Work. Pump. Repeat. A conversation with author Jessica Shortall
Today on the blog, Baby Caravan is so pleased to chat with author Jessica Shortall. Her newest book, Work. Pump. Repeat., just came out, and it is filled with mother wisdom on all things pumping and navigating the workplace as a lactating mother. Check out our interview below to learn more about her work, and WHY paid parental leave is so crucial in our county today. XO
Baby Caravan: Good morning Jessica! Thank you SO much for speaking with us today. We are excited about your new book, Work. Pump. Repeat. I know Emily hasn't put it down all weekend. Mother activists are so far and few between mostly because we are so quickly in and out of the new phases of motherhood and breastfeeding mom. What inspired you to focus on the issues of pumping?
Jessica Shortall: When I had my first child (and went back to work soon thereafter), I couldn't believe that every single working, breastfeeding mom is flying blind on this. It doesn't make sense to NOT have our collected wisdom, hacks, survival strategies, and moral support in one place. And now that that phase of my life is behind me, I'm actually MORE passionate about supporting new mothers, because I know from experience that when you're in the thick of it, you don't have the time, energy, money, or head space to take on the world.
BC: Could you describe the pump room of your dreams for us?
JS: My snarky answer is that my dreams are of national, paid, 6-month maternity leave for every working mother in this country, regardless of profession. We need and deserve the time to recover and heal and bond. And to breastfeed. But ok, ok, this is reality - so the lactation room of my dreams is not that fancy. It's accessible (meaning not a 15-minute walk away). It's clean. It has a locking door and every nursing mom in that workplace has a key, but when the door opens you don't get a straight view from the hallway if you're passing by. It has a fridge with a freezer. Comfortable chairs and a multi-user pump so you only have to bring your pump parts every day. There's a white board for women to leave each other notes and ask questions. No one is allowed to sneak in there to take naps or make phone calls. In my wildest dreams, this kind of room is available to every kind of working mom - not just the white-collar office worker, but the waitress, the home health care aide, the dog groomer, the cashier, the factory worker, and the soldier.
BC: In a perfect world, what would your ideal maternity leave look like?
JS: Like I said, it would be 6 months and paid. That isn't me feeling entitled - I think it actually reflects the biological needs that women and babies have. And given that we're tasked with creating ALL of the babies that our country will really, really need as adults in 20 years' time, I don't think it's too much to ask. That said, my ideal maternity leave is just a lot of down time. Really, aside from being too short, my leave with my second baby was pretty darn close to ideal. I was so much less anxious than with my first. I spent a really huge amount of time lying in bed, with my girl swaddled and snuggled next to me (safely!), just feeling peaceful and taking naps together. I watched a LOT of Scandal on Netflix, and I didn't feel guilty about it. I didn't spend hours dangling special black-and-white picture cards in front of my newborn's face, because I had (finally) learned that really the whole world is interesting to a baby, and also that she just needed me near and needed to feel safe and cared for. My big kid was at preschool during the day, and I loved the one-on-one time with this new little person. I breastfed, but I didn't put crushing pressure on myself to be perfect at it. I didn't start exercising at 5 minutes postpartum to get my "pre-baby body" back. Ahhhhh....just thinking about it makes me want to go back!
BC: I love it. That sounds so ideal, and I agree- maternity leave IS about the biological needs that women and babies have. How do you suggest we gather enough women with a passion to change maternity leave in this country before they move on to the next phase of motherhood?
JS: I think that's actually at the crux of it. It's not the women in the thick of it who need to fight; it's literally everyone else, men AND women. We need to educate ourselves and others that this is not THEIR issue to sort out. It's a much broader moral and economic issue that we should all care about. This isn't unheard of - isn't it amazing to see everyone from kids to NFL players caring about breast cancer? Just because something has not happened (and maybe will not happen) to YOU does not mean we can't engage people in it. I don't think enough people understand what our approach to maternity leave actually looks like for many women: 1 in 4 American women are back on the job within TWO WEEKS postpartum. Still bleeding. Hobbling. Emotional wrecks. Much more likely to experience postpartum mood disorders. Babies less likely to get well-checks and vaccinations. We also need to call out any instances of people - politicians, journalists, whatever - referring to motherhood as an individual choice that is not our collective responsibility. Reproduction is biologically hardwired into us. And the sustainability of our nation literally rests on that reproduction. Who will protect our shores, fill our workforce, pay taxes, in 20 years, if all of us women stop making the "individual choice" of having babies? We can't have it both ways, and we can't let people get away with being pro-family but ignoring the very real consequences on women of inhumane maternity policy. Women make up 47% of the American workforce. 40% of households have a woman as the primary or sole breadwinner. 58% of new mothers are back at work in 6 months or less (often way, way less). This is the reality of how America works.
BC: It's so, so true. Thank you so much for sharing this with us, I know we can do better for our families in this country. And now a question for when women DO return to the workplace, it's often difficult to find something to WEAR! What was your go-to pump-friendly work outfit that made you feel good about yourself?
JS: I like a button-up shirtdress. Dresses are so hard when pumping - no one wants to be sitting with her dress up around her neck or down around her waist, even in a locked room. It's so exposed-feeling. But a nice shirtdress can be unbuttoned to pump. And it can be belted above the post-baby bump, or worn loose for a more straight silhouette.
Want to know more? Check out Jessica's website and her latest book Work. Pump. Repeat.