Pumped up over boobs in the workplace
I was one of those first time mom’s intent on nursing my baby for at least 6 months. That meant 3 full months after my return to work from maternity leave. As a sports reporter, the decision to continue breast feeding led to some interesting work place dilemmas.
That’s why I sympathized with Hollywood Park jockey Kelly Stra when I heard her colleagues weren’t too keen her turning the jockey room into a nursery. Really, what’s the big deal? It’s not like she’s breast feeding while racing her horse down the back stretch.
Kayla Stra does not work behind a desk in an office. She races horses for a living. The new mother chose to breast-feed her son Brys, which meant feedings between races and practice sessions at the track.
It didn’t take long for someone to have a problem with it. I would not have guessed that one of the first complaints came from a female steward, who suggested that Stra choose between being a mom or being a jockey.
It was the chairman of the California Horse Racing Board who came to the rescue after Stra made public the comments and attempts by Hollywood Park stewards to interfere with her nursing her son at work.
David Israel delivered the edict:
“Kayla Stra’s baby can be in the jocks room,” Israel said. “Her nanny can be with the baby. And both the mother and nanny can do all the things they need to do. The CHRB will not tolerate discrimination in any form against anyone for any reason. No special rooms. No one goes to the back of the damn bus. Period.”
On August 4th my oldest will turn 22. She was three weeks late and I made the mistake of starting my maternity leave a week before my due date. My twelve week maternity leave was instantly cut to 9 weeks post birth of the baby. It was 1991, and I was determined to what I thought was best for my little girl, which included breast-feeding. I set a goal of sticking with it until she was six months, which meant 3 and a half months of “pumping” when I went back to work.
Unlike Kayla, I did not have to option of taking either my baby or her nanny to work with me. This meant finding the right breast pump to fit in my brief case. I needed it to be portable since my job was to cover sports stories in Foxboro, Fenway Park, and the Garden. I needed it to not be dependent on an electrical outlet because many times there wasn’t one in the ladies room stalls or closets I searched out for privacy. I pumped in the back seat of station vehicles with my camera person behind the wheel taking us to a breaking story or rushing back to the station with footage that would air in minutes.
For anyone who has not experienced the feeling of needing to pump, you should know that it’s a lot like having to use the restroom. The urgency and discomfort are just the same, and if you don’t make it in time , well, it can get messy. Breast leakage would not be a good on live television from the first base side at Fenway Park, but in the fall of 1991 I had to worry about it. Dark colored tops were the only way to go.
Then there was the matter of storing the breast milk once it was pumped into the bottles. I carried a little cooler around when I was out on assignment. Back at the station there was a small fridge in the sports department for safe storage until it was time to take my “liquid gold” home to baby.
So there I was in the macho world of a TV news sports department. The only other women in the office back then were college interns. Our esteemed producer Alan Miller noted the obvious one night after the 11:00pm news.
Opening the mini -fridge door in Bob Lobel office, Alan announced to everyone within earshot, ” I remember when this fridge was full of beers, now it’s full of Alice’s breast milk.!”
Like Alan, my co-workers -Lobel and Neumie , along with producers, writers, editors, and photographers – were hugely supportive. If I was in the ladies room for more than five minutes everyone knew what I was doing.
I did what I felt I needed to do for my little Kelly, then my little Brendan a year and a half later. Little Mackenzie three years later did not get the same treatment. I stopped nursing before I went back to work. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to. I was traveling as a reporter more by 1996, and going on the road made the pumping impossible.
Mackenzie turned out just fine without her mother’s milk.
Congratulations to Kayla Stra, and to all you new moms who nurse, pump and go the extra mile for your babies while trying to earn a paycheck. To be sure, nursing is not for everyone. It’s a personal decision, and every new mother – even if she’s a jockey -deserves the right to make that choice.
It’s only the boobs who don’t get that.