It’s the moment of truth: the end of the semester, my students have their concert, and I’m heading to the official on-campus Lactation Room (instead of my usual closet) for the first time.
I stop at the Starbucks kiosk (which isn’t a real Starbucks and therefore doesn’t take Starbucks gift cards) and order what I hope is an appropriate amount of caffeine to get me through the papers I need to grade, the concert itself, and the drive back to Philadelphia without, you know, making my kid totally crazy with mocha-laced breastmilk.
The barista appears to be a friendly middle-aged motherly type, so I lower my voice and ask if she knows where to find the Lactation Room. (The deceptively labeled “Pump Room,” it turns out, was referring to a different sort of pump. Something probably less baby-oriented and more, you know, facilities maintenance.)
Unfortunately, the barista is a little too past her childbearing years to have any idea what I’m talking about but the young man in line behind me decides that he can help.
“What are you looking for?” he asks.
I can tell he thinks I’m a fellow student, which happens a lot when you dress the way I do to teach (leggings… or yoga pants if it’s laundry day). I consider flashing him my faculty ID and my wedding band all in one fell swoop but instead I pause and try to find the right words to explain to this 20-something-year old kid that I am trying to find the room where I can hook up a machine to my boobs to pump breastmilk for my infant son, all, you know, without scarring him for life or embroiling myself in a lawsuit.
A second barista comes to the rescue and assures me that the“Lactation Room” is indeed nearby. And she believes it is near the bathroom. So I take my caffeine and thank the now completely befuddled student and head down the hall towards the restroom and there, in all it’s glory is the official “Lactation Room” sign, except of course it doesn’t say “Lactation Room” because that would be too embarrassing for everyone involved because this is America and we don’t talk about these kinds of things…
Instead it’s a little image of a mother and child, all Christmas card-like, and you’re supposed to just divine that this is the place, and hope that you’re not actually about to accidentally disrobe in a lecture hall full of students.
But it’s not a lecture hall. It’s a little stall partially-but-not-completely inside the restroom, and it’s got terrible artwork on the walls, the kind that you paint yourself, half drunk at a bachelorette party, but there’s also a little cabinet, and it’s stocked with wipes and diapers and all sorts of parenting paraphernalia. It’s entirely mismatched but impeccably organized and for a brief second I get a little teary eyed because I realize this isn’t the work of the university. This is the work of other moms. Fellow moms.
I don’t know any of them—at least not any who are currently breastfeeding and lugging their pump bags to and from campus—but now at least I know they’re out there, and I’m part of their secret clubhouse, and I’m gonna get through this.
(Now can we please get some better art for the walls?)