This morning I had a breakdown at my desk. Five minutes before the final bell rang, I saw the email asking me to cover a fellow teacher’s class. As I was hooked up to a breast pump.
I panicked, terrified that a group of 9th graders were sitting in a room unsupervised while I sat, the equivalent of a milked bovine, in my classroom with the door locked and the window covered.
I’m thankful that I have a job that affords me a place to pump in privacy. I cannot imagine making this decision to continue to feed my child with my body in a place where people are crammed into small cubicles, the only place of solace a restroom stall which doesn’t have handy access to electrical outlets. Granted, despite my “PLEASE do not disturb” sign, there are still students who take it upon themselves to knock, even pound on the door in the hopes that somehow their vehemence will magically open the door, summon me before them to tell them if there was homework or that YES there is a quiz today.
Since I’ve returned to work, I’ve felt myself pulled in a million directions as I’ve put off students asking to make up quizzes in the mornings and after school, as I’ve re-scheduled or shortened extra help sessions, as I’ve avoided the NINE parent requests for conferences. Because I have to pump. First thing when I arrive. Throughout the duration of my twenty-five minute lunch. Immediately after school before I rush out of the building to get back home to relieve my mother-in-law of what I know is a long day with my three-month-old.
And I feel guilty. Guilty because I have 156 students asking for my attention for eight to nine hours a day. Guilty because I have their parents requesting meetings because their child, for the first time ever, has a B and might not make it till the end of the school year, and I can’t meet before school. I have to pump. And I can’t meet after school. I have to pump and then leave. Guilty because I’m late for a meeting or can’t make a meeting AGAIN. Guilty because I haven’t yet responded to those sixteen emails that required my attention yesterday. And sometimes hungry as shit because I didn’t have time to eat my lunch because I was making lunch for my child and didn’t make it to the microwave before my fourth period came in.
Then there’s the more significant guilt. Guilt that my child is getting at least two bottles of formula a day because I’m gone for more feedings than I can pump milk. The deeper guilt that I’m not his primary caretaker during the week and the irrational thoughts that he is going to forget me, think that I’m not his mother.
And the problem is that I cannot stop feeling how incredibly WRONG this is. Every morning as I rush out the door, bottles and pump and ac adapter packed and ready for the day, there is an inherent wrongness in leaving him behind, in rushing off to essentially mother other people’s children as they walk on shaky legs toward adult hood. Especially while mine is still learning to hold his head up.
So as I rush around, apologizing incessantly, people get angry, see me as someone not doing her job well enough. I want to scream at them that they don’t understand, that I’m doing the best that I can, that I’m a sleep-deprived, caffeine driven fiend barely hanging on to each hour with the tips of my fingers, but they won’t listen, won’t care.
And it’s this guilt that I can’t settle. How can I look at my superiors, the parents of my students and say no? How can I get by without finding myself reprimanded, reminded that this is part of my JOB, and if I can’t make it work, then I don’t need to work? And more importantly, I feel terrible because, quite frankly, I can’t bring myself to CARE.
Yes, my child is more important. Yes, my decisions regarding how I’m going to care for my child are more important. No, I’m not going to drop what I’m doing for my child in favor of the other million tasks that must be taken care of during the day.
And so I pump and leave as soon as I can. I skip the meetings and avoid unnecessary conferences. There is guilt that shouldn’t be there from a society that doesn’t seem to understand or care that I’ve chosen to continue to breastfeed AND work.
I’m sad about it. Angry. Frustrated. But I’ll keep doing it. Because this is what I've decided as a mother.