Singaporean mum humiliated by male colleague for expressing breast milk at work
“Pumping at work is not always sunshine and roses. A new mum already has so many challenges to overcome, so I was really hurt when I was told off for pumping milk for my newborn.”
Janice, aged 28, is a first-time mum with an adorable 5-month-old son. She shares with us her experience with a nasty colleague who shames her for expressing her breast milk in the office.
Here’s her story...
When I returned to work after my maternity leave, I was feeling pretty low. Transitioning from staying at home with my baby for 4 months to coming back to the office with full-on workload is a rocky adjustment. Suddenly I’m bogged down with a tight work schedule, figuring out infant care and managing a new helper back home. Then there’s coping with the emotional terrain of spending less time with my son.
Pumping at work is not always sunshine and roses. There’s so much to think about. What if someone schedules a meeting with me during ‘pump time’? What if there’s an external guest in the office? What if the room is not available for me to use and my breasts are leaking?
I was fearful of not being able to carve out the time I needed to pump. One of my female colleagues suggested I book my calendar with ‘Pumping in Progress’ on a daily basis- which would indicate to others in the office that I was busy (for calls or meetings).
I was given a small (but cosy) conference room dedicated to pump in (it was one of those spare, hardly used rooms), and my boss was very supportive and understanding about my new ‘role’. Unfortunately the room had a glass door and no lock. Which was still fine for me, as I was under the impression that my co-workers were respectful about it too. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised about how accommodating all of them were- they would shift back meetings or conference calls just to suit my timing.
Expressing milk at your workplace is no easy feat. You have to get half-naked, literally, people can hear the sound of the pump, and anyone can walk in at any time. Men get freaked out, I get it. But it is what it is.
My milk started to have a hard time coming down. I was always afraid someone was going to walk in. I would get so freaked out by that point that I would have tensed up and there wouldn’t be much milk-retrieving to be had by then. I don’t know why I felt that way. Expressing milk at the workplace was a norm, and I should not have been embarrassed or stressed about it.
To make things worse, one afternoon as I was in the ‘pumping room’, one of my Sales guys walks in. He was fairly new to the company and this was the first time he was seeing me in ‘action’. He looked disgusted, gave me a cold stare and started shooting off his mouth.
“JANICE! This is so inappropriate. I need to take a conference call and here you are pumping so loudly and... can you cover properly or not? This is barbaric.”
Did he just say ‘barbaric’? I was deeply hurt and extremely offended. I wanted to cry. I quickly turned around, and faced my torso towards him. Did I do something wrong? My breasts were not exposed, just slightly visible perhaps. Why was he kicking up a fuss about this? It was allowed in the office, and I had been doing it every single day with no complains, no issues, and certainly no offensive remarks！
Of course I didn’t make an issue out of it at that moment because I was too taken aback by his comments. I did of course speak to him privately post the humiliating episode. I was direct, honest and... fully-clothed.
He was not a dad yet and had no answer to why he said those things to me. I asked him if he knew that it was ‘allowed’ in the office, and he nodded. Still not getting the apology or even the comfort I was seeking in him, I left, telling him that one day, when his wife was in a similar situation, he would understand where all this was coming from. For me, I would never get why he attacked me that way.
(Story as told to Pavin Chopra)
Pumping breast milk at the office is a tough job- the struggle is real. You’re not in the privacy of your own home, you’re in the middle of a crazy work day and amidst strangers (at times), and you’re in pain (more often than you wish to be). We should always reassure women that we respect and support their decisions. Let us all join our hearts together and stand up for this- the flexibility and right to express milk at our own time and comfort.
Mummies, have you faced any problems with pumping milk at your workplace? Do share with us -we would love to hear from you!