10 Women Share The Trials Of Being A New Mom At Work

This week, Donald Trump made headlines when the New York Times reported he called lawyer Elizabeth Beck "disgusting" during a deposition because she needed to take a break to pump for her three-month-old daughter. Beck had taken out her pump to express the urgency of the situation when Trump refused to pause the session; Trump's lawyer, Alan Garten, explained that Beck's action was what sparked The Donald's rude comment. “In my 20 years of legal practice, I’ve never seen more bizarre behavior at a deposition," Garten told the Times (referring to Beck's request, not Trump's outburst). Why is this attitude still acceptable, let alone widespread? Breast-pumping at work is something thousands of women do each day — and it's high time they were provided with the support they need.

When President Obama passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, it included the provision that companies with more than 50 employees must provide "a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk." But what happens when companies don't follow this law? Glassbreakers CEO Eileen Carey wrote an open letter to WeWork, the coworking company that was named among Fast Company's most innovative businesses, reprimanding them for not providing a space for women to pump: "We were shocked to discover that though there are kegs to pump WeWork beer at every kitchen, there isn’t a designated lactation room on any of the seven floors for members to pump breast milk."

This is a problem for so many new mothers who need to pump but don't have the space or support to do so. WeWork responded, saying that it would look into fixing this problem, but as one mother — who wrote into Refinery29 with her own breast-pumping story — pointed out, often "the onus is on the mother to speak up for herself. And that, particularly after having been away for maternity leave, can be isolating or politically damaging." She continued:

It all depends on the office, on the leadership, on the robustness of the HR department, and on the culture of the workplace. Balance this on top of other battles of returning to the workplace as a mom: perhaps overworking to demonstrate your value to the organization, trying hard to avoid being put on a "mommy track," figuring out how to feel comfortable/justified leaving at a certain time to pick up your child or relieve a sitter, and really, just shifting gears back into spending most of your hours doing something totally different than caring for your child. It's too much.

In order to normalize breast-pumping at work, we need to be more open with our stories. Ahead, 10 women share theirs.

It sounds like there is an oil rig in the background

I’m a lawyer with my own office, so I could lock the door and just pump in there. However, being at my desk meant the work didn’t stop during my pumping “break.” Once, I was on a conference call and forgot to mute the line, and a man on the call stopped the conversation and said, “It sounds like there is an oil rig in the background — does anyone else hear that?” — Emily, lawyer

Given the rest of the room was 95% male, I'm pretty sure I was the only one there who was concerned about milk supply.

I was working on a huge IPO, and on the day of pricing, the bankers and management team were sequestered in a conference room, working through pricing and allocations from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. In that time, I normally would have pumped at least three times, but since I couldn’t escape, I just sat there trying to focus, but worrying about my milk supply and potential for leaking on my suit. Given the rest of the room was 95% male, I'm pretty sure I was the only one there who was concerned about milk supply. I finally escaped to pump at 9:20, only to have a follow-up call scheduled for 9:30 p.m. I only got about half of what I needed that day to keep up with my son. Horrible. — Sandy, investment banker

I found people eating their Chinese food in the lactation rooms.

My office offers a number of “wellness” rooms that also double as lactation rooms, but getting one is a huge ordeal that involves booking in Outlook, then picking up and dropping off the key from HR. So, three times a day, I had to go up five flights to get the key, unpack and repack my equipment, and return the key, making this 20-minute break a much longer ordeal.

What made this process worse is that no one monitored the keys, so anyone could bypass the Outlook system and take the key from the hook. Many times, I had to knock on the door and politely but sternly ask if the person had reserved the room (knowing full well they hadn't). I found people having phone conversations in the wellness rooms, sleeping on the fold-out chair, and even enjoying their Chinese food for lunch. Sometimes, all keys were missing and I had to enlist Facilities to help track down the key or make a new one.

One time, I was picking up the key and the HR manager called me into her office. I was worried it might be something serious related to work, but she pulled me aside to inform me there was concern that one of the Wellness rooms was infested with bed bugs, and they would be sending an exterminator to inspect my apartment to make sure my home wasn't infested as well.

I finally got so sick of the missing keys, I contacted an HR manager to discuss the problem. The manager instituted an HR person to monitor the keys, so they wouldn't go missing. Unfortunately, this fix came a little late. I was already having supply issues, but coupled with my access issues at work, this led me to stop breastfeeding before I really wanted to. — Jen, corporate communications

One of the agents stopped me, pointed to my pump bag, and said 'Is that your lunch?'

Our lactation rooms are located on a different floor and happen to be adjacent to the firm's security office. Vice President Biden was in our office one day giving a speech, and the Secret Service was parked outside the elevator to the security office (and by default, the lactation rooms). In order to go pump, you had to go through the Secret Service. One of the agents stopped me, pointed to my pump bag, and said 'Is that your lunch?' I hesitated and said 'Um, no. It's my breast pump.' Thankfully, he let me go. — Bonnie, investment banker

I sat on the tile floor between the sink and the door and pumped without a modicum of dignity.

I work at a large university-affiliated hospital and attended an annual faculty meeting at the medical school building. I don't work here or have an office in this building, so I wasn't familiar with pumping resources, but I did have a few colleagues with offices on one of the floors. I figured I could hit them up to borrow an office for a few minutes. During the lunch break — which was only 30 minutes — I set out to find an office. Unfortunately, all my colleagues and their administrative staff (with keys for entry) were also out to lunch. Because time was short, I figured I'd just sneak into the women's room and pump in one of the stalls, using the battery-operated function. I got all hooked up, started pumping, and 30 seconds in, my batteries unceremoniously died. So I exited the stall, wearing my pumping bra and sporting two bottles hanging from my breasts, located the only electrical outlet in the room, sat on the tile floor between the sink and the door, and pumped without a modicum of dignity while various folks entered and exited. But really, what else are you going to do? — Chrissie, clinical psychologist


Earlier this month, I had to work at a big trade conference. When I arrived at my hotel, I found out there were no mini fridges in the room, and when I requested one, they were all taken already. Instead, I had to pump in my room, bring the milk down to the front desk, wait in line, and then wait for the manager to come take the milk from me and put it in their staff fridge. I also was going through a bout of thrush, which — in addition to being fucking god-awful painful — is also an enormous pain in the ass, because you have to sterilize your pump parts every time you pump. Of course, the only microwave available to hotel guests was in the locked mother's room, which I would have to call down to security for and then wait another 15 minutes for in order to microwave-sterilize everything. I should have been pumping five times a day, but because of all the time it took, I was lucky if I made it to three.

Most of the time, I could find an hour to make it back to my room to pump in the middle of the day, but on the last day, I was really busy and ended up pumping in the nursing mother's area. I was thrilled that they even offered such a place, but then I got there, and it was essentially a small, curtained-off square with a folding chair and boxes. Which is better than the bathroom, I guess. I was using my hand pump, basically topless, when a dude pulled back the closed curtain and began rifling through the boxes around me — seeing that I was pumping, but paying absolutely no mind. I was mortified. Between the intense pain from the thrush, four days away from my baby, the exhaustion of working a long show, and this last indignity, I lost my shit. I screamed at him to get out, packed up everything (I had only pumped like half an ounce), and yelled at the people staffing the area. They, all men, were apologetic but had the gall to tell me the guy "didn't see anything."

If you have advertise that you have a safe space for mothers, it can't also act as the place you store water bottles for some dumbass to be able to wander into at any time. I would have been better off in the bathroom. The women in the nursing area next to mine overheard me and came out, gave me a hug, and told me she totally understood — he had actually walked in on her while she was nursing her baby. THAT IS NOT AN ACCIDENT; THAT IS A PERVY DUDE LOOKING FOR BOOBS. After reporting the incident (and, to be honest, the higher-up show staff took it very seriously), I was told there will be doors on the nursing area next year. We'll see. — Marissa, publicist

My coworker gifted me an old shelf that I now put on top of the toilet seat, so that I have a little bit of comfort.

I work in an office of about 25 people. It’s an open floor plan; I sit at a cubicle. The few offices we do have are around the perimeter, along with two conference rooms. All offices and conference rooms have one side of glass, so that you can see directly into them. Obviously, this makes pumping in an office or conference room out of the question.

Because of this layout, my only option was to pump in the women's restroom. The restroom has two small stalls with no room for a chair, so sitting on the toilet it is. But, of course, these are commercial toilets and they do not have toilet lids. My coworker who recently went through this same thing gifted me an old shelf (basically a slab of wood) that I now use to put on top of the toilet seat, so that I have a little bit of comfort.

So, picture the scene: Twice a day, every day, for the past seven months, I go to the women's restroom, prepare my pumping pieces, put my shelf on top of the toilet seat, take a seat, and begin pumping. For the next 20 minutes, I stare at the back of a toilet stall door. I did finally figure out how to hold the pumps while looking at my phone, so it did become a bit less boring. Oh, and the real kicker: The lights in the bathroom are on a motion sensor, so after exactly nine minutes, 13 seconds (I know this because of the timer on my pump) the lights go off. Unless someone comes into the bathroom to trigger the motion detector, I am left in the dark for the next 10 minutes. I have learned to laugh at the situation; it is, after all, a bit comical.

My son turns nine months this week, and while my goal was to breastfeed him for six months, here I am, still going strong. — Nicole, executive assistant

Turns out, while breast milk is terrific for babies, it is terrible for laptops.

I work from home, but I still used to feel a lot of pressure to be productive while I was pumping, until one day the storage bag I had just pumped a glorious five ounces into — and was about to seal — collapsed and spilled all over my laptop. All over it. I screamed and realized I didn't know what to save first — my laptop or the rest of the milk in the bag. When I brought my computer to the Apple store and told the genius I was there after spilling milk onto my keyboard, he smiled at me and said "skim or full fat?" It felt good looking him in the eye and saying "Breast." There was no saving the computer; turns out, while breast milk is terrific for babies, it is terrible for laptops. Who knew? Yes, I lost my computer (which sucks), but the silver lining is I now feel 100% comfortable NOT multitasking while I pump. If I can save at least one other laptop with my story, my work here is done. —Anonymous

Adam, we lost power and I'm stuck in the pitch-black bathroom, pumping.

I work for an e-commerce start-up in Soho where they don't have to abide by the breastfeeding laws. My daughter was born six weeks premature, and as a result, I found myself feeling even more pressure to continue pumping as long as possible at work. Our office bathroom (a.k.a. my pumping room) is a public women's restroom for the entire fourth floor (five other companies). The first time I went to pump, I realized there were no outlets and no hot water — just a large communal sink with five spouts of cold. After ordering a reusable battery pack and some sanitary pumping wipes, I thought I was as ready as I would ever be to pump at work.

Day 1: I set up my pumping station in the bathroom stall and sat on the toilet (with no lid), waiting for people to wonder why there was a donkey in the bathroom ("hee-haw...hee-haw"). Five minutes went by, and I remember thinking to myself, how am I ever going to do this for the next several months? Seconds later, I found myself sitting in a pitch-black bathroom. I frantically searched for my cell phone and called my husband. "Adam, we lost power and I'm stuck in the pitch-black bathroom, pumping." I'm not really sure why I called him — probably more for sympathy than anything.

Five more minutes went by, and someone walked into the bathroom. The lights turned on; they were on a timer. So, if someone didn't walk in the bathroom within five minutes of me being there, I would have to sit in the dark. And yes, I tried flailing my arms at the sensor while pumping, but that didn't work. Let's just say I spend a lot of days (a lot of Fridays, when most people aren't in the office), sitting in the pitch-black bathroom, pumping away. —Anonymous.

A colleague told everyone she was going to clean out the fridge, but she wasn't going to touch my 'special drawer.'

I went back to work after 12 weeks and am extremely fortunate to work in a supportive, family-friendly office. I have my own office, with a door that I can shut and lock, which made pumping exponentially easier than it is for most people. I know that I was lucky. On top of that, there was a dedicated pumping room available.

The best decision I made was to get a Freemie pump. Instead of having to wear a special bra and basically disrobe from the waist up to pump, I could insert the collection cups into my bra; it basically just gave me an enlarged bosom. Being able to keep my shirt on at my desk was so important, psychologically. There is just something weird and uncomfortable about being partially disrobed in the office; that was a discomfort I did not need on top of the objectively uncomfortable task of pumping, filling bottles, washing parts, storing milk, etc.

My colleagues knew not to bother me while my door was closed, but I was still able to talk on the phone, so that was good. The only awkward thing was to be washing pump parts in the kitchen and have someone come in, but I got over that. I was discreet and kept all my pumped milk and supplies in lunch bag totes in one of the unused crisper drawers in our shared fridge. Once, a colleague in our staff meeting told everyone she was going to clean out the fridge, but that I shouldn't worry because she wasn't going to touch my "special drawer," which embarrassed me quite a bit. But, that was the only ripple, ever, in my experience. —Anonymous

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