Returning to work and leaving Jack Gregory Mahoney, my newborn, certainly brought its share of worries. One of my main concerns, though: Pumping at work.
I was committed to giving Jack the potential health benefits of breastfeeding. But how would I get all my equipment and accessories to work? How would I ask my boss about pumping without grossing him out? (Note: He is a father of three and that distress turned out to be unwarranted, thank goodness.)
Prior to my maternity leave, I scouted myHighmark, our company’s website for employees, in search of the lactation policy (see sidebar). All of the details were provided, and I was relieved to find I could pump in the privacy of a designated lactation room.
Fast forward to June 22, the eve of returning to work. Lactation policy and designated lactation rooms notwithstanding, I could feel nothing but apprehension.
While triple-checking to make sure I had enough bottles, an ice pack, decorative bags (so I could keep my stash disguised in the workplace refrigerator) and all the working parts of the pump Obamacare had blessed me with, my head was full of questions: Will my milk supply go down? Will I even have time to pump? Why am I so embarrassed — this is for my baby boy to live on and help him grow.
Imagine if you will: I am hogging up the seat on the T (Pittsburgh’s light rail public transportation) with a huge purse, a crammed plastic grocery bag and a new Tommy Hilfiger backpack (a little added incentive to pump), trying to avoid looks and gazes from fellow commuters for taking up too much room. Again I feel embarrassed. I can feel their eyes X-raying my backpack and seeing the breast pumping apparatus.
Not a great start.
Finally at work, I send an email requesting a key to the lactation room. This raises more anxious questions: What if there is someone in there when I go? If it takes me longer than usual to pump, will I get in trouble? If I lose the key, will there be a replacement charge?
The prompt email reply contains a combination to a keypad. This provides a long exhale of relief: Phew, I don’t have to worry about losing a key.
Next, the part I was dreading — approaching my boss to discuss pumping terms. Still self-conscious, I bashfully explain my needs; thankfully, he alleviates my concerns with a simple, supportive “Just go as needed.”
So onward I go, more confidently now, to the third floor lactation room to pump! I arrive and the door says “Occupied.” Great Scott — what do I do now? Wait until they’re done?
Oh yes, I remember, I have the list of additional rooms. 19th floor, here I come!
Which turns out to be — next to a training room? What if they hear me pumping? Why am I still so embarrassed? I fumble putting in the keypad combination three or four times — but when I finally open the door, I am delighted.
The secluded room is separated by a cubical divider, with two big arm chairs on each side. A small table is placed in front of each chair, and the electrical outlet is in clear view. Additionally, a paper towel dispenser and hand sanitizer are on the wall next to a comforting floor lamp.
“Wow, this is great — Highmark really did a good job!” I say to myself.
Settling into one of the comfortable chairs, my worries disappear and I take care of business. When I finish pumping, I turn off the lights, close the door and put my milk in the freezer. Done! I feel empowered and proud. I feel like Super Mom. Why was I so embarrassed?
All of my planning was certainly part of my “pumping at work” success. But I’ll also credit Highmark with a big assist — the easy-to-find lactation policy, my boss’ understanding, and above all, providing these convenient, separate rooms really made it possible for me to achieve my goal.
Smiling as I return to my cubicle to get to work, I know I can do this again each day.
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