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Pumping in the girl’s room.

October 8, 2009

BreastfeedingI’ve mentioned before that I tend to pump breast milk in public restrooms (you know, for kicks).

Now, I want to be very clear about something. I do not think that women should ever, EVER, be required, nay, even ASKED to pump in public restrooms (or private restrooms, for that matter).

I would like the world (or America at least, since we are the problem) to erase from their brains the restroom as an option for nursing or pumping.

Because it is too often the restroom that gets offered up as the “discreet” (read: out of our sight) and “more comfortable” (possibly filthy, possibly shameful) choice for a nursing mother to perform either activity when in public. And this is just WRONG. Outrageously wrong.

I wholly ascribe to the “you wouldn’t ask me to make my child [or myself, or YOU for that matter] a sandwich in the restroom, so…etc.” point of view. I nurse Henry in public without covering up. He doesn’t like to be covered up and I’m most concerned with his comfort, not yours. Also, it’s not your right to be made uncomfortable by my son’s most basic of human actions. If a baby drinking from a bottle doesn’t offend you (as it shouldn’t–and now I’m looking at you, bashers of formula feeding–you are ANOTHER problem, a big one, and one I hope to address you in another post) then a baby nursing shouldn’t either.

Yes, I know that it’s not that simple, to equate both actions, both objects. Sure, from the point of view of American culture, the boob cannot be “de-sexualized.” Neither can pre-pubescent and pubescent girls (thanks clothing designers!), but we don’t ask our daughters to stay home, to wear shrouds, etc. We work actively to preserve their childhoods and to stem the sexualization of children.

And the breast cannot be robbed of its function to nourish, as much as we, as a culture, seem to be trying. In deference to Puritanical fuckedness and the almighty processed foods industry.

And the deference is spreading. Look to the recent and not-so-recent controversies over formula companies and their campaigns in developing countries.

So just listen–breastfeeding is a biological function. But it is not a biological function in the euphemistic sense that we turn to when talking about flatulence and bowel movements.

The nipple is not an asshole. Human milk is not urine, is not feces.

When you propose that a woman use the restroom to feed her child or to prepare food for her child, you are equating all of the above. You are doing a lot more, of course, but I won’t go into the many many problems with anything short of a natural, easy relationship to public breastfeeding (we shouldn’t even need to talk about it! It should be like saying “public eating”–where we would find it odd to even question or notice eating in public).

That said, I pump often in public restrooms and for the most part don’t mind doing so. I’m not worried about contamination (though I guess I should stop giving my pump parts a quick rinse in the toilet water). I prefer to work in places other than my windowless, shared office that isn’t close to any of the lactation rooms on campus. Those places are generally coffee shops, with windows, and thus natural lighting, and, you know, coffee, and I like that beverage. Cold or hot.

I am not comfortable pumping at my table in the coffee shop. I kind of wish I was, and I should hope for a world in which I was.

Brazen public nursing of baby=no problems here. Not only should this sight be natural and normal, it can be appreciated as sweet, touching, beautiful. Hooking myself into a plastic milk machine, with a clear funnel that stretches and distorts my nipple unpleasantly (visually, at least) and makes a funky wheezing noise…well I just don’t know. I think it can, should be done. But I don’t do it. I like to imagine I have the choice of doing so. I do have the choice, actually, legally. But I don’t pump at my table in the coffee shop.

I know a woman who pumps during meetings at work. She keeps a strict pumping schedule, so if anything falls during a pumping time, then she pumps through it. And this seems completely reasonable to me.

Incidentally, at a recent meeting, just as I had lifted my shirt to start to nurse Henry who I brought along because of gaps in childcare, my boss decided to make a reference to a me, thus causing most of the room to turn around and look at me. It was great timing. Did I mind that anyone saw me breastfeeding Hank? No. Was I very, very aware of the fact that I was breastfeeding while being looked at? Sure . Was I very, very aware that my breast was partially visible, in front of my colleagues? Sure. Was I embarrassed? Honestly, no. Was it remotely like the myriad dreams I’ve had of being in a class or meeting, taking off my sweater and my shirt comes with, exposing my bare breasts? Nope. My breast in my real life moment was not of the same pair as the dream. For instance, if everyone turned around precisely at the moment I was changing Henry’s diaper, would I chuckle at the timing? Yes. Would I think “they are looking at my son’s penis!” Um, no. His penis would not a penis! at that hypothetical moment like my breast was not a boob! at that real moment. Both would be my colleagues witnessing an intimate but not embarrassing moment between parent and child.

Pumping? There’s no child. It’s an intimate moment between me, a plastic funnel, and my hideously stretched nipple, . It’s not beautiful; it’s functional. And I prefer to do it in private (much like many women prefer to cover up when they nurse, etc.).

The point is that while I can choose to pump in random café bathrooms, for caffeine and café-culture addiction related issues, or another woman can choose to cover up while nursing her child for her own comfort, or to help an easily distracted infant, or, even, perhaps, for the comfort of others I suppose, no one should tell me, her, us to do so. Certainly no one should make us do so.

I was going to write about one particular bathroom I pump in often, and how I’m going to have to break up with it, but that story for another day, kids.

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