The other night, I gave a presentation to the Board of Directors for our church. It was a very important meeting about the future status of our organization. I saw it as a professional presentation and was treated with respect and deference throughout.
I also breastfed throughout.
There was a time when I probably would’ve seen breastfeeding and professional situations as mutually exclusive. Now, I see no reason for such a crowbar separation of my statuses as a mother and a professional. If I’m perfectly capable of giving a speech or presentation with a baby in a carrier or even breastfeeding, why shouldn’t I?
The typical answer for that is because it might make OTHER people uncomfortable. And you know what? Bite me. If breastfeeding makes you uncomfortable, that’s YOUR problem, not mine. The fact that our culture’s views on breastfeeding are skewed and completely screwed up is a well documented one. And the only way to overcome this weird and unnatural “problem” our culture has with breastfeeding is to get out there and DO it.
So I do. Sure, there may have been members of the board who were uncomfortable with Flintstone breastfeeding while I spoke, but if they were, they didn’t say anything. They recognized that breastfeeding is natural and normal and that any discomfort on their part was something for them to overcome. They recognized that Flintstone breastfeeding did not have any impact on the content of my presentation at all.
At work, I pump twice a day, and everyone knows what my infamous cow sign means. I’ve never had a real problem with pumping at work. I have breastfed at work, but not “openly,” mostly because the uniform makes it more difficult to do discreetly and rank issues make things a little more complicated. I HAVE breastfed at military functions in civilian attire.
BUT (of course there’s a but) it’s not always easy. There are plenty of obstacles and frustrations, both internal and external. There are silly little things like when the Lieutenant below me told the Major above me (who wasn’t my biggest fan at the time – probably because I make a point of being open about such “female” things as breastfeeding and mothering) that I couldn’t process a certain doc right away because, “Capt T is currently lactating.”
There are slightly bigger things that really piss me off. Today, for example.
Whenever I know I’ll be spending most of a day anywhere, I call ahead to make pumping arrangements. My TAD trip to the Army JAG school was no different. And after I made the call, I didn’t think there’d be any issue. The LTCOL I spoke to was immediately understanding and said he’d put me in touch with a female who would set me up with a room and whatnot. Great.
I found that woman, a civilian federal employee, immediately Monday morning, and she showed me the office I could use. Then she spent 10 minutes explaining how to lock the door to me over, and over, and over again.
I could see it: that twitch at the corner of her fake smile. She was not ok with even the mere IDEA of me pumping breastmilk. But she didn’t say anything. Then. Later, after I had pumped, I put the two bags of milk – double-zip, reinforced breastmilk storage bags, into my little bottle cooler and walked past this woman to put the milk into the office fridge.
She sputtered. She looked chagrined. She clearly wanted to find a way to stop me from putting the milk in the fridge (it’s milk; where the eff else would I put it?!). “That has to be in a sealed container.” I explained to her that it was, and put the milk in the fridge. Note: When I called ahead, I had made clear my need to use a fridge.
Oh, and access to a fridge for breast milk is FEDERALLY MANDATED. Ahem.
The rest of the week, I walked back and forth in front of her icy smile to pump every day. I tried to be super pleasant. She remained fake and icy. Whatever. Then, today, after 4 days(!), when I went to put my little cooler in the fridge, she told me “someone” complained, and I have to seal the cooler (meaning zip it closed) before putting it in the fridge because “no one wants to see that.”
ARE YOU MOTHER EFFING KIDDING ME?!?
I don’t seal the cooler because that blocks the cold air from getting in and defeats the purpose of putting it in the fridge. And, ohbytheway, you can’t see the milk inside the little cooler unless you look down inside it. AND there is no reason why anyone else would even KNOW it’s breastmilk.
It’s not like this is some super strict fridge. It’s a mess. There is plenty of food not in sealed containers. There is tons of stuff in clear containers – INCLUDING COW MILK!!! But MY milk is this big scary deal.
“No one wants to see that.” Seriously? This is a school for military attorneys. We are routinely exposed to all manner of blood and gore, not to mention the details of heinous crimes and even photos and videos of such. But they can’t handle SEEING breastmilk? Please.
Those people need serious psychological help. I’m not kidding. So I’m pissed. And when the course is over, you can be damned sure I’ll be filing a complaint.
But I’m also a little glad this woman is such a screwed up imbecile. Because now I’m too busy being angry to bother with the tiny nagging guilt that still plagues me.
The guilt that says I’m inconveniencing people. The guilt that says that since for two 15 minute periods a day I have my office door closed and no one can come in that I’m slacking at work. The guilt about making people feel uncomfortable – even though I know full well it is unreasonable for them to feel that way. And then more guilt for going back on what I know is right by allowing this guilt in. It’s a vicious cycle. Welcome to being female in the US.
No woman should have to feel guilty about combining her desire to do the best she can for her children with her desire to make a difference as a working professional. I CAN do both, and have for over a year. I SHOULD be able to do more. I don’t see any reason why, if I CAN competently perform my job, public or not, while wearing and breastfeeding my baby, I shouldn’t do that.
I see in my dreams a brave new world where there are babies on the breast at board meetings and professors leading lectures with babies on their backs. So long as the job is still getting done well, everyone else can deal with it and accept the fact that mothering is a natural part of life, not a handicap.
I’m not saying “all babies all the time” in every working environment, but when necessary or workable, I think it should be not only acceptable, but a non-issue. Similar to MEP Ronzulli’s take, which you can read here.
I am a skilled professional, and I am a breastfeeding mother. I am both. At the same time.