A Room of One’s Own
When I found out that I was pregnant with twins, I was incredibly excited and also completely terrified. There were so many things to learn, including whether or not I would be able to breastfeed two infants. And then, 9 weeks before their due date, my babies decided that they were ready to make their appearance. They were tiny – both under 4 pounds – and not ready to be out in the big, bad world. Because they were so little and needed help eating, they had to stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for about 6 weeks. They needed all the support they could get, and for me, a brand-new mom only able to come for visits, that meant providing them with that ultimate, perfect food: breast milk.
When they were newborns, my babies were too little and weak to breastfeed, so that meant that, at first, I could only pump. Pumping breast milk is not glamorous. It’s hard not to feel a bit bovine. Plus, it can hurt, and since you have to pump about every 3 hours, it definitely restricts where you can go and what you can do when you’re not pumping.
After my kids got out of the hospital, I was lucky to have another 6 weeks at home with them. It was difficult leaving them to come back to work, but it was such a comfort knowing that I had such a supportive office environment for pumping. I was given access to a private room with a comfortable chair and some extra little touches just for me. I was given the freedom of a flexible schedule and understanding coworkers. So, when I am pumping, my only worry is about making enough milk for my babies and not about whether or not I will be able to pump at all.
Sadly, I am one of the luckier mothers in the working world. I have heard about other women, most recently at DISH Network, being forced to pump in front of their coworkers, being forced to pump in bathrooms, or not being allowed to pump on their own schedule. As much as I love my job and my coworkers, I would definitely not feel comfortable exposing myself to them in order to pump. And the idea of pumping – producing food for my children – in a germy, bacteria-ridden bathroom completely grosses me out, especially considering I won’t even pick up my kids, with their delicate immune systems, without washing my hands first.
Federal and state laws require employers to provide working mothers with an appropriate and comfortable place to pump, and the ACLU of Colorado has successfully defended those rights in the past. Nevertheless, some companies still refuse to do the right thing. It is surprising and disheartening to learn that in an era where “family values” are often cited as under attack, more companies aren’t embracing their working mothers and allowing them the time and privacy to provide for their children.