The other week, I was leaving my desk to pump in the ladies room. I was carrying the large bag with my breast pump inside, reading for my afternoon pump session when one of my male co-workers looked at me and said, "Oh, are you heading out? Beer-thirty?"
I know what he must have seen. A woman with her bag walking out the door, the clock above signaling, "Hey, who wants an early afternoon? It's Beer-Thirty somewhere!"
If this co-worker had been a woman, I might have felt more at ease to say, "I'm just going to pump, Sistah Friend." But he was a man with whom our lengthiest conversations have been at the copy machine while we both tried to figure out why it was printing on 11x17 inch paper. I hadn't talked to him at all about my baby, except for the time he pointed to my large belly and said, "Congratulations," to which I responded, "Thanks."
I was clueless as to how to answer such a light inquiry. Telling him I was going to pump would be more information than he wanted, like when someone asks how's it going and you answer with how your mother is driving you crazy because she is now lactose intolerant and wants all the cheese removed from your house during her next visit. You should have just said, "I'm fine! Everything's peachy keen!"
While I know that many of my co-workers are well-meaning, it's an office and gossip can fester and spread. It can only take one uninformed person to mention how many times I'm away from my desk to cause others to question why I'm so cavalier with breaks and for the "Who does this lady think she is?" line of questioning to begin.
I'm in a weird in-between area. I'm not embarrassed by breastfeeding or pumping. I want to declare that as an employee I need and deserve the space and time to pump so I can be a functioning and contributing colleague. At the same time, I don't want to discuss these intricacies with just anyone. I just spent 41 weeks with a large pregnant belly, an obvious physical sign that announced, "Hey! I had sex to get this way!" Plus during those weeks, I had to field questions from people who felt they had access to my decisions on childcare and even asked me point blank if I was going to have a vaginal delivery. Take me out to dinner before you begin on the nether regions investigation! I'm a lady!
Sometimes I wonder about my male co-workers. I can understand that the younger ones might not have had the same exposure to the challenges of a breastfeeding working woman, but what about the men with wives and children? Surely the conversation must have been raised at some point. Did their wives, partners, girlfriends, etc. never mention the subject at all? Even if there were no breastfeeding woes to be had and it was all triumph, did they never say to these men, "My breast pump works/doesn't work/is a superhero"? Maybe they didn't listen, they tuned out any boob-related conversations.
I didn't ramble on about my breastfeeding to him. Instead I just laughed, told him I was headed to the ladies. "Beer-thirty? Pa-shaa! I wish."
And I did wish. Although it was for a few other things.