Munchkin was born in May 2006. I took “maternity leave” (aka 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave), and when I came back to work, I went to HR to ask where I should go to pump. I work in a hospital. You would think they would have a lactation room, wouldn’t you? They said there were no facilities, and that I should ask my supervisor to find me a space. Lucky for me, I have a good relationship with my supervisor and he was completely supportive of my doing whatever I needed to do. Also lucky for me, my supervisor has worked here for 30+ years, knows everybody, has tons of connections and a good bit of power, and everyone likes him and is willing to help him out. So, he was able to find me an unused office to pump in. And when that office became occupied, he found me a second office, and then a third, and then a fourth as time went on. Eventually, he got permission for me to use the “OD rooms” – the rooms where the on-call doctors can sleep – and that was a great set-up that I was able to use for the remainder of my pumping time with Munchkin.
Though I had a boss who was willing and able to help me out, I know that not everyone is so fortunate. Another co-worker on my hallway had a less than amicable relationship with her boss and didn’t feel comfortable asking him to find her a space to pump. Not knowing what else to do, she decided to pump in the bathroom. The bathroom doesn’t have an outlet though, so she could only use a hand pump. After a few weeks her milk supply was greatly decreased and she decided to switch to formula. Another co-worker told me that her supervisor let her pump in a supply room where the door didn’t fully close and people were constantly in-and-out of it. She also only lasted a few weeks. Some supervisors want to help, but don’t know how to find a suitable space. I decided that our hospital ought to have a lactation room, so that anyone who wants to pump will have a place to do so regardless of the approachability or level of power of her supervisor.
I wrote up a proposal for our hospital to create a designated space for a lactation room. I also offered that we could just designate an existing space, such as the OD rooms, that could serve a dual purpose, and just give pumping moms authorization to use that space, but for some reason that wasn’t agreeable to the administration. I submitted my original proposal on October 17, 2006. I was told that I should hear a response of some kind within 2 weeks. Two weeks went by and I heard nothing, then 4 weeks, then 12 weeks. Finally, on Feb 22, 2007 (18 weeks, if you’re keeping track), I got this response:
“Your suggestion was given full and careful consideration. However, due to the lack of space within the hospital, your suggestion has been placed on the project planning list. Projects on this list will be re-addressed once off-site leases are acquired and additional space is identified within the hospital.”
In March of 2007, I contacted my congressman’s office about the issue, and they were very supportive. They said they would contact the hospital and encourage them to find the space for a lactation room. I highly recommend contacting your member of congress – I think that’s what really got the ball rolling. Within a few days, I heard a new response:
“We have thoroughly searched throughout our building to see if there is a room we could currently re-designate as a lactation room. Unfortunately, our current space shortage is significant enough that doing so would require evicting someone from an office at a time when we have no offices in which to place newly hired employees and not enough exam rooms to ensure efficient clinic operations. We do definitely plan to create a dedicated lactation room once we have moved staff and programs to our new off-site lease and have added two modular buildings. This additional space will be activated in the fall of 2007. Until that time, our current practice of using locker rooms and private offices will continue. It has been our experience that our supervisors have been supportive of the needs of nursing mothers and have worked with the staff to identify private areas for their use on an as-needed basis. While this is not ideal, we believe it should be tolerable for the next several months until we have additional space available. Thank you for your interest.”
By fall of 2007 I was no longer pumping for Munchkin, but I continued to followup on the lactation room proposal on principal. Here is part of the response I got on September 13, 2007:
“I expect it to be at least another 6-7 months before we can move functions to the off-site lease… We definitely still have the lactation room on our list of space needs and will create one as soon as things start to clear out. I am sorry it has taken so long.”
A year later, I found out that I was expecting Sweets. I followed up again, saying that I would be in need of a lactation room again in another year’s time, and would it be ready for me by then. Here is the response on August 8, 2008:
“We expect to award the off-site lease this week and move to the new space in January. We have this need on the list of priorities for vacated space, and are thinking through the best central location for use by staff.”
January came and went. In March, I was thinking ahead to my approaching due date and asked again for a progress report. March 6, 2009:
“The lactation room location has been identified on 5B… …Probably in May.”
In April, Sweets was born and I went out on “maternity leave” again with no idea if the lactation room would be ready when I came back to work. I continued to follow-up from home. May 7, 2009:
“Probably mid to late June when Ward moves.”
In August, I was preparing to come back to work. I asked again whether the room would be ready by the time I came back. August 19, 2009:
“The room will not be ready Monday but should be ready after next week. I am still working on receiving and having carpet installed. It will not be installed until sometime next week. There is a chair and small table on order for the room. They should be here in 4 to 6 weeks. I do have some furniture that can be placed in the room on a temporary basis.”
I came back to work in August and used the OD rooms to pump, as I had 3 years earlier, but I had hope that a real lactation room would be ready soon. September 1, 2009:
“Hello – the room appears to be done – it just needs to be cleaned, and to have a small table placed and a chair. If [XXX has] temporary furniture, please go ahead and put into the room. [XXX] will have the paper towel and soap dispensers hung. I’ll ask [XXX] to do the final cleaning and hang a sign.”
On September 3, 2009 I took it upon myself to go check out the new room and see what still needed to be done. There was a temporary bench chair and table, a sink, outlets, and a locking door, so that was good enough for me! They had basically converted an old supply closet by adding carpet and a sink. I used the room to pump that day for the first time! It took three years from the time I first proposed the lactation room until it became a reality! And while it was far too late for me to use the room to pump for Munchkin, it was just in time for me to use it for Sweets! See the top picture to see what the room looked like that day.
I found a bookshelf that the Volunteer Service let me use, and I bought some used books to stock it with. I also started bringing in magazines, including New Beginnings and Mothering, and others took the initiative to bring in their own magazines too – Parents, Parenting, Baby Talk, and occasionally others. I brought LLL series sheets too. I brought a clipboard and a notepad so that users could write notes to each other. I brought in a bulletin board which I originally used to post notices and series sheets, but we decided later to use it to post pictures of our kids. Here is what the lactation looks like now, a year later.
After a year, the lactation room is getting a lot of use. At first, we would all lock the door while pumping and wait our turn outside. But now we leave the door unlocked and you can often find us pumping two at a time, or sometimes even three together! We now have a folding chair and a small table to accommodate two users at a time.
I’ve had an MD mom tell me that she was asked to come back early from her maternity leave to round and that the only reason she agreed to do so was because they told her that we now have a lactation room. We have two moms in the room who use it to pump, but also use it to nurse their babies once a day when their nanny brings the babies during their break time (they share the nanny). We have one mom in the room who uses a wheelchair and finds the room to be a very tight fit due to the smaller than standard door, but she is able to manage as long as we keep the floor clear for her, so we have rearranged some of the furniture. All in all, we are finding the room to be small and crowded sometimes, but we are very thankful that it is there for us.
In the year that we’ve been pumping in this room (yes, I’m still pumping for Sweets), healthcare reform has created a new mandate that would require the hospital to provide us a lactation room by law anyway. Hopefully that will make the process easier for other moms who want a lactation room in their workplace, and it won’t take three years for them to get it done!