How Life Changes When You're a Mom: I Just Spent 3 Days Pumping Breast Milk in My Car While Covering a Music Festival

I had to write an email, mortified, that said, in part, "I don't know how to approach this delicately, so I guess I can't... Will I be able to get that parking or is there somewhere in the backstage lounge area where I can secure and use the pump?"
Publish date:
June 25, 2013
baby, breast milk, women journalists, music festivals

My bosom was full and heaving. I looked around in the heat and when there was a break, I made my move.

I had an interview in 15 minutes. My car was in the other direction, but I hadn’t relieved myself all day and it was almost 3 p.m. I texted my interview and said I needed to make a pit stop and trudged through the dusty parking lot. I popped the trunk and got my equipment. It took five minutes to take off my shirt, get plugged in and then that familiar grinding sound. Sweet relief, but I was under the clock.

I was pumping in the parking lot.

Working at home, I have the luxury of nursing my seven-month old baby girl whenever she wants it. Sometimes it can be a drag (think moooooo), but “nursing on demand” has largely worked for us and is certainly something she expects at this point. Even as I covered the first Firefly Festival in Dover, Del., last year, pregnant, I knew it was likely my last time covering it. No way going away for three full days with a baby at home was an option, I figured. I knew I would be nursing.

Then spring came and my editor offered me the gig. It was a show of confidence that he would give it to me again, considering in the last year the news website expanded into an NPR radio station and added a considerable number of full-time staff.

I was flattered. I did want to do it, but I broached it with my husband in the usual way we do when we don’t want to sound like we want something, but we really do.

“I can’t cover it, right? I mean, that would be crazy?”

He said, “Why not? How much did you make on it last year?” It was considerable -– for us. “You should do it. It’s what you love.”

It is. A former entertainment editor, I don’t write too much about music anymore. The money is more in covering education reform for the NPR station, business for the chamber of commerce, alumni profiles for a local university and family features for a regional newspaper.

So here I was, treating the Medela Pump in Style Advanced quite rudely. There was no relaxation, looking longingly at a picture of my baby while gathering my sweet mother’s milk. It was down and dirty.

I outfitted a sports bra with two slits to allow for the flanges. This way I could be hands-free while I pump. (What did I think I would do? At most, cramped behind the steering wheel, I caught up with my Facebook and Twitter feeds.) When the flanges were in place, I looked very much like a fembot. After everything was hooked up, I draped a shirt over my chest. I looked like a crazy person.

Weeks earlier, I'd found out the media would have no preferential parking this year, meaning I could be miles from my car while on assignment. This made doing my job and pumping an impossibility. In addition to the shoulder bag that houses the pump, I had a cooler inside a cooler to make sure the milk didn’t spoil. In nursing circles we call our milk “liquid gold.” It is precious and rare. Unless you’re drunk, you do not want to dump this stuff.

I mentioned my concerns to a couple of people in the run-up to Firefly.

“Portapotty?” someone suggested. Not only would that mean lugging my Medela friend around all day long, well, ew. I mean, I don’t like to pee in a portapotty, much less take out my breasts and pump the milk I would later feed to my daughter.

Still, I was mortified to bring it up to my festival contacts, particularly when it was a man who reached out with press availability details. I started typing a few different times and finally went with this: “I don't know how to approach this delicately, so I guess I can't. I was counting on parking in the closer lot because I will be bringing my breast pump with me and I need to get to it. Will I be able to get that parking or is there somewhere in the backstage lounge area where I can secure and use the pump?

“Again, I apologize I this is an awkward question.”

The PR guy, Kevin, took it in stride and forwarded my email on to the spokeswoman for the festival organizers.

Lauren responded promptly, “We’re happy to accommodate you with a back-of-house parking space.”

After that success, I kept pushing through my embarrassment. This was a completely natural thing I was doing, even if it involved a lot of plastic pieces and electricity. This wasn’t for or about me, it was about womankind, about the working mom. This was for my baby.

So I started talking about it when I finally got to the festival. I need to make with the boob juice, I said to an old college friend and newspaper colleague. I told him it was a good thing I was able to pump, because otherwise this music festival would turn into a Gallagher show. I was bolstered by his lack of shock.

Friday was a mad dash from sets to pumping to interviews and back again. I finally got to my bed for the weekend about 1 a.m. and did a final pump. I washed all of the pieces since I didn’t have the ability to clean them during the day. I had tried to mitigate the less-than-sanitary conditions by putting the pieces on ice with the milk.

On my way to Dover on the second day, I dropped Friday’s milk at my parents’ house, a midpoint between home and the festival. My husband said the baby had only taken three bottles after I left, compared to our usual eight daily nursing sessions. Saturday she stepped up her game, though, taking three bottles before 10 a.m. I suspect she was waiting for my return, but finally relented to the pale substitute of the impersonal rubber nipple.

Meanwhile, I’m pretty sure the security guard at the gate Saturday thought I was going to the car to do lines of blow off the dashboard. His grin had a bit of a wink to it after my third trip to the parking lot. I waited for him to question me about what I was doing with all my comings and goings. I got silently defensive, then annoyed, then downright offended. He never asked.

By Sunday, I had it down to a science. In 15 minutes and 25 seconds I put all of the gear together, stripped off my shirt, pumped, stored the milk and packed up again. But I was also becoming lax in my process. For instance, I realized I had gone from just a few seconds to half a minute of full-on topless in the parking lot. And my nipples were getting pretty raw. This exclusive pumping thing was for the birds and by the time I had my last pumping session in my dining room at 11:30 p.m. Sunday, I was glad to be home.

Of course, the baby woke up an hour later, ready to nurse. Ouch.