 minutes.
I’ve decided it’s time to wean my daughter off breastfeeding. She turned one this week, and it was a breastfeeding milestone I never thought I would reach. And now, I’m ready to stop.
I’m ready to stop because breastfeeding exhausts me: emotionally, physically, mentally. For me, it is a blessing but a huge challenge.
I’m ready to stop because I work full-time, which means I have to make time to pump breast milk during every single work day, and this is not easy. In the past year, I’ve been on a dozen business trips, which involve incredible planning and logistics to leave enough milk at home, and to pump and travel with dozens of ounces of milk.
I’m ready to stop because while I love the bond that nursing created, it’s exhausting to be the sole source of a baby’s milk. It means that every decision – see a friend, work late, exercise (just kidding!) – requires an extra set of plans about how long I’ll be away, whether I’ll need my pump, whether I will have a private place to pump, whether I will need a cooler and ice packs, and what I need to wear to get access to my boobs.
When was the last time you talked to your boss about your breasts?
Breastfeeding and working is no longer an exception for new mothers. It is no longer a valiant few women, secretly locked in closets with breast pumps: it’s the new reality of an America where women are all at once breadwinners and, for the first few months to few years of a baby’s life, milk-makers.
American workplaces need to catch up with this reality. They need elements both hard (rules, policies, and infrastructure) and soft (culture, rigorously protected by HR and executives) to ensure that every working mother has the tools at her disposal to make this situation work. Today, even in companies with lactation-friendly policies, many women are at the mercy of their particular manager (or HR team). Support can make all the difference to a successful, productive return to work that empowers a woman to continue to feed her baby breast milk. Cultural and physical hurdles often mean a premature end to breastfeeding – which has implications on not just the baby’s health, but on the mother’s attitudes toward her employer.
In a recent post, I covered the six things you should do for pumping prep while you’re still on maternity leave.
Next up: analyzing your work situation and putting a plan in place.
While pumping might seem relatively straightforward in the comfort of your home and bathrobe, navigating a workplace – and the people in it – while using a machine to extract milk from your body is a whole different ballgame.
1. Understand your rights at work.
The U.S. federal system means that you have a mixture of federal and state laws to consider when figuring out whether you have any legal rights and protections to pump at work.
Before your maternity leave ends, prepare your body, your baby and yourself for becoming a working -- and pumping -- mom.
For many working women, ending maternity leave (if they get it) and leaving a new baby to go back to work is one of the hardest days of their working life (I would recommend waterproof eye makeup). This one day combines guilt, anxiety, sadness, exhaustion, and stress – all while trying to prove that we’re “back.”
Making it harder? For those of us who choose to (or attempt to) continue breastfeeding our babies while working, we have a third job: making milk for the baby during the work day. Planning for the time, space, awkwardness, and physical and mental effort of hooking up to a machine several times a day can be completely, paralyzingly daunting.
I’m a working mother of two small children, and I’ve breastfed them both. In fact, I’m currently somewhere in the middle of breastfeeding my second child, who has cut two teeth recently and knows how to use them, so we’ll see how much longer this continues. And it’s been interesting, being alive and mothering and breastfeeding during a time of historically high intrusion into women’s nutrition relationships with their babies. I’m not a breastfeeding crusader – quite the contrary, actually. I’ve found the whole situation to be exhausting and crazy and difficult. I’ve never participated in a “nurse-in” (a whole bunch of women nursing their babies in public to prove a point). I am already sad about how fast my baby seems to be growing up, but I look forward to the day when I am not the source of her nutrition. I’m just kind of middle-of-the-road on this whole thing.
But I care about how our culture treats women, and there is one specific dynamic that I’ve been tracking, and been bothered by, in that way where you can’t put your finger on what bothers you, and you turn it over and over in your mind, until one day in the shower it hits you. So here it is:
The “breast is best” thing has totally jumped the shark. I understand, and applaud, and am grateful for, the early crusading work of women who have fought the fight to make sure that breastfeeding is promoted, valued, and legally protected – because there was a time when it was none of these things.
Work. pump. repeat.