Pumping in the Parking Garage: Breastfeeding and Working Was a Challenge
Right from the start, Alexis was a breastfed baby. I was home with her for essentially the first six months of her life. While I sometimes wanted to use her head as a hockey puck in those early days when latching felt like an alligator clamping down, we really didn't have any major problems. She never had a single drop of formula and I was able to build up a decent stockpile of frozen liquid gold. Then I started working. Along with that, of course, came the need to pump at least twice per day.
That topic was one that I had discussed with my future boss when I interviewed, so I wasn't really expecting to have any problems with it. I was very, VERY wrong. At first, I was told that I could just use a vacant office for those two brief disappearing acts of pumping.
Then, midway through my first week, I learned that the office was slated to get an occupant. My supervisor didn't have any ideas for alternatives, so I e-mailed the Human Resources Department. Nothing. So I e-mailed again, this time copying the HR Representatives supervisor. I got an answer quick, but it basically said, "Use a restroom or reserve a conference room. The end."
Now, I don't know about you, but I'm not game for making my own food in a bathroom, so I wasn't really game for making my kid's food there. Besides the fact that it's a gross idea to me (I compare it to taking the Foreman grill in there and cooking up a hamburger. Would you do it?), it was a logistical impossibility. The restroom housed two stalls, neither of which had an outlet for my pump. The only outlet happened to be right by the door. Silly me, I've never had aspirations of putting on a peep show complete with wondrous sound effects.
So, the bathroom wasn't happening. The conference room idea was just plain dumb, given that there is a major shortage of them in that particular building, so they are impossible to get. Oh, and there's the small manner of most of them having windows looking out into the hall and none of them having working locks on the doors. Again with the discreet issue.
Maybe now would be a good time to mention that my former employer was a very large hospital system -- as in one of the twelve largest in the nation. It also happens to be one of the most profitable. There are more than 45,000 employees, including over 4,000 physicians. That particular non-profit organization reported net profits of well over $200 million in 2012. I worked in the corporate headquarters, just a few stories down from one of the best paid CEO's of a non-profit in the nation. Anybody else see a wee bit of a problem with the lack of appropriate accommodations?
Anyway, when it became clear that the Human Resources Department was full of non-compassionate robots, I devised a plan. I would go down to my SUV twice a day, every day, and sit in the back seat and pump. It was an underground parking garage, so it was relatively dark, and my tinted windows afforded me a small amount of privacy. Of course, I can tell you that at least four people saw things they probably wish they hadn't, but it was a livable option.
Then I was told I needed to move over to a different building. It made a fair amount of business sense, but the new building was a warehouse, with even less in the way of accommodations, and no parking garage. The only viable answer was still the car, but this time there was an outdoor lot complete with LOTS of traffic. Obviously I couldn't just sit in the parking lot with my boobies hanging out and various machinery hooked up, so I went cruising for options. I ended up finding a car wash where I could park my SUV in a stall and only have potential traffic on one side of me. So that's what I did, every day, twice a day, for months -- four months, in fact.
The lack of accommodations severely hindered my ability to be efficient in my breaks, I was less productive at work, and I was constantly stressed. Trying to maintain a professional schedule and needing to drive ten minutes just to pump milk really put a strain on me. I skipped lunch to make up for the lost time, I pumped in the morning before leaving for work, I pumped in the evening after work, and I nearly always brought work home with me in a feeble attempt to balance it all. I can tell you that many important people at the giant hospital system were aware, and not a single one actually gave a crap. Not a one made any attempts to make some sort of accommodation. In fact, when Alexis was nine-months old, a high-level manager told me, "Isn't your daughter almost a year old? It's time for her to quit getting breast milk anyway."
*smoke comes out of ears*
*more deep breaths*
OK. ANYHOO, Alexis and I made it to 13 months. She never once drank a single drop of formula, and overall, I'd say we had a very positive experience. Our only real challenge was making sure she had ample supply while I was at work. THAT was a significant struggle every.single.day. Looking back, I have no idea how we made it, other than to take it one day at a time. It sure wasn't with the help of one of the nation's leading health care systems.
This post is part of BlogHer's Women@Work editorial series, made possible by AFL-CIO.