Its 1: 45 Pm. Am coming down stairs with my back pack hugging my back to have my usual late lunch. I see my colleagues getting done with their lunch at the kitchen area. I steal the attention of one of them. I notice and try to ignore. Out of curiosity, I decide to ask her, “What’s up?” Staring at me blankly she responds with a question that seemed rhetoric to me. ” where do you hide?” It immediately hit me that she knew where I was coming from. “PUMPING”. I took a deep breath wondering what to say. I almost judged her, but then I remembered asking myself this same question some weeks before I returned to work from maternity leave.
Just to inform you, my office is based in a co-working space. This a large space where different companies mainly start-ups share a common office space. I must say that it’s very spacious and transparent too. There is hardly any translucent room let alone opaque space in the office. Even the meeting rooms that act as our board rooms are made of clear glass. What will I do? I thought. The billion dollar question was, where will I express milk for my baby?
I had been breastfeeding for the past three months. The pediatrician advised on exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months. With no lactation rooms in the office, how am I going to achieve this? Of course, I had been expressing milk and storing for later use, but this amount was not enough to take care of my baby through the 6 months. Again…. am team Frisian! My supply is quite high and it necessitates constant draining in the course of the day. But then, how do I get to do this?
I don’t own a car. Well, my female colleagues were offering their cars for my expressing business. But I felt to be too much trouble to keep doing this at least twice a day for the next I don’t know how many months. So, I gracefully declined the offer. I thought of the office kitchen. Well, not a better option. It’s always busy and in a public place too. Where will I get my privacy? Good thing is that there is fridge though still very public. How will I keep my milk fresh till I go home?
On my first day of work, I decided to identify my “hiding space”. But not before asking both the office and building management for “my right to lactation room” question. I started with the building management. Of course, if they provide smoking zones for smokers, why not lactation room for mothers? So I thought. I was shocked by the response of the lady. “Hapana madam. Hizo hakuna hapa. Ongea na ofisi yenu wakupatie nafasi.” I felt rejected for the first time in my own country, holding back my tears I wondered. Is she a mother or did she plan to be one? Does she know the pain of engorged breast? Does she know that mastitis is real. Was she aware that milk supply is on demand and supply basis? Does she know the cost of formula milk? I left the office feeling disappointed. Luckily in the lift I met the C.E.O of the co-working space and I was like, PHWEX!. This must be the moment. I decided to ask her the same question. Of course her response was similar to the political lies we are used to hearing daily. “Yes, we are trying to provide one including a prayer room for muslim. It should be ready soon. Three months after, nothing has been done.”
But on the bright side moms, Murang’a’s women Representatives Hon Sabina Chege sponsored Breastfeeding mothers Bill of 2017. The bill was unanimously voted in by the parliament. The back stops at the president who is yet to sign this bill into law. You can read the breastfeeding mothers bill here. But Just to give you the glimpse , here are key highlights:
- A woman who has a baby may breastfeed or express breast milk at a lactaion place in the work place.
- Every employer (with more than 30 employees) shall establish a lactation place that is free from intrusion from co-workers, clean, and not be a bathroom or toilet.
- An employer shall provide a reasonable break time to a breastfeeding mother for purposes of breastfeeding the baby or expressing breast milk for the baby.
- A breastfeeding mother may in the prescribed Flexible work manner apply for a flexible work arrangement from the employer for the purposes of breastfeeding or expressing breast milk for the baby.
- A person convicted of an offence under this Act shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding five hundred thousand shillings or to an imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or to both.
With such great bill, why do I have to use A TOILET TO EXPRESS MILK FOR MY BABY every day !!!!!!!!!!. I know you are sneering and hating me right now. Isorait, rusheni mawe niko na helmet. Well, I don’t have a choice. A mom got to do what she has to do to feed her baby. Honestly, it’s not a walk in the park, standing up for over 30 minutes (in heels), listening to other ladies , well……do the things you normally do in the bathroom……and still scared that my pump will scream am busy at the moment. It’s not cool. It’s uncomfortable, unhygienic and inappropriate to say the least.
Why am I being punished for being a working mother! How am I even supposed to concentrate with my deliverables in the office with my engorged breast! Why do I feel compelled by circumstances to quit this job I love so much to feed my baby? You know dear moms, standing up for your rights is not easy. But I deeply feel that I will regret to be in the same position three years to come when expressing for my second born. Maybe I will have a car then but still not appropriate. It’s time we speak up. Let’s not shy away and demand for lactation rooms. If we do nothing about this, our daughters might be in worse situations. If we join hands and speak just to give this bill a little push, we will make it easier for women behind us to succeed better as working moms. Where do you express while at work? Do you have lactation room in your office? Share your experiences in the comments below.