A while ago I was talking with a new mother who told me she had had to go back to work after a short maternity leave of two months, and she found that she simply could not continue breast feeding after that. Her milk supply dwindled, which is what happens when your baby does not breastfeed quickly and she turned to formula. I asked why she couldn't pump milk during the day and she said her options were to pump in her car, or in the loo at the office, which she thought was disgusting.
This lady has been working for years and is a manager at her firm. I thought, surely, she could have asked her firm to create a nursing room, especially because she cannot be the only nursing mother at the company. Very honestly, she confessed that she did not want to be the face of a feminist issue because she thought it would cost her in other ways.
I tried not to judge her and frankly I'm still trying. Yes, I have never worked where she works and I do not know how it would have cost her to be the face of the so-called feminist issue. I say "so-called" because feeding a baby is a familial and by extension societal issue. I also recognise that we all pick our battles, and this just was not on her list.
I am also aware that opinionated women are not branded trailblazers and ceiling breakers in most work places. Instead we are called pushy, abrasive, non-team players and other unflattering terms. Terms that prevent promotion, hinder assignment to great projects and sometimes help your employer justify why you cannot interact with important clients.
So, why am I struggling not to judge? My judgement stems from what seems to me a missed opportunity to make a small but very meaningful change in her working environment. Every child-bearing woman in that office would have had an easier time breastfeeding, done it for longer and been more productive feeling more valued by her employer. My judgement also stems from the fact that I am confrontational, and I don't have an issue asking for what I want or standing up for what I believe in. Hey, I'm not alone here, we tend to judge others by our own standards.
We need more women to figure out how to ask for what they want or need, and stand up for what they believe in. Confrontation may not be the method in all situations. In fact as I get older, I realise that smiling goes a very long way. Dialogue goes a very long way. And when it comes to things like breastfeeding, I don't think the people in authority are choosing to take milk out of babies mouths; rather they are watching the bottom line and thinking about other things. Sometimes all you have to do is tell people what you are going through and watch them make space for you with grace and ease.
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