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…