I’ll be honest. I thoroughly enjoyed breastfeeding, but I never expected to one day be sitting on the grimy floor of a supermarket bathroom squirting milk out of my overly full breasts. That would have been a hard pass for me in the Places To Pump Department, and I had already found myself pumping on the sweaty seats of a high school bus at a cross country meet as the bus driver blocked teenagers from climbing aboard a few weeks earlier. Nevertheless, that September day there I was crouched on the ground desperately squeezing the milk out.
I need to back up a bit before arriving to how I got in that situation on that particular day. By the time September rolled around I was in my 8th month of breastfeeding and pumping. It had been going well. Breastfeeding had been delightfully easy from the start (Cue eye roll and the chorus of, “Must be nice,” from all the cracked nipples and engorged women out there). That said, I wasn’t ready to relinquish the power my boobs had quite yet, but I wouldn’t have argued if given a break from the constant need to have someone suckling on me for nourishment, even for only a few days.
The opportunity presented itself when a friend of mine announced he was getting married near San Francisco in September. My husband and I didn’t debate long. We booked our flight. We were excited, but as the trip quickly approached, I began to get anxious about being away from my son and breastfeeding. With more and more research I gathered from the internet, I soon came to find out that pumping on a vacation was more like a full time job. You had to make sure you had all the right supplies: coolers, ice packs, cleaning brushes, breastmilk bags, portable battery pack, multiple flanges, bottles, and a side of determination and perseverance. Not to mention, you had to ensure that there was enough milk left at home to last your son the whole time you were away. It was a lot for only a few days.
Not too long later, there I was trekking through TSA with my Medela in hand and a forced smile plastered on my face, ready to force myself to have some fun. After getting through the plane ride and having to pump on the plane, I was starting to feel more relaxed and that this was a good idea. Later, we met up with our other friends at the hotel. The weather was beautiful. The backdrop gorgeous. The food delicious. We danced, ate, and drank our way through the wedding, having a ton of fun. The next day, we made our way to San Francisco and then spent the day walking throughout the city, taking in all the sights and tourist attractions. So far the day was going great!
Which leads me to why I was sitting on the floor of a grocery store bathroom. What I didn’t fully realize was that without my son sucking out every last drop of milk, my breasts filled up fuller and faster, which meant I had to pump more, which meant the more I pumped, the more my boobs thought I needed more milk. Supply and demand. Simple economics. Hence, a problem arose.
On our walk through the city, I had only brought along my handheld pump because I didn’t want to lug around all the supplies for the motor pump. As hour 4 quickly came and past, I knew I had to desperately get to a bathroom to relieve myself. I scrambled to a Starbucks bathroom, locked myself in a stall, and tried letting the milk flow naturally. Nothing happened. I was hyper aware that there was a line to use the bathroom, my friends and husband were patiently waiting, and I was super uncomfortable squished in this box. It was taking forever, and I began to panic. Soon, I abandoned my post and went to find my group. I would suck it up. I didn’t want them to spend their vacation confined to my boobs’ time and agenda. As we walked some more, my boobs started hurting a lot. I was getting engorged, and any woman who has breastfed before knows that this isn’t a pleasant experience. I dreaded mastitis. I needed to do something. And fast.
Then, there in the horizon I spotted an oasis in a desert, a Safeway. It was all in the name. My way to safety. Safeway = grocery store = private bathrooms = pump in peace. I darted to my refuge, throwing back a, “You guys don’t wait for me. We’ll meet up later.” I scoured the store for the bathrooms and found them tucked away in a hidden corner. Perfect. I nearly sprinted to the room. Finally, with the door locked behind me, I sighed a deep breath of relief. Then, I surveyed my surroundings.
It was the kind of bathroom that reeked of urine, had toilet paper scattered throughout the floor, and had a toilet that was filled to the brim with piles of toilet paper. Not the most ideal or sanitary place to squeeze milk out of your boobs, but it would have to do. At least, I was in peace and quiet. I settled on the floor on a toilet seat cover, relaxed, and let the handheld pump do its job.
What felt like only a minute later, I heard noises outside of the two bathrooms. Then, there was a knock. Was a line seriously forming for people to use the restroom? How many people had to suddenly pee in a grocery store, so much so that they would abandon their carts? I, for one, rarely used the facilities in a shopping market. What the H-----??? Well, this was San Francisco where everyone was probably perfectly hydrated. Curse you, West Coasters, and your need to be healthy. My “just a minute” wasn’t going to cut it anymore after the 4th minute. I texted my husband. He would save me.
And he did. He stood outside the bathrooms directing people to another stall, telling these poor people with weak bladders that his wife was pumping inside. I did the deed and felt my boobs sag with relief. Then, I had to pour that precious liquid down the drain since I didn’t have the means to safely store my milk. Oh, what we do for our children. I opened the door, walked out, and turned one last time to look at my safe haven that wrenched me from my struggles. A dingy bathroom floor where I had pumped.