I met Jessica Shortall through email via a mutual friend when she was looking for working moms to offer input for a book about pumping and working. At the time, I had returned from maternity leave with my older son, going through all the pains and awkwardness and tears of trying to juggle full-time work and full-time milk maker (unpaid work).
Like other working moms, I struggled. A lot. My body didn’t cooperate with the pump. My office hadn’t seen a new mother in well over a year, and from the stories I heard from other mom co-workers, breastfeeding didn’t last long because it was so hard trying to keep up their milk supplies.
I was so thankful that Jessica had completed her book and shared an early digital copy by the time I had my second son. I read it end to end while on a work trip, which involved pumping in airplane and airport bathrooms and in the rental car with a co-worker driving (who was also a mom and remembered the pains of pumping!).
Her book has it all – real life stories from moms of all professions, advice for pumping and storage and transport, tips for working with your manager and HR, and how to handle pumping while traveling. This is the ULTIMATE handbook for moms wanting to continue providing breastmilk for their babies in a work environment.
I had the opportunity to pick Jessica’s brain for a Q&A. At the end of the post, we’re giving away a signed copy of her book.
Jessica, in addition to your book, what else would you put in a working mom’s survival pack?
A really thick skin, and a lot of grace and kindness for yourself! But moving beyond the metaphysical…
- A picture of your baby, to help with let-down (also will help with instantaneous ugly crying your first few days/weeks back at work).
- Pumpin Pal flanges, which fit most pump brands, were game-changers for me. They are more comfortable and less messy than the flanges that come with your pump, and they can help you produce more output per pumping session
- A lot of big, slider-top Ziploc bags. You can throw your unwashed pump parts into one and put it in the fridge between pumping sessions – a major time saver. If you forget your bottles, you can pump into them. And when you travel, you’ll want to pack your individual pump parts into them in case TSA wants to inspect and touch your pump.
- A pack of Wet Wipes. Because: spills and drips all the time.
- Lots of extra breast pads. Because you just don’t need Tim from Accounts Payable asking you why your shirt is wet.
- A pack of Post-It Notes. If/when you find yourself having to sit on a public toilet to pump, a Post-It over the auto-flush sensor will stop it from flushing on your butt.
What’s the one thing you wish co-workers understood about breastfeeding moms?
That we weren’t just on “vacation” (maternity leave) and these pumping times don’t at all feel like “break time.” In fact, for women who have any kind of desk-ish job, we are frantically emailing and doing conference calls while we pump. We are working our butts off to be good at our jobs, and we’d have YOUR back if you needed a bit of support, for whatever reason, for a period of time. We hope you’ll have ours, too.
What’s the best comeback you have for an inappropriate comment comparing moms to cows?
I prefer the direct-shaming route. If someone were to moo or make milk-the-cow motions at me while I was en route to pump, I would stop, look him (it’s gonna be a him) in the eye, and say, “Actually, yes, see this machine? I’m taking it into a little room, where I will attach it to my body to remove milk from it for my baby. Is that what you were getting at?”
If that’s just too much for you, I’d suggest, “Yep, I’m awesome at my job AND make food for a baby all day long. Slacker.”
How did you make the act of pumping a little less annoying?
Honestly, I wrote a damn book about it. Knowing that every indignity I suffered, every hack I discovered or learned from another working mom, every triumph and sorrow would make their way onto those pages to help countless future working moms made the whole thing more tolerable. Maybe your readers won’t write the same book, but I’m always collecting stories (good and bad, and especially hilarious) and tips and hacks, for future editions of the book – they can post them at www.facebook.com/
How did you feel the day you stopped pumping milk for each baby? Was there a celebration? Was there mourning?
Yes. Both. I mourned in the days leading up to what I had decided would be D-Day. (W-Day for Wean?) With my first, it was harder, because I just collapsed at 9 months and didn’t have it in me to go another day, pumping OR breastfeeding. With my second, I realized that I could slowly stop pumping at work and keep on breastfeeding mornings and evenings if I wanted to, so it was a bit gentler. But with both, I worried a lot that I was breaking a bond I could never get back. I was wrong both times. What I felt soon after weaning was a great discovery of entirely new bonds I had never even knew I could make. Instead of nursing in the morning while my husband played with our older one, and then running around like crazy to get ready for work, I could play a bit in the morning. I found I had more time and space to interact face-to-face, smile-to-smile with my kids, and I learned that that was an equally valuable and valid bond.
What are some words of encouragement to new moms about to embark on this journey?
The mantra that got me through a cumulative 22 months of breastfeeding and pumping is Your worth as a mother is not measured in ounces. I know it FEELS like everyone is measuring your worth in that way – literally, like at weigh-ins at the pediatrician’s office, or on how many ounces you pump in a work day – but that is not the true measure of your worth. Breastfeeding and breastmilk are wonderful things, and for me, they were goals I had my heart set on. But along the way, especially with my first baby, I lost sight of the fact that what I feed my baby has nothing to do with my worth as a mother. It felt so all-consuming to try to work and breastfeed that I was just sure that it was not just the most important thing, but at times maybe the only thing that really mattered. If you’re on this journey, good for you, mama, and I hope you get the support you need to meet your goals. But no matter where you end up relative to those goals, you are an unqualified success if you and your baby are both happy, safe, and loved.
Work. Pump. Repeat. hits shelves on September 8. To enter, see the available entry options in the Rafflecopter widget below.