My return to work post-mat leave has been good all things considered. I mean, the double burden is an insane burden, and re-signing season is upon us, so I shouldn’t be too confident until I have my new contract in hand. However, the office has been supportive thus far of my return, my coworkers don’t complain about the stockpile of frozen breast milk in the fridge, and my job allows me to split my day almost evenly between baby and teaching. There’s just one little thing that I would like to improve….the specifics of my pumping location.
I share my office with sixteen other people (thirteen of them men). And with the non-stop student parade going in and out of the office, there’s no time or place to pump discretely. I asked for the key to the storage room just off of the main room because it’s both rarely used and convenient, but I was denied because there is a breastfeeding room on campus. The problem it is that it is located in a different building on another part of campus, making it impossible for me to get there and back on breaks.
And so I pump in a cramped, traffic heavy bathroom. That in and of itself is not that bad. I mean, yes, I should technically be provided with a more appropriate place to pump. But there are some practical realities about the space available in our building, and unfortunately, this is one of those times when one thoughtful accommodation – a breastfeeding room already established on campus – means that a request for a closer venue is seen as pointless due to the existence of said room. I could fight it, but I really don’t feel like explaining the principles of supply and demand to people who are older and male. And yes, when I think about it, bathroom pumping is kind of dirty. But parenting is dirty. You really haven’t lived til you’ve been projectile pooped on. So I try not to touch much, use hand sanitizer just in case, and have lost all qualms about parading the hall between toilet and office with my bottle full of breast milk goodness. Really, the bathroom part of this situation has ceased to faze me.
The issue is that this is a Korean bathroom in late October.
And what does that mean my friends? Air refreshing. Or air exchange. Depending on your translation.
If you don’t live here, let me introduce you to this concept. There’s an idea which pops up now and then that when the heat is on, you need to open the windows because the air is ‘stuffy,’ or ‘the air needs to be exchanged,’ or the air needs to be ‘refreshed.’ It matters not how cold it is outside or how cold this exchange makes those inside or how counterintuitive it seems to blast heat while the windows are open. Damn it! That air must be refreshed!
Some have cited past forms of heating which had a particular smell or safety issues that required frequent window opening while others cite germ theory. Whatever it is, it sometimes happens, and where I work, there is no airing of the bathrooms on a set schedule throughout the day, but a constant air exchange. Stepping into the bathroom (and often the halls) is like stepping outside. Except colder. Because there’s no natural heat from the sun.
Now, it’s one thing when you run out of your toasty classroom and into the toilet for a quick pee. Yes, it’s annoying that the hot water isn’t turned on til December to save money when heat is pouring out through the open window, and yes, if you don’t manage to snag the stall with the heated toilet seat, you are in for a few seconds of tush freezing. But it’s not for long, and you can quickly return to the comfort of your toasty room.
But not when you’re pumping. Nope, you’re there, boobs exposed for a good fifteen to twenty minutes with your nipples frozen in the pump and nothing to think about except the fact that it’s titbit cold.
I’m curious to know if the freezing point for breastmilk is different from water’s? I wonder if constant shivering will affect the amount of milk I can pump? Ooooo experimentation awaits!
For now, I find myself in a constant battle with unseen cleaning ajummas. I go into the bathroom to pump and close the window. By the time I emerge from my stall, the window is open again. Tricksy tricksy. Maybe they’re onto me? I suppose the roar of the pump motor gives me away in there.
But I will persevere – either in closing windows or wrapping my breasts in scarves while pumping to keep them from becoming titsicles. Because after all this milk supply has been through, I shall not give up on account of a little air exchange….