August is National Breastfeeding Month
August 25 – 31, 2019 is Black Breastfeeding Week
I love my babies something fierce.
Anyone who knows me – knows this.
When my husband and I welcomed our first child – we were so head over heels in love.
We were also very young, still newlyweds, and still building our careers.
My husband was working on his PhD in atmospheric chemistry.
I had finished my first master’s degree two years prior and was taking on more leadership within the high school district where I worked.
Going back-to-work when our daughter was three months old was brutal.
I didn’t want to go back.
I didn’t want to leave her chubby and snuggly body.
I didn’t want to stop breastfeeding.
Anyone who has worked in a school building knows how premium classroom space is.
Teachers often have to share their classrooms.
Some teachers are “on a cart” and have to move around all the time.
It is not often that any classroom is left vacant throughout a busy school day.
It’s just not done because the master schedule doesn’t allow it.
But – I needed some space in order to come back to work as a nursing mother.
So, I put my nerves and “I can’t believe I’m doing this” internal thoughts aside - and asked for what I wanted and needed.
I called the assistant principal who was in charge of constructing the master [class] schedule and assigning classrooms.
I wasn’t a veteran teacher at the time.
I hadn’t put in enough time (based on the school’s culture) to be making demands like this.
I was stepping out of my place – stepping out of turn.
But – I had to do this for myself and for my baby.
I wasn’t willing to pump my breastmilk in a closet or a dirty bathroom – as some colleagues told me I may have to do.
I also wasn’t willing to quit or be shamed for being “this demanding”.
Talking with the assistant principal was odd and awkward.
He barely knew who I was.
And when I was explaining that I needed an empty classroom and privacy – everyday – for the entire school year – to express my breastmilk – he wasn’t understanding.
He was from the generation of when pregnant teachers began to show– they stopped working.
(No visible baby bumps allowed!)
And back then – these teachers did not plan to return to work if they were breastfeeding.
That’s not how it was done.
Breastfeeding was not to been seen outside the home – and it was definitely not appropriate for the workplace.
But I kept pressing and kept asking – and he said it was a very odd request and he would need to talk with the administration team.
Odd request…to keep taking care of your child while you worked?
Ok. Let me be odd then.
The principal became involved.
She knew me.
She knew how I worked, she knew my dedication to my students, and she knew my potential as a future educational leader.
She called me and said the request would be honored – and that I should expect some pushback from colleagues for this “special treatment”.
She asked me how I would handle the pushback?
She gave me some professional language to help me deal with “the haters”.
So, I went back to work – exhausted, hormonal, lactating, and forced myself to be mentally prepared to defend the way I wanted to take care of my baby.
I was 27.
I was overwhelmed.
I wasn’t fully taking care of myself.
I was running on fumes.
Mothers need more support than this – especially while they are breastfeeding – and when (if) they decide to go back to work when they’re still breastfeeding.
20 years later, I’m perplexed that things haven’t fully progressed for women who are breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding needs to be fully normalized.
I don’t want any mother to have to navigate things the way I did as a new mother.
I want it to be easier and I want workplaces to be open and willing to support new mothers – and new mothers who are still breastfeeding.
I feel fortunate that my husband was my biggest cheerleader and he did everything he could to help me continue to breastfeed our daughter – and I still struggled.
Were you a working mother who had to navigate breastfeeding at work?
Are you experiencing that now?
How has your workplace supported you?
Who else is on your support team?
In part II – I will talk about work travel and breastfeeding.