Today’s post is from recent PhD-graduate Andrea Beverley–her post really struck a chord with me, because when I came back to work five months after my daughter was born, I was pumping breastmilk several times a day at work, for about 6 or 7 months: my main problem was teaching a three hour grad seminar in a far-flung building, and having to pump during the 15 minute class break. Mostly, I had the incalculable luxury of a private office, but I can tell you, it’s really never easy to bring this sort of routine into your worklife.
Thank you so much, Andrea, for sharing this story with us. And congratulations on your degree!
The first time that I brought my breast pump to school, I had a vague, naïve impression that I would find some kind of cozy, private den in which to extract my breast milk. Reality hit when I spent the better part of my lunch break searching for a spot to pump. The single-person washroom was locked with a sign on the door stating that I needed to apply to the Disabled Students Bureau for a key. I figured I’d set up in a stall in the larger bathroom, but to my dismay, there were no electrical outlets for my electric pump. I wandered over to the library and consulted a librarian at the information desk. She suggested the medical clinic or the nurses’ station (both necessitating a trek to the other side of campus, not to mention the allusion to the medicalisation of maternity, which is a whole other post!). She then offered to reserve one of the library’s group study rooms for me for a 15-minute period. It had an electrical outlet and a door, but a little window beside the door meant that anyone walking by could glance in. Nonetheless, I decided that this was my best option. I hunkered down on the floor with my back against the door as far as possible from the window and tried to visualize my suckling baby so that my milk would let down in this awkward, less-than-ideal spot.
Over the following months, I developed an efficient pumping routine. I bought batteries so that I wouldn’t need an outlet, and I pumped in a washroom stall while balancing on the toilet. I was very self-conscious about the mechanical noises that the pump made, so I tried to muffle it by wrapping the mechanical part of the pump in a sweater and leaving it in my backpack with only the cord protruding. I wasn’t ashamed of pumping my milk, but I did worry that people would hear the noise, have no idea what it was or a decidedly wrong idea about what it was, and find it laughable or bizarre. I’m still not sure why this bothered me so much. Recently, in one of the washrooms that I had so often used as my pumping station, I heard those familiar sounds emanating from one of the stalls and felt an incredible sense of kinship with that pumping mama!
In recent years, a number of American campuses have created lactation rooms for nursing mothers and recent health care reform in the U.S. now requires employers to provide “a private, non-bathroom place” to express breast milk. While breastfeeding is considered a human right in Canada and workplaces are expected to accommodate nursing mothers, I couldn’t find much on-line evidence of Canadian campuses designating space for pumping, although the University of Toronto’s Family Care Office offers an list of “private, quiet and comfortable places” around campus where mothers can breastfeed or pump. Do any other campuses address this issue? I would have used a lactation room for sure, had it been conveniently located. But honestly, beyond my own experience, I’m not sure how much demand there would be for such a space, which testifies to the solitude that I experienced in my pumping adventures. I don’t know anyone else who went through the same situation. Profs can use their offices, and students coming to campus for short classes wouldn’t necessarily need to pump during that time. But I was a doctoral student working long days at my (shared) desk space. So this blog post is in part to ask: anyone else have campus breast milk anecdotes to share?