Thursday, May 3, 2012

That Time With the Breast Milk in Oakland

When we last left each other, I was contemplating a dramatic change in my professional wardrobe accompanied by strategic self-groping and loud, profanity-laced declarative statements about my occupation.  I am relieved to tell you that this has not yet come to pass, though certainly the likely headline of "10 Lawyers Collapse Simultaneously From Heart Attacks During Mediation," would have alerted you that I had sprung my plan.  In any event, it is probably a good thing for all concerned that I have not made the papers in this regard, and yet the common sense that you are all hoping will arrive to save the day seems not to have rung my doorbell yet.  And so, while my breasts are at least arguably on the blogging table -- well, I actually have them right here, of course, and I am not at a table, but you know what I mean --  I feel compelled to grasp this opportunity to expose the only other breast-related story in my repertoire.  

To be clear, and to fulfill all of the required legal disclosures, the ensuing post will reference breasts, breast milk, and the pumping of breasts to capture breast milk.  Just to get any lurking squeamishness out of our systems, let's say the words several times in a row all together: breast milk, breast milk, breast milk, breast milk.  There. Over it now?  O.k.  Then we can begin.


My daughters are now 9 and 11, but they started out much younger.  Back in 2003, I interviewed for the job I have now on the exact projected due date for my second pregnancy -- February 26, 2003.  (Yes, I interviewed at a full and complete nine months pregnant.  I shit you not.  Undoubtedly the employment lawyers in the audience are laughing hard at what the HR department had to deal with when they got a load of me in person, "really, obscenely pregnant" having been left off of my resume.  To be fair, though, I did let them know I was pregnant before I showed-up, 'cause I'm thoughtful like that.)  I was rotund and swollen and waddling, draped in the lone maternity suit that still fit, a tent-like navy number with a tie-back struggling to meet its purpose of tying something back.  I don't remember much about the interviews that day because most of the residual brain capacity that was not being shoved out of the way by my ballooning uterus was fully occupied with a running and constantly evolving action plan for what to do if I went into labor in a strange and unfamiliar building on the other side of downtown, far from my car and my law firm office, in the midst of strangers.  I don't think I've ever experienced again the precise emotion or state of mind that is the result of the following internal mantra, "Please don't let my water break in the General Counsel's office.  Please don't let my water break in the General Counsel's office."

Four days later, my second daughter was born. (I have thanked her many times for her tardiness on that occasion, which allowed me to get the job and which she has never exhibited since.) Several weeks after that, I received the job offer and accepted.  I then took the four months of maternity leave I had negotiated and started my new job, on Bastille Day -- July 14, 2003.

As is often the case, after pregnancy and childbirth there was lactation.  I elected to breastfeed my second daughter, just as I had my first, which meant when I started back to work in July, I was still nursing, which then led to pumping as, sadly, my newborn was not so lucky to receive an offer of employment and have an office in the same building.  Happily, my new employer had excellent facilities for the pumping of breasts.  No more would I run the dangerous risk of pumping in my law firm office, as I had with daughter number one, which did not have a door that locked.  (This enabled my very well-meaning but uninformed male colleague to walk-in on a pumping session once, as he was sure the "Do Not Disturb" note taped to my door meant only that I must be working on a brief and surely did not apply to him.)

So, all was well in the land of new job and repeated motherhood, for at least the first few weeks.  Then my new boss, a sturdy NFL-lineman of a man (whom I had never met or worked with before he hired me), informed me that I needed to attend a major trial the company was about to begin in Oakland, California.  I would only need to attend for a few days, but it was a rare, bet-the-company type of trial that I really needed to experience directly.  Fine by me.  I love going to trial.  I would miss my little girls, but it would only be a few days.  The only hitch was the breastfeeding.  I would need to keep pumping during the trip if I wanted to continue breastfeeding when I returned.  (For any readers who may not know this, if you don't continue with the demand, the supply will dry up.)  So, I packed my bag and my lovely, Pump In Style breast pump.

Pump In Style.  This is worth pausing on for a moment. This is completely fraudulent marketing, if you ask me.  There is nothing stylish whatsoever about any part or aspect of this machine, let alone the task it is designed to accomplish.  The insides are just plastic and tubes and knobs and power cords, plus a little compartment for storing small plastic bottles, and the outside (which presumably is meant to be the stylish part) is just an unfortunate abundance of black Naugahyde, or some distant relation thereof.  And while one assumes the designers intended the black, hulking mass to pass as a briefcase or other professional carryall,  the hideous design only calls more attention to the charade.  It is the presumably well-intentioned equivalent of walking around with a sign taped to your back saying "kick me," only this sign says "this woman is carrying a breast pump because she will be pumping her breasts in the near future, or, she may have already done so."  It fools no one who has any cause to know about breast pumps.  Those who don't have any cause to know about breast pumps just make awkward jokes about your new, unusually portly briefcase, especially if you've not previously carried a briefcase around every day for months on end as if the nuclear codes were stowed inside.

Back to the trip.  Traveling with a breast pump causes one to encounter the following decision point: to check or carry-on?  On the one hand, you don't really want to be seen in association with the bag any more than necessary, on the other hand, were the device to become lost in transit, bad things would happen.  So, carry-on it will be.  This may cause your new boss to look at you funny as you tote not one, but two "briefcases" onto the plane in your second week on the job for the trial of a case you have had no involvement with whatsoever.  But onward you go. 

And here is where it starts to get interesting.  See, it is all well and good to plan and pack all of the necessary equipment and options.  But one cannot easily research breast pumping facilities from afar.  To be more specific, one cannot determine in advance where one might set-up shop for some pumping action in the Alameda County Superior Court House in Oakland, California, for example.  Not even with mad internet search skillz.  At least not back in 2003.

One possible explanation for this is that there are no such facilities. 

But I am getting ahead of myself.  First, you have to leave your hotel and be picked-up early in the morning by your outside counsel, who will also notice and furrow a brow over your double briefcase approach (and who you, reader, have correctly imagined to be an older white male).  But again you shall deflect odd glances and avoid anything that approaches acknowledgment of your seemingly unusual affection for briefcases, let alone any discussion that involves the words "breast" and "pumping" as applied to your person.

Just keep swimming.  Just keep swimming.  Just keep swimming.

At long last, you arrive in Oakland.  It is now 8 a.m.  Court won't start for about an hour, so you listen to the discussions of strategy and the order of witnesses scheduled for the day, etc., nodding in agreement as appropriate.  Finally, group consensus says it is time to hit the bathrooms before the trial day begins.  Your first chance for some re-con is at hand.  Down the long, white hall you go to the bathrooms, because it is abundantly clear that in a building of this age and style the bathroom is your only place of refuge.  You visually sweep the room quickly and observe the traditional set-up:  a row of five stalls on the right and a row of sinks facing-off on the left.  You check the first stall.  No outlet.  Second: no outlet.  Third: no outlet.  Fourth: no outlet.  The final and remaining stall is against the end wall.  No outlet.  There is, however, an outlet just outside the stall on the wall near the floor.  This will have to do.  When it is time for pumping, you think to yourself, you will sit on the toilet in the last stall, plug-in just outside the stall and have at it.  Great.  Back to court.

Court happens and any number of things transpire that might make for an excellent and substantive blog about cutting-edge legal issues, such as the application of the ADA to the layout of moveable merchandise fixtures on retail floor pads, but that is not our concern.  Our concern is this: when will the morning break occur.  Or perhaps more accurately, "there will be a morning break, right?"

When the morning break in fact arrives, you bolt for the bathroom and secure the crucial fifth stall.

Plug-in: check.
Toilet as chair: check. 
Decidedly un-stylish pump on the ground in front of you (fully visible under the stall door): check.
Breasts locked and loaded: check.
Ignition: check.

But then you are suddenly alarmed by the incredibly loud noise that is reverberating all around the bathroom which, you have just noticed, seems to be covered completely in tile, marble, porcelain and concrete.  What in god's name is that racket?

Oh.  It's you and your breast pump.

Your eyes widen.  Your heart races.  Your face flushes.  Over the din you hear the outer bathroom door open and notice that an unusual amount of time elapses before a stall door is opened.  Not enough time to check or apply makeup with any diligence, but more than you would expect for someone on a mission to urinate.  You imagine the scene from the bathroom entryway: a room overwhelmed with mechanical whooshing and churning sounds, yet seemingly empty of people and machinery, except for a black A/C adapter style plug in the wall at the end attached to a cord trailing under the door of the last stall and dead-ending into a strange looking black briefcase.

Embarrassment closes in on you and wraps you in a much too long and lingering hug, but what can you do?  Nothing.  You can do nothing but continue on course, which is, therefore, what you do.

When it seems that a sufficient amount of milk has been forcibly extracted and captured, you re-stow your carry-ons (which have definitely shifted during this flight) and emerge determinedly toward the sink.  Here, you shall pour out everything you have spent the last 20 minutes trying desperately to produce and collect.  Down the drain it goes.  (Although I am saying it, it goes without saying that there is no on-site refrigeration available.  Plus, even if there were, how to transport days worth of milk at an appropriate temperature from San Francisco to Minneapolis at the end of it all?  FedEx?  It can't be done. And so, down it goes.)  You steal a glance in the mirror to see if there is anything in your appearance that says, "this woman has just spent the last 20 minutes half-naked in the bathroom pumping her breasts."  Not sure of what that would look like even if you saw it, and by now accustomed to your regular look of fatigued bewilderment (which, in hindsight, you now realize is exactly what the former appearance would look like), you finally exit the bathroom.

When you return to the court room, it is twenty-five minutes after the strictly enforced fifteen minute break commenced, which means you momentarily capture everyone's attention as you do your best to quietly re-enter and take your seat in the gallery.   It is now 10:40 a.m.  Day one.  You are still in the early rounds of a bout that seems destined to go the distance.

Lunch happens and is full of fascinating discussion of trial assessment and strategy.  You are able to maintain a veneer of normalcy because no pumping is required during lunch.  Your twice-a-day pumping schedule, developed as a compromise between returning to work and continuing to breastfeed, now seems the only possible way to navigate a trial schedule while lactating.  (You are a woefully underappreciated genius in the subject of breast pumping.)  This means you just need to knock-out the afternoon break without incident and you should be home free for the final evening pumping back at the hotel.

The afternoon break goes more or less exactly like the morning break. You nearly sprint to the bathroom to cower in corner stall and endure the silent comings and goings of other restroom users while you endeavor to pump in shielded anonymity, only to return tardily once again to a courtroom already in progress.

At the conclusion of the trial day, there is one final round of assessment and strategizing, punctuated with interjections of "great job today" and "well done."  In the car ride back to San Francisco, when the conversation relaxes back a bit from the legal minutiae and re-hashing of events, a joke is made about how the new hire must have a heroin habit, as she spends so much time in the bathroom. (I shit you not.)  You reflexively laugh and smile, yet offer no counter explanation.  You wonder if your employment is actually in jeopardy, but then steer the conversation deftly to some subject interesting only to Californians (such as freeway traffic or Arnold Schwarzenegger) and hope that you are safe.

Years later, days two and three of the trial are not distinct enough to recall.  You remember contemplating a different approach involving the manual pump (which is notable mostly for what it lacks: a Naugahyde case and clamorous mechanics) but then dismissing this idea, because even using lawyer math you realize that attacking the issue (or tissue, as it happens) one breast at a time is bound to take twice as long as two at once.  Somehow, though, the trip reached its scheduled end and you and your twin briefcases returned home to Minneapolis, where you resumed nursing and pumping and lawyering.  And did not get fired.   Or investigated for suspected heroin use.  At least not so far as you know.


And that, my friends, is the other breast-related story in my repertoire.  That's all I've got.  Not an ounce more.  Well, except for that time when I had to pump-and-dump on the New Jersey Turnpike on the way from Newark to a wedding, but really that's the whole story right there.