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Pumping Milk Above the Clouds

Shannon Clark
Maple Valley WA USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 6, November-December 2001, p. 212

I'm a flight test engineer, and the logistics of my return to work involved a number of challenges-not the least of which was finding a place to pump, not only in an office situation, but at an altitude of 25,000 feet!

During her growth spurt at six weeks, when Emily wanted to nurse constantly, I thought there was no way I'd be able to return to work. Soon, however, her nursing became less continuous, and we worked out an arrangement that combined day care and father-care that has worked for our family.

Before I returned to work when Emily was eight weeks old, I had to figure out how I was going to express milk during the time I was away from Emily, and I wondered if I would be able to keep up with her needs.

When I called my company to ask one of the supervisors if she could look into where I could pump, she told me that my manager would give me the unoccupied office right next to his. I was surprised to hear this, since I knew he had plans to expand his office into that area.

Considering that expanding his work area would have made things a lot nicer for him and for my coworkers (who would like a bigger area for private discussions), I thought that this arrangement was very generous.

Not only did I have a place to sit down and relax that was private and behind a locked door, but I also had my own refrigerator inside the room to store my expressed milk. That refrigerator was given up by my coworkers. My pumping room is just 10 steps away from my cubicle and 10 steps away from a sink to wash bottles in. Needless to say, I am very pleased with my arrangements. I have a picture of Emily in the office and I put up a "Mother's Room In Use" sign on the door to let others know that I'm on a 15 minute break.

As part of my job working with planes, I fly for an average of 6 hours at a time every one to two weeks. Pumping on the airplane was another challenge I had to overcome. Of course, there was no outlet in the bathroom, but it turns out that there is a rack right next to the lavatory that supplies the electricity I need to run my pump. However, the bathroom door is airtight. There's no way to run an extension cord through the ceiling, walls, or floor. I have to run the cord through the crack between the door and the ceiling. This means that I can't quite close the door and hence can't turn on the light. So I've learned to pump at 25,000 feet by flashlight! Quite the experience on bumpy flights!

I volunteer for Friday flights knowing that I'll have the weekend to catch up if I'm not able to express enough milk for Emily. I've been back to work for two months now and when someone asks if I'm supplementing with formula, I'm proud to say that Emily has had 100 percent human milk, thanks to the support of my husband, my manager, and my coworkers!

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