I can’t help it. It is such a huge part of my life right now, and for some reason it is shocking me (although this is baby #3) how much pumping breast milk while working is really, really hard to do. If you go to all the advice sites, they suggest you keep a really regular schedule, and pump in the same place at the same time every day. Is it just me, or is this a close to impossible task?
A month ago as part of my duties co-chairing the Willamette Angel Conference, I emcee’d the event. This meant I was on call for 8 hours, up on stage every time we transitioned to a different piece of the Agenda. We had a wonderful event manager to help manage all the details, and I had to tell this sweet older man that he had to make time in the very tight schedule, as well as find me a private room, so that I could pump milk 3 times during the 8 hour event. Then I had to dash downstairs, back stage at the appropriate times, get everything ready and pump milk very quickly, yet at the same time, stay relaxed, and calm, and not stressed out at all (because otherwise your milk won’t let down). I’ll tell you, not exactly the most conducive way to pump breast milk. And on top of everything I am constantly stressed about whether I will be able to pump the 14 oz I need to pump in order to keep up with the rate at which my baby sucks the milk down when I am not there.
A few weeks ago, I had to do the same thing, while running the annual Princeton Entrepreneurs Network Conference and Business Plan Competition. But this time the event did not have the budget for an event manager, so I had to literally run to a classroom at the Friend Center on the Princeton University Campus where the conference was, while hoping that everything continues to run smoothly. I was not able to listen to the whole keynote talk, or site down and eat lunch with everyone. I also had to miss some of the presenting companies in the business plan competition. All while hoping that no one would knock on the classroom door I had locked, and would let me finish pumping.
Last Friday I judged the undergraduate business plan competition at University of Oregon. I was at the competition from 9 until 2pm. I knew I would have to pump at least 1 time. I had to ask the organizer of the competition, again and older gentleman, where I could go when i had to dash and go pump. He was very accommodating, and was able to let me use an office of an administrator who was not on campus that day, but needless to say I could tell it was a request he had never had to deal with before.
There is not a day in my business life, since I started pumping milk for baby #3 that I am not always planning and thinking about when and how and where I will be able to pump next. Will someone I am talking to on the phone hear the pump going in the background? Will they know what it is? What happens if the lunch I have scheduled with a colleague runs late? Can I squeeze a pumping in before the next meeting? Has it been enough time since the last pumping? Has it been too long? How many ounces do I have so far? Will I get the 14 ounces I know I need? All the while I am also racing through emails, taking conference calls, participating in meetings and trying to get through my to-do list.
So what’s ,y point? I certainly sound like I’m just obsessed with pumping – one of those women who can’t stop talking about her baby and everything related to it. But actually there is a bigger point here for all of us working mothers, especially for any women in leadership roles where your daily work life involves lots of meetings and face time with partners, customer, clients, and employees. No matter how much we want to be equal, and we want men and women who have babies to be treated the same in the workplace, with the same respect and the same benefits, there will never be a man who needs to worry or deal with pumping breast milk while working. There will never be a man who has to make a decision as to whether to go to an evening engagement based on how much he has pumped, and whether the baby at home has enough milk. Men may still feel torn when deciding whether to go to an evening engagement, wanting instead to be at home with their baby. But they won’t be forced to make a decision based on the pure simple reason that baby needs to feed from THEM. Men can (not that they always do, but they CAN) completely separate their home and work lives. Women walking around their business life 9 months pregnant, or needing to find times at meetings and conferences to pump, and needing to involve other people in finding appropriate pumping spaces, will inevitably be inviting their very personal lives into the work life without the choice of whether they want to. And believe me there is something somewhat uncomfortable when you get up to speak in front of 300 people, 8 months pregnant, about business, when you know some people in the audience are wondering “How pregnant is she?” or “Should she really be here?” or “Wow she is big… I wonder if it’s twins”. I want people to judge me in business for the business I conduct, not because of anything else. But I certainly can’t hide being very pregnant. And I can’t be at an all day event and NOT pump, so that is just the way it is. I have embraced it, and make no apologies for being a mom and a business person. I think it shows an extra strength that I have. My determination to be the best business person, while not giving up breastfeeding my baby, I know a lot of women who simply stop breastfeeding because it was very difficult to manage pumping and work commitments. And I totally understand them. I know I am lucky to have my own office, and I am lucky that my body has allowed me to pump enough milk for my baby. But I still think my determination to keep on keeping on is part of the reason I am successful in business.