CAMP MURRAY, Wash. — I’m a brand new mom. A mom who hasn’t spent more than a cat-nap’s time away from my baby girl since I had her a short two months ago. Until today.
Today I returned to work in a part-time capacity with the National Guard. It’s also the first time I have to use my breast pump away from home.
Thankfully one of the captains in my unit, a fellow mom, gave me the scoop on a few of her prime pumping spots, one of which was the commander’s office of the unit we share a building with. Lucky for me, they weren’t drilling.
I sneak in and scoot the desk chair up against the door to ensure no visitors enter. I take a moment to assess my surroundings.
Ample desk space? Check. Electrical outlet? Check. Time to get to work.
Fifteen minutes of Facebook surfing later, I check my progress.
Sweet victory! I just pumped a whole five ounces!
That’s over a bottle’s worth of milk. I was so proud.
I pour my “liquid gold” into a milk storage bag and set it back on the desk. And that’s when I hear it: The sound of heartbreak and pure devastation. The sound of dripping.
Whoever said “there’s no use crying over spilt milk” was dead wrong. It was my first rookie pumping mistake. I hadn’t actually sealed the bag. All you new mothers out there better write this down. You ALWAYS seal the bag. Period.
Half a roll of paper towels later, I think I’ve gotten as much up as I can. At least that’s what my rug-burned hands and knees are telling me. I discard all evidence of my mistake and casually return to training.
Fast-forward three months later and it’s time for the dreaded Annual Training (AT). Don’t get me wrong — I enjoy AT, but being away from my daughter every day for nearly two weeks is STRESSFUL. As a public affairs specialist, there is a lot of potential for me to be in the field covering whatever some other unit may be doing.
Where will I pump? When will I be able to pump? If I don’t pump enough, then my milk supply will go down and then I won’t be able to feed my daughter. I need to bring home at least 20 ounces of pumped milk for her meals tomorrow.
Seriously, I was living my life by the ounces. Always keeping track of how many ounces I was up or down.
She’s eaten eight and I’ve pumped six, I’m down two ounces.
Thankfully my unit, and the majority of people I’ve met in the Guard, are very supportive of my choice to breastfeed and the needs that accompany it. I even expressed my constant worry about bringing home enough milk to my commander, who very sincerely told me that if I needed to excuse myself more frequently I was more than welcome to do so.
When I was assigned to a mission during AT at a deserted fairgrounds location in Shelton, about an hour away from home base, all I could think was “how am I going to pump?”
“Spc. Kim, I have a story for you,” one of our operations officers told me. “You’re going to write about the lactation tent.”
The WHAT!? Did she say lactation tent?
Yes. Yes she did. And do you know where said lactation tent was? That’s right, in Shelton.
As it turns out, there was a female Guard member who wanted to go to the field with her unit during AT but needed to be able to pump. Her commander contacted Command Sgt. Maj. Abby West, the state equal employment manager for the Washington National Guard, about what to do.
They came up with a plan to order a tent, like a shower tent for camping, and a fold up chair with a table on the side.
In the span of a few short weeks, they had not one but three lactation tents delivered and ready for use during AT. Military moms rejoice!
In talking with West about how it all came together, and in record speed for a government request, she told me about the Army Directive (2015-43, for all you military moms wondering) stating the military must provide soldiers with a place to pump that’s not a bathroom. Would you want your sub sandwich prepared on a toilet seat? I didn’t think so.
West said she’s in the process of ordering Mamava pods to put around guard bases. The pod is a 32 square foot — or 4-by-8 feet — room designed for people to nurse or pump in privacy and you can move them if you need to. How cool is that?
But wait, it gets better. The new Pierce County Readiness Center on Camp Murray, which is my unit’s future home, has a lactation room built in!
According to a new subsection of the Fair Labor Standards Act, federal employees are entitled a private space — again, not a bathroom — to pump. Because the new Pierce County Readiness Center was built with federal money, a designated lactation room was included in the floor plan.
Can I get a hallelujah for the progress being made for not only breastfeeding mothers in the workplace, but in the military? I’m fairly certain that if you asked military moms 20 years ago what breastfeeding in the military would look like in 2017, they would never guess there would be lactation rooms or tents for field training.
The military may not have a reputation for being progressive, but leaders, those who make the decisions, can be. I am beyond grateful to see that the leaders in the Guard, my leaders, care about me and my choice to breastfeed enough to truly support me, to support us.
Brianne Kim is a member of the Washington National Guard’s 122nd Public Affairs Operations Center.