I pump breast milk for my baby in my lunch hour at work. Despite all the sparkly good-mama feels and my barely-contained urge to point out the impressiveness of my pre-pump bust line to passers-by, this labor of love becomes a daily festival of awkwardness for me. Because despite knowing how good breast milk is for my baby and being so happily cocooned in our very natural and beautiful breastfeeding relationship, I turn into squeaky-voiced Puberty Boy from “The Simpsons” when I have to pump. Every. Single. Time.
I don’t know why this is. When I feed my baby at the breast I do it with pride. Two babies and three years of breastfeeding in, I’ve become quite the lactivist. My wardrobe is full of zippers, buttons, deep scoop necks and fabrics than can be pushed in any given direction at a moment’s notice with a single free finger.
I’m on breastfeeding pages, I cheer new breastfeeding mamas on, and I’ve taken on strangers giving breastfeeding mothers the stink eye. I would not hesitate in any setting to whip out a mammary to feed my baby.
But, sitting topless in the too-cold “family room” in my building, I cringe. The room is stacked with spare office furniture and equipped with movement-activated lighting that dims after three minutes of anything less than the physical activity of a full gymnastics carnival. I’m meters from where I otherwise sit in meetings with senior executives, in the dark, and listening to the mergh mergh mergh of my obnoxiously loud pump whining like an overtired mechanical toddler. So discreet.
Why does it need to be discreet? Is it just me or is it society that has this hang up?
Despite proudly posting pictures to social media of nine liters of frozen expressed milk with the hashtag #normalizebreastfeeeding, I haven’t told my supervisor or a single co-worker about spending my lunch times pumping. I have a friend with babies the same age as mine who pumps in her lunch hour, too, but she can say it out loud to people.
At lunch time, already feeling tense from doing the co-worker lunch date avoidance dance, I go and get my roast pork sandwich from the cafe at the bottom of my building. With gravy. (Yes, to eat with my feelings.) I ride the elevator to the family room floor and get countless odd looks from colleagues when I don’t get out with them at our workplace floor.
I text my pumping friend: “How’s your Wednesday? Just another day in the office here – topless and elbow-deep in gravy! [Winky-face emoji.]” Being a perennial farmer of awkwardness, I would love to see how my gravy joke might fly at a whole-of-branch meeting – ideally with external stakeholders present – but I just can’t.
This inner conflict has gotten to me lately. What sort of Breastfeeding Normalizer am I if I can’t even acknowledge to the people around me that I pump milk for my baby? I recently called myself out on it. Time to stop being such a bloody weirdo and just talk about pumping milk for my baby in the normal, matter-of-fact way it deserves.
The next day back at work, the guy who holds the key to the family room—to whom I have agonizingly and with much blushing disclosed the purpose of my family room visits—asks me how it went as I return the key. I look at my feet. I push my jaw forward and meet his eyes.
“Good day! 250 milliliters!” I force out in a semi-normal tone, and then realize he is actually just making small talk, and not actually querying the volume of milk I’d extracted from my breasts.
“Well done” he says, in a not weird at all way. I will myself not to make crazy eyes about the whole interaction. “Thanks,” I smile, exhale, and wait calmly for the elevator. I wonder if tomorrow would be too soon to try my gravy joke on him.