I am committed to breastfeeding my baby for one year.
Unfortunately, many airports don’t give a crap about this goal – or the fact that there are numerous documented health benefits to doing so.
For example, this winter, when my husband and I both battled a cold, our newborn Gabe did not even get a sniffle, which is a common story among breastfeeding families. It's because breast milk contains antibodies that protect a baby from illness.
You would think now that since workplaces must have lactation rooms – and because it’s almost universally accepted in this country that breastfeeding in public is A-OK – that airports would provide clean, safe, private rooms for a woman to pump her milk.
Pumping breast milk is different than breastfeeding.
Let me explain.
You see, if you are a breastfeeding mother and you need to be away from your baby – like I did last Sunday and Monday to train for my new job – then you need to use a pump to extract milk from your breasts, both to feed your baby and to keep your milk supply up.
The pump looks like a horn.
You place two of those horns on your breasts and then attach them to bottles. Then you hook it all to a machine that makes the horn pulsate in a way that makes your breasts squirt out milk.
If you neglect to pump or feed your baby every few hours, your milk supply could dry up – or worse – you could develop an infection that could give you major fatigue and a fever.
All of these issues careened through my head as I wandered through the LaGuardia Airport on my way back to Columbia last Monday.
My goal was to bribe, cajole, flirt or bully my way into finding a sanitary place to pump.
It goes without saying a woman shouldn’t have to do this.
But I did.
My first stop in LaGuardia was a US Airways Special Services desk.
There was something classy-sounding about the name, so I wondered if the nice woman there could help me in my quest to pump in a clean place.
The lady pointed me in the direction of the women’s bathroom. She said I could try pumping by the changing table if the bathrooms were too awful to endure.
I trudged over there with my pump and bottles in a backpack and noted the bad smells and strange sounds.
And the changing room table area? It had no curtain or door, and it smelled like poop.
I left and considered crying, but I decided to stay strong.
Instead, I wandered around some more, the pressure literally building by the minute, as my breasts grew hot and achy with three hours of accumulated milk.
Perhaps I could beg one of the ladies at the nail salon to find me a room to pump, I thought.
But the idea of rejection in front of customers was too much.
Yet somehow I found it easy to approach the pudgy older man behind the desk at the US Airways Club, where behind its doors I saw a gaggle of older, banker-y looking guys who paid a fee for a private place to drink their bourbon and relax away from the rest of the airport riffraff.
“Sir,” I said, “I am a nursing mother. I am away from my baby. I need to pump my breasts to bring food home for him and to keep my milk supply from drying up. The airport bathrooms are gross, so I’d like to pump somewhere in the club. Can you help me?”
I searched his face for a reaction. Disdain? Disgust? Pity?
“Well,” he said, “Conference rooms are $50, but you wouldn’t want to pay $50 just to do that.”
“Yes I would,” I said. “Gladly.”
“Well, the women's bathroom here is very clean and private. You can use that, but don’t tell anyone I’m letting you do this,” he said.
“Okay, I guess this is the best I’m going to do,” I thought.
So there I was, in the US Airways Club bathroom, scrambling to assemble my machine, keep it clean and clamp it on my body quickly enough by the sink before anyone walked in to catch me – bare-chested – in the act.
Once I had the pump installed, I rushed behind a closed bathroom door and finished my business, with only one splash of breast milk dripping on my new leather boots.
The splash left a stain, and it’s a battle scar I wear proudly.
When I look at it, it reminds me to talk about how this generation of working mothers shouldn’t have to make their baby’s food next to the toilet.
A quick note to my readers: If any of you want to post here the airports that have lactation rooms, that would be great. I’m starting a list….