For a few days a week, I get to pump alone in an office. I have the freedom to set my gear on a larger table, prepare the bottle, shields, tube and motor for my daily pumping sessions. I have been trying to multi-task during these times as if I'm trying to go for Valedictorian of Working, Breastfeeding Mothers, Class of 2010. I can have the pump whirring away while I type out emails. I can set the motor at the other side of my desk so I can take a quick phone call. When I first returned to work, I thought I could just read or relax, but often, I'm so pressed to finish deadlines that I worry about wasting that time, even if it's perfectly acceptable to say, I need a moment. So I pump and type, pump and email, pump and file, pump and work.
However, there are times when I extract myself from the breast shields and straighten out my shirt, blouse and bra (I still call it a blouse, I'm old school) and open my office door that I forget that I have a whole milk machine in view of anyone who passes in the hallway. I always think I have a few more minutes. That I can send off a few more emails, stack more tasks onto my multi-tasking plate and win the superhero employee game.
Then sometimes it doesn't work out.
The other day a male co-worker popped his head into my office with a random question about the copier. It would have been a quick interaction, except for the fact that he saw my pump with tubing, shields and milk-filled bottles still on my desk. I had to look at him directly because if I looked away, our eyes would travel to the elephant in the room and I hadn't really talked about anything other than office banter. I knew that if I apologized it would just heighten his awareness and also how awkward this conversation had already turned. I had never talked about breastfeeding with him before. Our longest conversation centered on whether I had stored any forks in my desk because there were none to be found in the kitchen. Yes, and I washed and returned it. Guilty as charged. I knew that he knew what was going on. He had a college degree. And two working eyes.
It was the first time I've ever been embarrassed at work, which is ironic because I don't have any problem with breast-feeding in public. I'm fine feeding my son in restaurants and malls and parks, but pumping or at least exposing my pumping prowess in the office feels different somehow. Perhaps because he was a guy and I haven't had the same breastfeeding discussions with men as I have had with women, or any at all. It was as I had pushed him into the Breast Pump Club, a membership he had not requested.
It's not hard to put away the pump now. I just have to recall my co-worker's face when he surveyed the equipment and he figured out what he was seeing -- a true Encounter of the Awkward Kind.