Change the Narrative from Shame to Support

I quietly grabbed my manual breast pump and stuck off the women’s restroom during my lunch break. 

It was my first day on the job and I was trying to pump myself up (get it?) to be a successful pumper. My daughter was four months old and this was my first time being away from her for more than three hours. If we were to continue breastfeeding, I’d have to pump three times during the day and get enough milk to keep my supply going. 

I went into the stall closest to the door (hoping it would be the cleanest one), sat on the toilet and unhooked the flaps on my nursing bra. I started to use the pump and tried to concentrate. Nothing. 

I decided to switch boobs and see if the other would cooperate. Thankfully, I managed to get about 1 ounce of breastmilk before my hands got tired. As I was giving myself a short break from the “squeeze, release, squeeze, release” work of manual pumping, a coworker entered the bathroom. Never have I felt so uncomfortable. 

At that point, I called it a day. I poured what little breastmilk I had expressed into the bottle and went back to my desk. As soon as 5 p.m. hit, I flew home through rush-hour traffic and nursed my daughter before I even got my shoes off. 

“I can’t do this every day,” I said to my sister, who was watching my daughter for me while I worked. “This is not going to work.”

If only there was a room I could pump in. If only I had known enough to ask for it. But of course mentally, I wasn’t quite there yet. 

I was feeling thankful that someone would even give me a job (before I had even graduated school) and as a young, unmarried mother I did not want to rock the boat. 

When I discovered I was pregnant with my son a year later, I was still at the same job and still no room to pump. Instead of asking my boss to perhaps move me to an office without wall-to-wall windows, I nursed my son throughout my maternity leave, weaning him once I had to go back to work two and a half months later. 

When organizations and government agencies come out with these anti-young parent campaigns, it serves to instill fear and inadequacy in the young parents who strive to do the right thing, but feel they aren’t worthy of the resources they are due. I internalized all the negative messages about early parenthood and felt the stigma. And my breastfeeding experience was shorter because of it. 

Now that I’m older and have more confidence, I know what should have happened. I should have asked for accommodations to make my pumping situation work for me (and my employer). I know that now. But it takes time to gain confidence and learn how to ask for what you need. And when young parents are beaten down before they even know what they need, is it any wonder many simply choose to go without? 

We need to change the narrative from shame to support, which is why I’m glad to be associated with the Alliance and its groundbreaking work. All young parents deserve to feel like their concerns matter and their voices are heard. 

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