I always joke that I have three babies (four, if you count my husband). My marriage was 9 months young and I was 6 months pregnant when my co-founder and I started GiftStarter. Growing a company, a baby, and a marriage all at the same time has been…eventful. And just to make things easier, my family and I moved 3,000 miles away from GiftStarter. Most days I work from home, juggling work and baby day and night, then spend one week a month or more on location with the company.
Being away from your baby is fucking hard. Being away from your baby who is a nursling is really fucking hard. It’s something most people, myself included, probably don’t think about until they’re in the situation themselves. There’s a whole host of logistics at play here, but I’ll condense it into these brief notes:
1. The female body produces milk on a supply and demand status.
2. Getting your body to respond to a pump can be difficult enough even in the best of circumstances.
3. Battery powered and manual pumps are typically not as effective as AC powered pumps.
What this really means: nursing moms cannot skip feeding times and go hours and hours without feeding or pumping or else they’ll risk unintentional weaning and some potentially serious health issues. To effectively produce and express milk when you can’t see, feel, or smell your baby can be difficult. It can be easier if you can sit, relax, and maybe watch a video of your baby, in a clean environment. And lastly, finding a power outlet in a semi-private area is about as likely as finding an outlet in the United terminal at the airport. Show me a bathroom stall that has an outlet and I’ll — well no, actually, that’s still disgusting.
Mother’s rooms, lactation rooms, nursing rooms, whatever you want to call them, need to be more accessible (see Eileen Carry’s open letter to We Work). I’m currently flying from Rhode Island (home) to California (GiftStarter) every other week, which is on average nine and a half hours of travel on each end. That’s a lot of time in close proximity with a lot of strangers who probably don’t want to see my boobs while I pump in my aisle seat. I’m telling you, the struggle is REAL. When I landed in San Francisco and made my happy way to 500 Startups, I spent the first day pumping in the bathroom. My supply was noticeably lower and my forearm was noticeably buffer. Then I had my first meeting with our mentor, Andrea Barrica, and my life changed.
The 500 San Francisco office had a private conference room that had been used as a mother’s room previously, but was reverted to a standard room after Christine Tsai, managing partner at 500, didn’t need it anymore. As soon as Andrea learned I was a nursing mother, she immediately started making accommodations (shout out to 500 SF office manager, Meghan Christenson, who helped with this!) These ladies ensured this room was clean, vacant, and fully private (read: no glass wall exposing me to the sea of men in the working room). I was able to bring my electric pump. I could sit down. I had a table on which to place the pump and bottles instead of the back of a toilet or the bathroom floor. My pumping time was cut in half and my mental state rose 10 points.
Then the next hurdle came. Being a founder of a startup means there are often entire days I’m out of the office networking or learning. As part of 500’s Batch 14, we went to support Batch 13 on their preview day down in Mountain View. I packed my pump in my backpack, hopped on the Caltrain, and watched the first half of pitches. Then it was time to pump. I asked a man where the restrooms were, then awkwardly amended my request to “Actually, I just need a room…with an outlet. That isn’t glass.” His puzzled face prompted me to just spit out “I need to pump some breast milk.” The light clicked on and he responded “OH! Well we have a nursing room!” And as he lead me there and I shut the door and drew the privacy curtain, I sent an imaginary thank you unicorn to Dave McClure and Christine Tsai and the entire 500 team for their support and accommodation for mothers in all of their offices.
Happy Breastfeeding Awareness Month!