Pumping in unusual places

So, I’m in the back of an airport shuttle and it’s near midnight and I have my winter coat over my chest to prevent the driver from seeing what I’m doing underneath. We’re heading toward Vermont where I have a job interview that will begin at 7 a.m. the next morning.

What I’m doing underneath is pumping. I’ve unbuttoned my blouse and wiggled a suction cup onto one milk-engorged boob. The pump is breathing a steady hum that I also try to hide with my giant winter coat. Every so often I get out my phone to look under there and see how much milk I’ve produced. I feel like a surreptitious cow.

I do not get the job. But I am still proud of myself for having produced six ounces that night.

Another story: I’m in an airplane, same winter coat, same pump underneath. Heading toward another job interview. It’s night and the guy next to me has just fallen asleep. I keep thinking, if we crash now I’m fucked. But then again, if we crash now, we’re all fucked. I produce four ounces.

The last time I flew, I used the airplane bathroom instead. It felt luxurious. So much space. I could stare at myself in the mirror. I could read whatever news was saved on my phone before it went into airplane mode. I could use the sink to clean up my pump parts afterwards.

Besides airplane bathrooms and dark shuttle backseats, I have also used other people’s offices and, once, a TV production room to pump. One of them had windows looking out on a snowy mountainside. Another had no windows and no wall decorations, save a giant poster of a historically significant person in transgender history.

If you have never pumped while on the academic job search, you might wonder why I can’t just wait for a more appropriate time or place to do all this. The answer to your question is three-fold:

1. If you go too long with out pumping, bad things happen. I get feverish. Other women start to leak milk. In general it is not pretty or comfortable. So the rule for me is that I need to pump at least every four hours.

2. When universities fly you out for a visit to see if you’re a “good fit,” they jam as many activities as possible into the day or two that you’re in town. There are interviews, tours, more interviews, readings, teaching demonstrations, and meals with people that are also sort-of interviews. Breaks, when they come, have to be on the go. So you ask for an office. Or at least somewhere with a door that locks.

3. When you live in Lubbock, Texas, it takes a long freaking time, and at least two planes, to get anywhere. If you don’t have a long lay-over between planes, you can bet your butt you’re going to be pumping while flying.

The problem of being a working nursing mom, however, is not just limited to the academic job search. At a conference recently, I was pleased to find that there was a designated room for pumping. But then I finally found the room and discovered that it was fronted by windows that faced a long hallway in the convention center. Inside, women were huddled in corners next to plugs like shy, surreptitious cows.

I know this is all better than it used to be. I’ve heard horror stories of the hand-held pumps that women of my mom’s generation used. At least modern technology has left me with a tiny little machine that fits into my purse, one I can whip out quickly and fasten on with ease. At least there are now rooms in many buildings specifically built for pumping.

But as I said the other day to a friend, I really wish that pumping were like going pee. That there were pumping rooms everywhere that you could easily slip into, do your business, and be on your way. Maybe one day. Though probably not in the next four years…

Also, least I complain too much, let me remind that all this discomfort is take on for the good of this tiny creature, who is totally worth it.

Vocabulary for New Parents

The other night, after waking up for a second time to nurse Frida, I was Googling any number of questions I’ve had recently–“When to start sleep routine with baby?” “How long after birth does your body take to heal?” “Sore, burning nipples?” “What’s the meaning of life?” etc–when I realized that there really should be a word for what I was doing.

I know other moms and dads are doing the same thing across the country. You can’t help it. You’re there. It’s 2 a.m. and you’re feeding a baby. Maybe your baby is colicky and you want to find a solution to that. Maybe your baby wakes too much or too little and you want to know what the internet says about that. Maybe you had no freaking idea that your body would be such a mess after giving birth and you hope someone can advise you in that area. And so you multi-task: you feed your baby and you look ask the internet for help.

What is this thing we are all doing? Boobling? Polling an all-nighter? Momvestigating? Readers, help me out here. I’m too sleep deprived to think of a good one.

In my own case, I’ve had a lot of reasons to Booble/momvestigate. Though having Frida has been a joy overall, there have also been challenges–to say the least.

The first was breastfeeding itself, which, in case you’ve never tried it, is not all that easy (at least for many of us). Within the first week my nipples were cracked and bleeding from Frida’s “improper latch” as they say in breastfeeding circles. So I spent many a late nights feeding her while also watching YouTube videos on how to get your baby to latch correctly (it turns out you have to treat your child’s head like a football and gently but firmly and–most importantly–swiftly steer it onto the goal post that is your nipple).

After things in the nipple department got a little better, I developed a bladder infection, which required antibiotics, which affected Frida (or at least I decided they affected her). For the first three weeks of life, Frida was the most docile, sleepy, lovely baby ever. I thought that maybe we were going to have one of “those babies,” i.e. the ones that slightly smug parents smile about and say, “She’s just always been SO easy.”

But then I got on antibiotics and suddenly Frida started to have gas issues. And when you’re a baby with gas, your best way of handling it is to scream and cry. So suddenly we had still-sweet baby, but one who occasionally took to screaming and crying (and sleeping less).

So of course, I started Googling, “How to help with gassy baby” and “Do antibiotics affect baby?” The internet helped a little bit there, mostly in reminded me what techniques we used for Nico when she was gassy. And after seven days my antibiotics regimen ended. I thought we were on the up and up.

Then, I kid you not, that same night I woke up with a high fever and a killer pain in one of my breasts. I mean killer. So as I fed Frida with the other breast, I Googled, “high fever and painful breast.” Every site that came back told me I had mastitis, which, if you don’t know, is a painful bacterial infection of the milk ducts. So, the next day I called my OB and described the symptoms to a nurse over the phone and she confirmed that I had mastitis and called in ANOTHER antibiotics prescription.

The antibiotics worked quickly and soon my fever was gone and my breast started to feel better. But by the next day, Frida was suddenly much worse, gas-wise. We had two nights in a row in which she just screamed for an hour or two without stopping. So, of course, those nights I Googled, “Does my baby have colic?” and “Signs of a colicky baby” and “When will this all stop??”

The internet was inconclusive on this front (apparently colic is only diagnosed if a baby cries for three straight hours, at least three days a week, starting around three weeks of age, which seems somewhat unscientific to me), but it did help me find one page that discussed antibiotics and infants and recommended that both Frida and I start taking probiotics. So we did that (Gerbers probiotics drops for her and a stronger one for me). And, so far, they’ve seemed to help. I’m still on antibiotics, but Frida’s gas is getting better. And my stomach (which was a little achy from the back-to-back doses of antibiotics) also feels better.

This is not to say that we won’t have more issues to come. But last night, at least, Frida fell asleep at 7:30 and woke up only to feed and then fell promptly back to sleep. I still have some pain when I’m feeding her, but it’s starting to feel a lot better. I’ve even downloaded a book to start listening to during my late-night feedings (H is for Hawk–it’s great!). So there is hope. Maybe I won’t need a word for that late night Googling after all…