breastfeeding

Pumping in the Amtrak Station Never Felt So Good

Three kids in, I will nurse (and have done) in front of anyone. Father-in-law? Check. Rabbi? Check. Boss? Check. Graduate students? Check. Everyone who goes to my local park, grocery store, coffee shop, and (obviously) doctor’s office? Check, check, check, and (obviously) check. To me, nursing is natural, life-giving and life-affirming, and simply a part of my baby’s nutritional needs, much like any other kind of food.

Pumping is a different story.

I barely let my spouse see me pump, let alone anyone else. Where nursing is a normal part of the routine, pumping feels utterly abnormal, both mechanic and animalistic, dehumanizing from every perspective.

I really don’t enjoy pumping.

And I have the easiest possible pumping scenario: I get a very generous maternity leave (by US standards) and will return to work in a private office with a door that locks and a small bar fridge. I don’t have to crouch in the corner of a public bathroom, or monopolize a private one, or face the wall and pretend that others can’t see or hear what I’m doing.

I really don’t enjoy pumping in public.

Every so often though, it has to be done, and I’ll do it. I’ll even do it in front of others if necessary, but I try to set up my life to avoid it ever being necessary. But life, the weather, and train schedules don’t always go according to plan.

The first time I left my littlest for a whole day, I had to take the train to New York for a workshop. I’d timed it well: nursed before I left, gave myself a bit of extra time in case of traffic, and arrived at the station with a short window before my train was to depart. I’d arrive at the workshop with enough time to pump privately in an empty room, and would do so at intervals during the day.

But the train was delayed. And delayed. And delayed some more. The tingling in my chest told me I couldn’t put it off any longer; I had to pump in the station.

The delays meant that the public space was packed, with all the outlets and seats long since claimed. I would have used both, shielding the pump with the nursing cover I’d used exactly never, but that simply wasn’t an option. So I went to customer service to ask for suggestions about where to go. (Maybe they had some sort of secret lactation room?) The agent looked around, and, seeing what I saw, said that the bathrooms had outlets…and her voice trailed off doubtfully. She’d been there, I could tell. And then she perked up: “I have an idea.” She made a phone call, and got off, beaming. “You can go to the Acela waiting room.” Someone came to staff her post, and she personally escorted me upstairs (because, needless to say, I hadn’t paid the extra $100 to arrive 15 minutes earlier) to the luxuriously appointed waiting room.

“You can sit here,” she said, gesturing to the beautiful armchairs, filled with waiting business people (mostly men). “Or…” and again she grinned, and took me over to the beautiful private bathrooms. “Here!”

Why yes I could. I folded myself on the floor, but (over my admittedly half-hearted objections) she commandeered one of those beautiful armchairs for relocation in the bathroom.

I sat, relaxed, and pumped. What could have been an unpleasant and difficult experience turned out to be an unexpectedly easy and even touching one, thanks to the creativity and extra effort of an Amtrak customer service agent, who has my tremendous gratitude.

Now, I’m a big believer in offering compliments for exemplary service, and have passed on my appreciation to Amtrak, but, after reading Tamara Reese’s extraordinary post, my notion of hakarat hatov, recognizing the good, has expanded. I know the Internet has long been a forum for exchanging reviews (a practice which has in many spaces been monetized). It’s also, sadly, been a site of incivility and insult, destructive rather than constructive. I am suggesting we build on Tamara’s teaching, as well as Jordana Horn’s call for civil internet discourse, to sanctify this space as a place to recognize the good–not as a way to make money or sell products, with no underlying motive beyond reminding us that there are those who work hard to make things easier. So tell me: when has someone made your parenting life a little easier, a little less challenging, a little better? Let’s kvell: let’s recognize the good.



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Sharrona Pearl

Sharrona Pearl is an Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on how we judge others by their faces and appearance, and her first book, About Faces: Physiognomy in Nineteenth-Century Britain, was published by Harvard University Press in 2010.  She and Ben have three kids who love navigating the streets of Center City, Philadelphia.  You can follow her on twitter at @sharronapearl.

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