Why did I start this blog?
First the orchid died.
It was a parting gift from my supervisor who left the Company the week I returned from maternity leave. “It’s yours,” she said after I commented how gorgeous it was sitting on her window ledge, observing downtown Back Bay from its comfy perch in her corner office. A week later, relocated to the desk in my windowless box under fluorescent lights, it was shriveled, drooping forlornly like a used penis toward the floor, its stem brown and leaves withered. Dead. I wondered vaguely about the effect the office had on me after four years. I was thirty-nine and my new baby was four months old.
A few weeks went by, the “transition” back to work which everyone said would “get easier” even though it “was awful” at first. It stayed awful. And I thought, does this really “get easier” or do you just get used to it, like insomnia, cheese and crackers for dinner and the brand new roll of skin over your jeans?
Oh, I tried. I tried to settle into the “normal” routine: Up at 5:30, feed and dress and try to interact with the baby before showering, dressing (and for the first few days, redressing, after he puked on me as soon as the power outfit was assembled) and getting us both out the door with the pets fed by 7:45 a.m. Drop him at daycare, then stop at the corner store for the breakfast of champions (pastry, coffee and a granola bar) which would be gobbled navigating the morning rush hour traffic while tuned to NPR (thinking, somehow, that if I listen to the traffic reports it might actually improve my commute), and hallucinating about all of the things I could alternatively get done with the 75 minutes of sitting in my car that lay ahead.
Two weeks of this and I’m sitting on the floor of a takeout Mexican restaurant outside San Francisco, plugged into the Pump In Style Medela Breast Pump. Yes, it is actually called Pump In Style, as if there were an alternative to being unstylish when pumping out one’s breasts. Whirr umpahhh, whirr umpahh, it says to me. We have a pitch meeting with a potential client. The rest of the pitch team are next door lunching at Panera Bread Company, but their public restrooms had no electrical outlets so here I am on the floor of El Coyote, my pitch outfit - a combination of chic and deeply competent - on a hanger leaning against a box of industrial paper towels in the corner. It was a six hour plus flight, and American Airlines has no outlets in their bathrooms. Like so many moments of my new working motherhood, this one involved a choice: eat my lunch or empty my breasts. There wasn’t time (ah, that four letter word) to do both, and so, fearing an embarrassing and inappropriate leak situation (and I don’t mean confidential corporate information) mid-pitch, I opted for the latter.
Whirr Umpaah, Whirr Umpahh.
Wow, look at me. Glamorous six figure working mom, on her way to a big pitch meeting with a sexy entertainment client. Whirr Umpahh Whirr Umpahh. I’m one of them, now. Working mothers. Those women who have it all.
Whirr Umpaah, whirr umpaah!
There is a knock (or is it a kick?) at the door. “Hola?! Jesus, is anyone in there? How long you going to be?”
Should I shout, about ten minutes per breast? I wonder what my son is doing right now. Drooling, perhaps. Peeing. Wagging him arms like the Lost in Space robot. Wondering where I am. The floor here is not very clean. I think of the movie star Will Smith and his son, spending the night on the bathroom floor in a subway station in last year’s film, “The Pursuit of Happyness.” At least I’m not homeless, I think. I’m getting like my husband, who chooses to see the bright side of a situation. “It could be worse,” he is fond of saying.
Yes, I think, I could have a two hour commute and one leg, I suppose, but its hard to muster up sympathy for the hypothetical when you’re busy feeling overtired and sorry for yourself and your breasts are in danger of exploding in front of your colleagues…
“Hey! Hello? Come on, man!”
Whirr Umpaah, Whirr Umpahh.
The sound of the familiar Pump In Style is oddly comforting. But after a long while, its chugs and hums assume the shape of words, a special message that only I can hear, a dog attuned to the high pitched whistle of its master. It sounds like this: What are you doing? Is it worth it? Why are you doing this? What are you trying to prove? Is it about the health insurance? Cause you know that’s not a reason to be trapped in a job that’s not right for you. But it’s your choice. It’s your life, and your motherhood. You do have a choice you know. You don’t have to have it all. You could just get… some. You know that, right?
I detach myself from the cone shaped receptacles and pour the milk my body made down the sink of El Coyote. I coil the plastic tubing and zip closed the case of the pump, so that now, in its discreet state, it could be a large briefcase full of case studies and not the substitute for my infant that it is. I squeeze myself into the pitch outfit, careful not to let any drops of milk touch the freshly dry-cleaned blouse. I exchange my clogs for pumps, reeling at the thought of my bare foot touching this floor, and pack up. Another knock.
“Hey, Brady, you in there? We’re getting ready to go.” It’s John, the creative director with three kids back home. John is talented and exhausted. “Be right out,” I chirp, sucking in my belly and zipping my skirt. I look into the mirror, greasy and steamy from the hot water rinsing the pump parts. My face looks more determined than confident. I sling the device over my shoulder, grab my bag and open the door. Showtime.