Pumping breastmilk? Sometimes you just have to laugh!Breastfeeding brings about it’s own share of culturally awkward situations as it is. Of course, we wish it weren’t so. It would be great if it were such as non-issue here as it is in, say, Mozambique or Spain. Since it isn’t, awkward glares, rude comments, and even hilarity often ensue prompting some brave women to just go with the humor and buy shirts and onesies with witty sayings and baby beanies shaped like boobs. But if you thought breastfeeding in public can pose issues, pumping is even more awkward.
Personally, I have no problem nursing in public. I prefer that no one sees my breasts, but I don’t use a cover up. I do my best to keep them covered for my own comfort with my shirt and if someone happens to see some book skin or even a nipple when my son suddenly latches off, whatever. I’m over it now. Pumping, though, is something that I feel I must absolutely do in private. I could not ever imagine any situation in which I’d be comfortable pumping with a public audience.
I haven’t had to pump in any terribly awful places, really. At home, I generally choose the kitchen table as my preferred spot, and at work I pump from my desk when there aren’t any students in my room. If I have to leave a class to pump, a custodian has kindly lent me his desk in a comfortable, private office that he graciously vacates for me a couple times a week as needed. I did try to pump in the faculty bathroom once or twice, it’s very clean as bathrooms go, but still not the best place for pumping. It was my first time back at school after my first child was born and it was so awkward trying to get a chair in there and to set everything up on the counter that I abandoned the idea almost as quickly as I’d implemented it. I finally just maneuvered my pumping schedule around the classes I taught that year and everything worked out fine.
The most awkward place I’ve pumped is in a car. Even more awkward, I did it while packed into a backseat with my sisters. Had it been anyone but my sisters, I would have decided not to commit to the plans that took me away from my little guy for a few hours, but we shared a room together for years so a little awkward exposure in front of them is okay for me. But pumping in the car can be awkward for other reasons. Like trucks. And if you’re in a sedan, SUVs and minivans. Especially if you’re caught in traffic. I don’t know about you but if someone accidentally sees my breast or nipple when I have a baby attached to it, that’s one thing. But I sort of feel like livestock when I’m attached to the pump. I don’t really want people seeing that. And this is just me. We all have different levels of comfort when it comes to breastfeeding and pumping.
Right after my son was born, I found it necessary to pump a few times to help reduce engorgement that wouldn’t go away after many feedings. I know, they say pumping makes it worse in the long run, but for the first few weeks with both my kids, my supply was excessive and it was the only way to keep it in check until my body relaxed and got in tune with my baby. I sat at the kitchen table as fully exposed as ever and my 3 ½ year old daughter walked in and stopped in her tracks at the sight of me, wrinkling her face like a raisin. She just stood there staring with all the tact that usually comes in one so young and then finally asked what on earth I was doing. I explained it to her, but that only brought up more questions. In my exhaustion and postpartum delirium I finally just asked her to go in the other room if she was going to continue to stare at me like that. It had been funny at first, but it was starting to stress me out which can stop milk flow.
Pumping in my classroom is remarkably relaxing. If I can actually just forget the stack of papers to grade and lessons to plan, it’s quiet and familiar. However, if my pumping manages to bump into the time when the bell rings and the halls flood with students, that can be stressful. At first, I hear them around my closed door saying, “What’s wrong? Where’s Sra. G?” Then I have to quickly put things away while hear their comments escalate to things like, “Maybe we should get someone to unlock the door.” I had hoped not to tell my students that I had to pump—not because it’s inappropriate but because it made me uncomfortable to do so—but it was inevitable. I told all my classes that if my door is closed and there is paper over the window, that’s what I’m doing so please don’t intrude. So now, they know. Well, they should. High schoolers tend to have a selective memory. But usually when I hear them out there complaining that they can’t get in or wondering if I’ve flown the coop, I’ll hear one wise voice say, “Remember guys? Remember what she told us?”
The most awkward pumping experience I ever remember is back with my daughter. It was one of those days when I was locked into my peaceful classroom. A fellow teacher— male—who shared my room in the mornings, let himself in with a key. As the door opened, I dived under the desk and screamed, “GET OUT!” He had been made aware of my situation and it must have dawned on him what he’d done because he immediately left the room without a word and we never once mentioned the situation to each other again.
Really, I’ve had it easy, though. I’ve never had to pump next to a coldhearted fellow passenger while using public transportation. I’ve never had to pump in a public bathroom. I’ve never had to pump in a room full of strangers witnessing the awkward ordeal. The situations I’ve described above have been only slightly uncomfortable, and not truly scarring in any way. People who realized I was pumping have been understanding and sensitive about it. I have heard horror stories of people who’ve had to pump in airplanes or other public places and have gotten flack for it. I’m thankful that my awkward and/or uncomfortable pumping situations have been mild in comparison.
So how about you? Where’s the most awkward or uncomfortable place you’ve had to pump? Any funny stories about it?