Aka what to do when your company hasn’t quite figured out how to accommodate the breastfeeding laws… Plus pictures!
Yesterday I had my first day in the office. It wasn’t quite a full day – I only had one meeting so I left early. I was catching up with a new manager in my team who may well end up being my (sub team) manager. My boss had said don’t bother coming in until we meet on Tuesday, and to work from home, but I said I’d try and meet this new manager as I wanted to use the time wisely and I really don’t have much (any!) work to do at home.
The new manager is a woman (rare in my industry!). I actually interviewed her even though she’s about two grades above me. My boss tends to send me to do the cultural / female interview! As I love my company and so they usually want to work there after I’ve talked with them! (I wasn’t the deciding factor. More of an add on so a woman interviewing wouldn’t see only men!)
Anyway. It was kind of illuminating. For one thing, I got much more of an insight into the company’s stance on pumping for breastfeeding mothers. Turns out nobody has asked for it before! I suppose the law only came in relatively recently.
The Equality Act 2010 states that it is illegal to discriminate against breastfeeding mothers. In practice this means that employers need to provide a room with a lockable door for breastfeeding and ideally with a power socket. It also means people can’t prevent you from feeding in shops and cafés, etc.
Most clients have a suitable space in the shape of a meeting room or a first aid room. But our base office doesn’t. It’s not that fancy an office as we are a client facing business so most people who work at the company are usually out on client site. I had suggested to HR and the office manager that I could use one of the small meeting rooms and they could stick some paper over the window. But there’s no lock on the door…
The HR woman (probably the first HR woman I’ve gotten on with so well!) was super apologetic and said that she’s told my boss they couldn’t accommodate breastfeeding mothers in that office so I should be allowed to work from home! The office manager agreed and she’s seven months pregnant and said she wouldn’t stand for it!
For my meeting, the first meeting in over four months, I had a good catch up with the new manager. She’s in her 50s and has kids and seemed relatively sympathetic. She said I definitely shouldn’t work longer hours than contractual hours, which was refreshing. (Official working hours are 9-5 but nobody ever works this. But I would have to leave at 5 or soon after to get back in time to pick up B from nursery, once he’s there all day.)
The kind of weird thing was that she said she’d gone back at 6 weeks each time she had a baby as she had to, being the main breadwinner*. And she said she didn’t need to pump at work. Apparently her breasts just adjusted and didn’t leak milk or whatever and she fed her kids when she was at home. (*I am too but didn’t feel the need to say this! But it’s the reason I am going back to work instead of being a SAHM which I would love to be.)
Now it’s a fairly recent development but B is kind of showing signs of moving towards reverse cycle feeding. He has a big feed or two at night and less during the day. So I thought in time this might happen, especially as B has been really bottle resistant. (We have tried giving him one small bottle of expressed milk a day and he typically takes 1-2oz under sufferance! And I mean sufferance! Screaming!)
However when I was out yesterday, he ended up taking way more than usual from T via the bottle. Almost 5oz in 3 bottles! When he seems only to snack during the day lately and he always resists the one bottle a day we try to give him, so this was unexpected. I was thinking maybe 1-2oz not almost 5. I don’t know if he was comforting with the bottle but he’s pretty good at self soothing with his thumb now he’s realised where it is!
So to provide for a day like that in expressed milk, I would most likely have to express during the work day. Currently I express in the early evening when I’m at home, but I feed him a little bit during the day so it makes sense that I’d have to pump at least once during the day to provide that for the next day. Today I pumped once at work and once at home. But if I do the pumping when I’m back at work, I would really rather do it at work as I want to spend the time at home re-bonding with my son, not pumping.
I think what this woman was saying was that her kids had formula when she went back to work. This is not what B is used to, and until today he wouldn’t even take more than 2oz under sufferance. I am really reluctant to give him formula given this is the only thing my body managed to get right! It’s all very well this manager woman saying she didn’t need to express milk, but I currently do!
The thing that really annoyed me a bit was apparently she said this to my boss when he asked her, as she’s The Other Woman in the team. (“I didn’t need to express milk so she shouldn’t really need to and so you don’t really need a room for it.” Paraphrase.) Err that’s not how it works, honey! B is exclusively breastfed and he’s drinking/ feeding during the day – so I need to pump. Whether they like it or not. It’s protected by law!
It kind of gets my goat when women are not all sisterhood-like about these things. It does us a disservice when there’s always one woman going “Don’t make allowances for women because I didn’t need them and I was fine!” I mean, she was nice and all but perhaps a bit old school in that way of showing how kick ass she is, how she didn’t need breastfeeding laws and whatnot. I appreciate previous generations had it harder, but why should we not want positive change?
My boss – who I’ve always adored in a work way and get on really well with – is apparently really stressed in general due to our targets and reorganisation and is really p*ssed off that this is one more thing that needs to be accommodated, and that our office doesn’t have the facility. (Now since I’ve been away four months they’ve built a whole new canteen so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect one small locking private room with power source!) It was definitely a bit demoralising to hear he’s not happy although the manager lady and HR assured me it’s not personal and he still likes me.
I felt a bit upset as I was kind of a bit of teacher’s pet before I left and I don’t really want that to change! I feel like I’ve made a massive effort coming back so soon (most women here take a year) and they didn’t pay me for maternity leave so the least they could do is appreciate my effort! So I have to wait and see what he has in mind for me to work on, when we meet on Tuesday. We shall see.
Anyway, I figured since I had brought all my pumping stuff I should give it a go. They had no room so I went in the disabled bathroom. I felt like I was well prepared with all my pumping gear and no idea!
Turns out that it is pretty horrible to pump in the disabled loo… Having done it once, I can totally see why HR didn’t recommend it. It was really difficult and it made me realise how much you depend on oxytocin and feeling relaxed to get the milk flowing! Suffice to say standing around in the disabled loo is not conducive to those warm smushy feelings!
Anyway, without further ado I give you: My day in pictures! This captures the full horror of pumping in the disabled bathroom… An experience I’d rather not repeat!
I left Baby B sleeping after feeding, around 08:00. You can see Tiger from our babymoon in the corner of his cot. It felt so hard to leave him. His little chubby legs!
My work outfit. It’s a Friday so I wore jeans! I’m a bit bad in that I often wear black jeans because I kinda think they just look like trousers anyway. My Sarah Wells pumping bag is in the bottom left corner. Check out the disabled loo! It’s nice and big but…
My Sarah Wells bag contains the Pumparoo (which you buy separately). If there is one thing I’d recommend pumping mums get, it’s the Pumparoo. Quite aside from the fact it’s in one of my favourite naval motifs, it is super handy for occasions just like this. It is a fabric bag which has a large waterproof zipped compartment and a smaller zipped compartment, plus a clip on/off “staging mat” (see next pic) and it folds up small when not in use. The idea is you can put your used pump parts in the office fridge in between pump sessions and you don’t need to sterilise more than once a day.
The staging mat clips off the side with poppers and has one waterproof side. It means you have a clean surface to put your pump parts on. Believe me if you’re in a public bathroom you need this!
At home I am very relaxed and I don’t have any issue getting milk out most of the time. At work, people were waking past and there was lots of noise and it took ages to get half of what I usually get. I tend to get 8-10oz in 15 min and at work I did 4.5oz in half an hour. It was a bit demoralising. But also I don’t know if my body’s used to making milk in the evening which is when I usually pump. So maybe I’m not used to milk making at lunchtime! B usually eats just little snacks during the day.
It wasn’t much fun during this time as initially nothing was coming out and also people were making loads of noise outside the bathroom. I kept wondering if someone would be rattling the door handle trying to get in or wondering if I was depriving an actual disabled person from using the bathroom. (There aren’t any in our office as far as I know.)
It was pretty difficult and uncomfortable in the end. The disabled loo has no seat so I had to perch on the edge of the toilet seat, or stand up. I could hear people going past and it just didn’t get me in the zone. I kept worrying someone would come in. Turns out having a lock is important! But also knowing someone won’t try to get in is also important!
Anyone who has breastfed or pumped knows that you have to release oxytocin (“the love hormone”) to release the milk. When you’re with your baby, you naturally release it. When you’re pumping, you need to think of your baby. The pump bag even has a little pocket to put a picture of your baby in for that very purpose.
When I left home that morning – I realised I’d forgotten the blasted ice blocks! The Sarah Wells pump bag has a section that is separate from the rest of the bag which acts as a cool bag.
So what was I to do with all my hard earned milk?
Well, my office provides free soft drinks…
So tomorrow (Wednesday 31 May, 2017) is meant to be my final day of maternity leave. Actually Monday 22 was meant to be my first day back at work, but I took annual leave to eke it out until the beginning of June. Somehow that seemed easier.
My boss had told me he didn’t want me to go back to my previous client and to go to our base office instead. It’s 1hr away instead of half an hour so not ideal, but hopefully I’ll be back on a client soon. (My last client was a bit… interesting, and probably doesn’t warrant me working on them full time.)
So I was calling around HR and the office manager to see if they’d get me a room for pumping (as per UK law for breastfeeding mothers). The office manager told me she had told my boss they don’t have anything suitable and so I should work from home!!
Now ordinarily I’d think this is a great idea but realistically it’s just not going to work. The whole point of me going back to work is to get back to my career and do a good job and hopefully get promoted. Much as I’d like to sit around in the sun at home, my job is based on client work or being in the base office and other than occasional wfh Fridays it’s not really practical to spend all your time at home.
I said I was totally willing to give it a go in our office. There’s a small videoconference room / phone booth I could use but there’s no lock on the door so they’d have to put a sign on (“Do not enter under any circumstances”) and there’s the small matter of papering over the window, but I was willing to try it.
Thing is, this is a job that pays more than I’ve ever been paid and it’s miles better than my old one (no obvious misogyny/ possible racism for starters!) so I want to try and do well at it and keep it!
Anyway the office manager was completely against it and told my boss that it was unacceptable. (I think the law is in the UK that they need to give you a private room with a lockable door and power source… that’s not a disabled bathroom. Or something.) I said I didn’t mind trying it. As I said, realistically my job is not one you can do from home in the long term so I need to try and do something that works in the longer term.
So my boss calls me and says he doesn’t want me to come into the office yet as he doesn’t think we can accommodate the pumping… so to work from home for my first few days until I meet him on Tuesday! I think he’s afraid I’ll sue them or something.
So that’s three days I get back. I mean, I’m not sure how I can really work from home other than checking my emails… and maybe do an online course or something… but really. Not much work to do.
It’s a strange feeling as I’d psyched myself up to start work in two days on Thursday and now I don’t have to go in until Tuesday. But to an office that’s an hour away rather than half an hour. With no pregnancy bump to use to get a seat! Ah well… We shall see.
Some photos… mainly of food!
So… a few days reprieve! I’ll take it!
It’s been eight weeks since our little B was born and it feels like we are slowly settling into our own way of being a family. It’s a weird dichotomy… In one way, time is going by slowly and dreamily as the days merge into one another, unbroken by the routine of going to work and office life. In another, time is flying past at the speed of light. It seems like only yesterday B was a tiny newborn nestled on my chest and now he’s a big hulking boy – or at least it seems to me. 8 weeks! How life has changed, and yet it feels so natural it’s like he was always meant to come and slot into family life.
Of course we were a family before B. And I’m not so far out of infertility-land that I have forgotten that we were whole before then, that we had a great life and we were going to have a good Plan B. (Ironic that I call him B!) I am so happy this happened and still can’t quite believe our luck – I thank my lucky stars every day I wake up to see his sweet chubby little face.
One of the things I’ve been hugely conscious of is to make sure Dog still feels loved and cherished. After all, he’s my first baby. He definitely has less attention from me, but more from T, and we are keeping up his schedule of walks so hopefully it will all even out. I always make sure to give him special cuddles when B is off me, which isn’t very often but I hope he understands. Dogs are pretty amazing like that.
The big news is that T started his Shared Parental Leave. This is a process in the UK where the mother can give up some of her maternity leave and the father or other parent can take it instead. So we are both off work together for around three months. It’s pretty amazing and we are becoming a proper team. T has been great around the house as I am usually hooked up to a baby, being a milk machine. But we’ve gotten into a bit of a routine.
The first day T was off work we went out to a local village for a celebratory breakfast. I love breakfast. The most important meal of the day! Only I tend to have it in the afternoon! I had French toast with bacon and maple syrup and T had egg and bacon muffins. We went shopping with B and I got some more nursing tops because, well, I seem to spend my entire life nursing.
On that front, breastfeeding is going astoundingly well. I’m amazed because I figured it would be awful and was all prepared to give formula but it turns out if there’s one thing that comes naturally to me, it’s breastfeeding. I am massively grateful as I know a bunch of mums having difficulty and I know it makes for a lot of stress. B is piling on the pounds being exclusively breastfed – we joke it’s the only time in your life that people give you such praise for putting on weight!
I’ve been expressing off and on and banking some breast milk in the freezer. I went to a breastfeeding clinic to understand how to introduce it as I’ll be going back to work in a few months and it was kind of stressing me out. Turns out that I can produce a decent amount of milk per session which is a relief. Also apparently it’s easier to do it when you’re also feeding the baby so that’s what I’ve been doing. Then when I’m back at work I will have to pump a few times during the work day. I was worried about how often to do that etc but I think I’ve worked it out. I invested in a double pump at the baby show because I was worried about how I would do it within time constraints at work with a single. The things you don’t know about before they happen! It had never occurred to me to get a double pump.
We went to The Baby Show and it was so much more fun once you have a baby! I kind of thought it’d be more about the anticipation whilst pregnant but I really didn’t have a clue back then (hence the single pump I bought last time round). We got some little useful things for B like a little cup shaped like a whale to use to wash his hair. We had been using a ceramic coffee mug! We are those kind of haphazard parents! We also splashed out and got him a rocker which automatically rocks him. (The Joie Serina 2 in 1 arrows.) It’s amazing! He seems to quite like it!
Our days are kind of peaceful and kind of full. I’m sort of embarrassed to say that B has a fuller social life than I ever had! We tend to get up slowly – although he wakes during the night, we can usually lie in a while. I usually allow two hours to get up if we are going anywhere. T tends to take Dog out and I feed B. Then we get up and either see visitors or go out. My folks come by once a week and I see my small group of mums from NCT (antenatal class) maybe once a week. We go to Baby Sensory once a week too. And maybe go shopping a few times a week. It all adds up.
Plenty of food opportunities!
Pancake day we went to the local “bumps and babies” meet and I had huevos rancheros pancake. Omg! So good!
I’m really not bored in the least. What I found seems to help not to be bored or stir crazy is to make sure we go out every day. Even if it’s just to the local shop to get something for dinner or to Starbucks for a hot chocolate. But usually I don’t have to resort to trying to fill time because of appointments and social engagements and all. Of course it can get a bit tiring if he’s going through a crying spell but I tell myself it’s probably a growth spurt and it won’t last forever. On the whole he is a pretty easy baby who can usually be calmed by a cuddle or milk. Or a good burp! Takes after his father!
Everyone seems so happy for us! It’s really nice. We’ve had various visitors wanting to come and see him so I’ve frequented the local coffee shop a lot. They know me as the girl who has two hot chocolates with all the trimmings! (Whipped cream and marshmallows!) They also do a fine line in bacon baps! (Bacon rolls.) My parents treat me to breakfast every time they come round so it really could be worse! Our flat is really a bit on the small side for entertaining and it’s good to get out.
The funny thing is that I feel like I have lost a fair amount of baby weight. I’ve been congratulated on this by various people but I really haven’t tried to lose it. As you can see by the multiple hot chocolates with whipped cream and marshmallows! I think breastfeeding just makes me super greedy. I still have weight to lose but I refuse to stress about it. My boobs are out of control as I’m breastfeeding and my stomach is a bit of a disaster zone post c section so I think there will be some gym work required in the long run. Right now I’m doing a decent amount of walking and babywearing which possibly helps.
Another weird side effect post pregnancy is I got a weird sense of vertigo(?) for a while. It meant that when the washing machine was on spin and the floor would shake a bit that I would feel really queasy and anxious like the floor might give way. We are right at the top of the building. I started worrying the floor could collapse which was super irrational. It was so odd. I’ve never had vertigo before but I assume that’s what it is.
I also got worried about Dog being trapped in the house in case of fire and so I ordered these emergency pet cards / key rings which tell people in case you have an accident that there’s a pet at home who needs looking after. I don’t know if those anxieties were post partum effects. Generally I’m not an anxious person (I know, my pregnancy probably notwithstanding!) so it was really weird. But it’s sort of passed / calmed down over the past few weeks.
I do think I think of bad things that might happen to people I love more than I did before I was pregnant. But they’re not out of control anxieties or anything and I don’t dwell on them – I’ve just noticed I feel differently and maybe it’s a side effect of pregnancy/birth. For example I feel really terrible if I ever hear of bad things happening to kids, particularly little boys. I think someone said that having a child is like having your heart placed outside your body. It does feel like I’ve turned into a pile of mush!
Anyway I think the reason I don’t stress so much about the body image thing is that my body had never worked properly before. And now I have B and I can’t quite believe it. So I refuse to feel sad or worried about the body that gave me my child. Even if it’s a bit of a wreck right now! I had such body image issues before pregnancy and now I’m heavier than I’ve ever been and I just don’t care – this body is the one that’s feeding my child. It seems sort of miraculous. There is plenty of time later to slim down!
Sometimes I feel too happy when everyone else I know with a baby seems to find it hard or tedious. I guess maybe because they didn’t struggle to get pregnant. (Also luck on the breastfeeding front.) I keep wondering about post partum depression and whether I could see the signs if I had it. Thankfully doesn’t seem to be any sign of it right now.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows of course! T and I have discussed a lot about feelings. I’ve definitely been more grouchy and snappy at him, which isn’t ideal. He’s taking it in good grace. We definitely have had small arguments more than usual but we make them up pretty quickly. I think the thing is that regardless of your feelings on gender roles, there are limitations to breaking out of it – I’m the feeder which leaves me very little time to do anything else. And B isn’t dependent on T in the same way, which can lead to tensions. Either way, we are coping okay and making our feelings known! I think post partum hormones are definitely playing havoc!
I’ve barely thought about work. Which is nice but also weird when it defined me for so long. I mildly hate myself for saying this but I can see why mothers get consumed with being mothers and stop caring about the other stuff. I can see now why you usually get a year off for maternity leave (in the UK). I seem to have slipped into this new identity and put the old one on the shelf and I don’t even feel tempted to pick it up before time.
I had to reconnect this week as there’s a consultation at work. Hopefully my job is not in danger but I had to have a call with my boss and HR even though I’m on maternity leave because the role I do is changing. (The overall role not my job specifically.) It was actually fun to speak with them and reminded me I really like my boss and my job. So at least didn’t make me feel bad about having something to go back to. My boss was really nice and said take all the time you need… I can’t afford to stay off unpaid though! I am getting the maternity allowance from the government but it is a lot less than my salary and just about covers my Starbucks habit! But at least aside from the hassle of pumping and the cost of nursery it will hopefully be nice when I go back.
In a way, being off work actually gives me more time to spend connecting with friends. A really nice thing happened a few days ago. I got an email from a very old childhood friend who I haven’t been in touch with for years. She now lives in America. It was so nice to hear from her! I’d gotten in touch with her years ago via her brother on LinkedIn and we had spoken via email really briefly but didn’t keep it up.
She said she’d been thinking of me a lot lately because her kids remind her of us (my siblings and me) so that was really sweet. It’s funny as I always thought of her and would periodically search for her on Facebook, but she’s not on Facebook. It was so nice to reconnect and see photos of her and her family – she’s in an interracial relationship as well (married to a white guy) so it just felt nice to see that we have something in common – and be able to send my own family photos.
I’ve also spent longer talking on the phone to people who don’t live locally like my best friend who lives overseas. Or my friend from uni in the US who called me the other night. It’s cool to be able to catch up! I think when I’m at work I never take the time to speak on the phone with people very much any more. It’s nice to connect. My folks want to FaceTime with B all the time!
Our so called “splinter group” (a few of us from the NCT – antenatal class, not everyone) meet up once a week and also talk a fair amount on whatsapp. It’s good to have others who are sharing the experience especially when you have a question along the lines of, “Is this weird?”
We have joked amongst ourselves that there really should be some book or app that tells you all the stuff they never tell you about having a baby. It’s kind of nuts. Like did you know their skin peels off around day 10? (The depickling!) Is it normal for them to be cross eyed? Bow legged? Etc. Humans really are a bit strange!
My sister is still pregnant! I gave her a load of my maternity clothes as she’s getting to that point of showing. We are all treading a fine line with her right now. She’s very highly strung and if you add in pregnancy after loss, it’s kind of a grenade waiting to go off! (She makes me look positively chilled and I was really stressed during pregnancy, worried about loss.)
I’m hoping now she’s coming up to halfway that she will start to relax and accept it a bit more as that’s how it was for me. I have a huge stockpile of gifts for her baby! Did I mention she’s having a girl? It means I get to shop for cute girly things too! (I’ve done a run on Mini Boden and Little White Company!) I just feel so relieved for her.
On Saturday we have a big reunion of the NCT group – including the dads – so instead of being pregnant we will all have babies. The final baby was born about a week ago. She was the one who wanted a home birth but ended up in hospital and is having some post partum problems, poor thing. I guess if we’ve learned anything from this whole thing it’s that nothing goes according to plan. But… It’s all worth it once they are here.
I organised a baby first aid course for before the reunion. (I’ve somehow turned into the organiser of the group. I guess I need to get my kicks somewhere!) It turns out everyone wanted to do it so we can get a private class just for our group. I figured it’s worth finding out especially given the situation that happened with my mother in law at my baby shower! I had that weird reaction when I was pregnant and cried when I thought about having to give B CPR! Assuming this won’t happen again!
For the reunion I have a plan to make some cupcakes. I was going to do something more ambitious but realised that was a bit nuts to try and do if you have a baby. So I’m just going to go with swirls but I got some toppers printed with photos of each baby on, so hopefully they’ll go down well. It’s funny seeing the photos of all the babies when they were first born. B is almost two months old and much bigger! I wonder how the parents will feel eating a pic of their baby?!
The final thing for this week is that the wrap I ordered arrived. I completely love it! I started using it the day it arrived and it was awesome. I thought it might be really difficult to tie but it was fine and I managed it first time! It obviously takes longer than a sling that you can just plonk them into, but the fit is much better and it spreads the weight across both shoulders which helps as B is a little chubber!
First attempt bathroom mirror selfie!
It means we can do more of the attachment parenting type stuff (whatever that is… I interpret it to mean he’s always attached which he pretty much is) plus on a purely shallow note I love the pattern – stars. B now has a whole selection of stuff with stars on and most of his clothes are stripey so I guess that covers our Americophile predilections! (Although we will be steering clear of Trump land for a bit!)
Stuff with stars on has become our unofficial motif. Aside from the wrap (and the sling before then) he has clothes with stars on and I managed to get a good deal at the baby show on a blanket I had been wanting for ages from MORI which is covered in stars. It will be fab for sitting out on the grass in summer. (Hit me up if you are in the UK and want a referral code for £10 off!) And I got a lovely light scarf that I can use as a nursing cover if I need to, from The White Company. I think it just cheers me up to have all this starry stuff!
And it reminds me of the cake I made when recovering from the loss of our first baby… Starry Night (*Dr Who edition). The sadness I had whilst making this cake in direct contrast to the happiness I feel now when I think of how things worked out since. What a difference a year makes.
We already tell B he was 4.5 years in the making. (And that’s just my current relationship not counting the 10+ years of fertility problems before then.) Out of 19 eggs retrieved and around 11 fertilised over two cycles, he was the only one who made it. He’s amazing. A miracle.
He is my little star!