Here’s the story of 10 lactating mamas who turned an office into a shared pumping area. (You can imagine that it would get quite cozy.) The women work at American Jewish World Service and they put together their story for a contest for World Breastfeeding Week sponsored by Health Connect One.
We are the “Milk Mamas” of AJWS, 10 women (that’s 10% of our staff!) who are deeply grateful for the love and support we have received over the last year after being thrown together in our office’s lactation room. There is NO private pumping time in our lactation room. Therefore, we consider ourselves more than lucky to have accidentally formed the most wonderful new moms’ group.
Our Lactation Room
We meet there in twos and threes throughout the day to express milk, problem-solve the challenges of motherhood, and joke about the constant foibles of being a nursing mother in the workplace. Despite struggles with supply, thrush, mastitis, and travels (and pumping!) around the world, many of our children are approaching their first birthday and we are all still pumping. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but in our experience, it takes a pumping room full of thoughtful, encouraging and hilarious moms to get a working mama through the first year without losing her sanity!
Our lactation room consists of four chairs, two computers, a mini fridge, hand sanitizer, adorable pictures of all the babies, a notebook where we can ask each other questions and provide notes of encouragement. We think our stories below should be called “Oh, the Places We’ve Pumped,” because as every working mom knows, there is no breastfeeding without pumping.
In Turkey, They Wanted My Pump
I was in Turkey for my first work trip away from my almost 1-year-old daughter. Everything had gone fine. By all accounts my daughter was sleeping well, enjoying her father and grandmothers.
I had pumped in airport and airplane bathrooms and during the breaks at my conference and was looking forward to a little time away from the pump when I returned home and would go on vacation with my little girl. I was finally on my way back to see my daughter and I was waiting in line at airport security. My bag went slowly down the conveyor belt and through the metal detector. And then they pulled me aside. I knew instantly why I was being pulled aside. My pump looked suspicious – what was this little black box with all the knobs, wires and suction cups?
The young man who pulled me aside spoke very limited English and I spoke no Turkish. He pointed at the bag and pulled out the pump.
“What is this?”
“My breast pump. For milk.”
“For breastfeeding mothers.”
Nope. I hooked up the tubes and the cups as if this would help him identify it.
He looked at me blankly and called another man over who also spoke no English. He picked it up, turned it over and pulled it out of the black case to examine the parts of the pump.
“For your mouth?” he said. Signing a breathing apparatus.
“No,” I said, “for milk,” grabbing my breasts.
“Oh!” one of the men said, “Massage?”
“No,” I said. And then I turned the machine on.
They both stood there looking at the little box sucking air in and out and shrugged and waved me on. Determining that I was of no danger and was only going to embarrass them further.
A year and a half ago I would’ve been just as befuddled by this gadget as these two Turkish men. Now it’s as familiar to me as my tooth brush and while it has the potential to make me feel isolated – I’m the one person who has to get up every four hours on the airplane and block up the bathroom for 20 minutes while I pump – it has mostly been the impetus for great conversations and overwhelming solidarity.
Meet, Pray, Pump
Meet*Pray*Pump was the theme (coined by my fellow pumping colleague) of my recent work trip to Boston. As a development officer for AJWS I have the privilege to travel to other cities and meet with our fantastic donors. On this particular trip I was fortunate enough to be accompanied by our Asian colleague, Arti. The goal of the trip was to meet donors for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or coffee to update them on our work and for them to hear first hand from Arti who is working directly with our grassroots partners in Asia.
When planning the logistics of the trip Arti mentioned she is Muslim and prays five times a day. I said, “Great! I pump five times a day. We will be a good team!” The next task was to diplomatically ask/explain to donors we needed a private space for me to pump and Arti to pray after we finished the meeting. And I promise you every donor’s response was incredible! Not only did they applaud AJWS for providing us the flexibility and understanding to carry out our personal livelihoods but they also made board rooms and private bathrooms available stocked with water and Halal snacks.
The highlight of the Pray and Pump portion of the trip was right before we were about to leave the hotel we asked the manager if there is a private place for the two of us and they immediately found an empty office (just say “pump” and “pray” in the same sentence and you too will receive VIP treatment). The manager said no one would enter for the next 15 minutes so we made ourselves comfortable. Arti was in one corner of the office praying while I was topless pumping. Unfortunately a young bellman entered our room. He took one look at both of us and froze. I waved and smiled and said it is ok (it wasn’t really ok for him, but after pregnancy and birth being topless in public is nothing for me!).
Unfortunately, the poor guy was so shocked it took him a minute to say sorry and then leave. Arti and I had a good laugh afterwards!
-Julie Tilson Stanley
The AJWS Milk Mamas are: Maggie Ball, Aylah Cohen, Lisa Exler, Jenny Goldstein, Kate Greenberg, Hadassah Max, Adina Mermelstein Konikoff, Leah Kaplan Robins, Julie Tilson Stanley, and Jesse Wrenn.