#1226: “My Boss Is Overly Enthusiastic About My Need To Pump Breastmilk At Work”

Hi Captain!

I’m an adjunct professor at a mid-sized University, a new mom, and I just had a very awkward encounter with my department head. I’m teaching one of the sections of my department head’s courses; so myself, the department head and all the other section instructors meet up each week to discuss things and make sure we’re on the same page. Before the semester started, I emailed her to let her know that I recently had a baby and if there was a place I could pump between our course meeting and the start of class. She responded that I was welcome to use her office anytime (I don’t have an office) and to let her know if I needed anything. Great! Fast forward to the first day of class: we have our course meeting and all is going well. At the end of the meeting, I ask my department head if now is convenient for her to lend me her office so I can pump; and if not, I’m happy to wait until she’s ready. She enthusiastically responds that now is a great time and that she’s totally comfortable “being around exposed boobies.”

I’m a bit taken aback at this point, I expected I’d be able to pump privately. I start mumbling about not wanting to interrupt her work when another one of my fellow adjuncts comes to my rescue and informs me the adjunct lounge is currently empty and the door has a lock. I’m relieved and my department head cheerfully remarks that’s the perfect place to pump. I make my way over to the adjunct lounge, lock the door and get to work. Five minutes later, I hear a knock on the door… it’s my department head. She whispers through the door to be let in, saying she has something important to discuss with me. Unnerved, I unlock the door and let her in. At this point, I have all my pumping gear on and am wearing my pumping bra, so I’m mostly covered up, but my shoulders are bare and one can clearly see my pumping bra. My department head looks at me for a moment, then asks me if I’ve seen where one of the other adjuncts has gone. Umm….what? She could have asked anyone else in the hallway that question, why did she have to come in and ask me? I’m clearly super uncomfortable and I respond that I haven’t seen her since the meeting. My department head stares for another moment, then apologizes profusely for disturbing me and leaves.

My question is: what on earth should I do about this? I’m incredibly uncomfortable with how she conducted herself, especially since she’s my boss. Should I speak to her about this? What should I say? Should I just pretend this never happened and hope it doesn’t happen again? I’m definitely not going to use her office to pump (or pump anywhere in that building if I can help it).

Thanks!
Awkward Academic (she/her/hers)

Dear Awkward Academic:

Let’s have a brief pause so readers can manually reaffix our jaws back in our faces.

My read is that your department head was pretty determined to be a part of your pumping experience that day, so determined that she broke some fairly obvious norms of workplace interaction like intruding on a locked door. Does she have a scholarly fascination with the technology of modern motherhood? Does she just wanna catch a glimpse of dem titties? Does she just want to prove, in a feminist way, totally not a creepy way, definitely in a Solidarity-Among-Women sort of way, exactly how deeply comfortable she is with women pumping breastmilk at work, so comfortable that she is totally unfazed by it, so can you please let her into the locked room so she can demonstrate how unfazed she is by this Incredible Progress For Working Parents?

Who can say?

One of the things about academia is that it can take a second to sort out behavior that is malicious, on-purpose, weaponized oddness from behavior that is well-intended but still highly fucking odd. Patterns are telling, as are how people respond to the words ‘no’  or “please don’t” (the oddness may continue but come with a half-hearted apology first!). We don’t have to solve the mystery of “deliberately harassing weirdness or just ambient weirdness” at this moment to know that you deserve to never have to worry about this again at work, so I think this should be your order of operations from here: 1) Focus on getting a totally private space to pump that does not depend in any way on your department chair 2) THEN worry about fallout/discussion/awkwardness with her.

Steps:

  1. Document all the stuff you told me in case you need it later. I’d rather have you have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Be dry, factual, list who was there, times, dates, exactly what was said and what happened (there’s a how-to guide at the link).
  2. Talk to Human Resources/Administration (I don’t know who handles this at your school, find out) and tell them that you’re a new mom, you will need a private place to pump on campus x days roughly at y times, what can they suggest/offer you, where do other new parents go to do this, and what kind of policies and tools do they have to ensure privacy (locking doors, signs on the door that the room is unavailable, blocking out rooms in the online space reservation system, etc.)? It’s okay to do this by email, it’s okay to go completely around your chair as if the other day didn’t happen and you’ve never discussed it, and see what the school can offer. Maybe this solves it!
  3. If HR/Admin/Building Services, etc. don’t have a good solution, and/or suggest talking to your chair, or they loop her in on the email and she delivers a bunch of empty reassurances about how it’s totally so normal and cool if you use her office, it’s probably time to pick up the phone or request an in-person meeting with Admin/HR. You want to document the weird shit that happened in writing for later in case this escalates, but you want to be strategic about when and how and whether you share the information (to get forwarded around to heaven knows who, incl. your chair). Do I sound paranoid? I am? Given power differentials and office politics, at this stage, keeping the tone and content of written communications in the vein of “helpfully seeking a positive solution that assumes the best of intentions, won’t make anyone look bad, and will hopefully work for everyone”  helps you get what you need in the short-term (a private, consistent spot to nurse where this person can’t intrude on you again).
  4. During the Call/Meeting: Let helpful person know that your department head oh-so-helpfully offered her office but could not promise privacy there, then she helpfully suggested the adjunct lounge which has a locking door but you could not count on privacy there, either, since a few minutes later she interrupted you to ask a question. Since you really need total privacy for nursing, and you’d rather find a solution that does not depend on your department head, perhaps something in another building so students and colleagues will be less likely to try to interrupt? What do other nursing parents do that works? Your tone is “This is so very awkward but my chair’s enthusiastic offers of help are not actually working, can you help me find another way?” 

The probably good news, if there is good news, is there’s a good chance that either your chair is an already-known weirdness vector to these people, in which case they’ll be like, “Say no more, we got you!” or they will, like us, be brand new to her weirdness and be like “OH MY GOD, she did WHAT, that is totally out of bounds, leave this with me, we got you.”

If HR/Admin are not cooperative at this point, that’s when your documentation can be useful and your tone can change to one of “Look, I have a right to pump in a private place where my boss can’t interrupt me or talk about how deeply comfortable she is with, and I quote, ‘exposed boobies,’ the last thing I want to do is waste everyone’s time with a harassment complaint about a generally supportive colleague for what I hope is a temporary moment of extreme awkwardness on her part, but for the next x months I need a private place to pump that does not depend on the goodwill or Getting It of this particular person, so, are you going to help me do the right thing quietly, or am I taking this to the general counsel’s office/Twitter/The Chronicle of Higher Education/The Chronicle of Higher Education’s’s Twitter?” I don’t think it will come to that? But if it comes to that, it won’t be you who makes it have to come to that. You tried the easy way.

Get your place to pump. THEN, either address or (strategically) don’t address the issue with your chair. I’m going to give you a few scenarios that might happen with her and some scripts to go with them, ok?

Scenario 1: She notices you’re not pumping in her office/the lounge and approaches you to ask about it/remind you that you TOTALLY can:

  • “Oh, thanks so much for asking, I was able to talk to [admin] and arrange a spot that a lot of other new parents use [under no circumstances reveal where], where the noise of the pump won’t bother anyone and it’s less likely someone will need to interrupt.” 
  • From a working-mom-in-academia friend, who wanted to be clear that pumping is very different from nursing and can be extremely hard and require [privacy][strange bodily contortions][a photo of the baby’s face to get it flowing][way more time than you think you’ll need]:

“If it did come up again, I would probably just say something like ‘I really need to be relaxed to get a good flow and for me that means being alone while I pump.’ And if this earns her further unwelcome advice like, ‘it’s perfectly natural, you shouldn’t feel awkward‘ the retort it, ‘however I SHOULD feel, I’ve learned that privacy is key to my comfort. Without it I risk not being to meet my baby’s supply needs.’ At that point, further argument makes the chair a total asshole because this is about having enough milk to feed a baby, not about somebody’s relationship with her ‘boobies.'”

From a working-mom-in-nonprofit-sector friend:

“”I really appreciate your support, and the thing I need most from you is X uninterrupted minutes as required by [our HR guidelines][the law][our agreement][wymymhood].”

Scenario 2: Your discussions with HR/Admin get back to her and she’s miffed at you for not recognizing how awesomely supportive she is:

  • “Well, okay, my conversation with HR/Admin was meant to be in confidence specifically because I could tell you were trying to be supportive but I needed The University to deliver a private solution and didn’t want complicate our working relationship. My preference would be to not talk about pumping again and stick to [teaching topics], especially now that I have a much more workable solution. But since you ask, yes, you might be ‘comfortable,’ but it’s impossible for me to relax and get a reliable supply with an audience. [Name] in admin was really helpful in finding a private spot for me, so maybe the next time we have a new parent around the place we can connect them up.” + [A Subject Change About Classes].

If she’s cool after that, reward her with being cool in return. If she retaliates professionally, you have your log of the incident, you can log all conversations with her that make you want to crawl out of your skin, and turn your “can you help me out, HR?” discussions into official complaints at will.

Scenario 3: Your department chair is a Captain Awkward reader and sees this, in which case, hi there buddy! In your head you probably thought you were being so amazingly encouraging and supportive of A Woman’s Choice To Breastfeed, but clearly you made it incredibly weird for your employee. If you want to fix it, here are your pathways:

  1. YOU contact HR/admin and use your ‘department chair’ pull. “I have a new parent working in my department who needs a private, secure spot to pump on x days when she has classes and office hours. What are the best spots for this, how does one reserve them, and how should I direct her? Oh, and while this building would be convenient, I think she’ll have more privacy in a different spot from where her classes are. Thank you!” 
  2. APOLOGIZE: “I’m very sorry about the other day, I was bending over so far to be Supportive! Of! Working! Moms! that I fear got a little intrusive about the pumping. Good news, I talked to [Admin] and they’ve got a totally private spot for you to use with clear reservation times, a locking door, and a laminated sign to put on the door to reduce knocking. Let me know if that doesn’t take care of it for some reason and we’ll find another solution. Good? Good. How was your first week of classes?” 
  3. Never, ever, ever, ever tell an employee or colleague about how comfortable you are with “exposed boobies” and once you’ve apologized briefly and fixed the problem, do not bring this topic up again unless the Letter Writer does.

I hope this solves it for you without further conflict, Letter Writer, and that everyone chooses the easy, non-intrusive, non-awkward way.

 

 

 

 

 

125 comments
  1. Katia said:

    LW, as someone who works for a very smol college … we still have a pumping room on campus. And space is at a super premium here on my urban campus. I barely knew about it until a coworker mentioned it, so it definitely is very possible there is a dedicated pumping room somewhere for you, so please ask around! I hope it is out there and I’m sorry about your awkward coworker. Zoiks.

  2. I wonder if Department Head’s weirdness was more about being super curious about the mechanics of pumping? It makes her behavior no less weird, but in OP’s place I would at least feel less weird about it if I knew she was fascinated with The Contraption rather than my body parts. Who knows, maybe she anticipates needing one in the next little while and thought this would be a good chance to casually see one in action. (Weird behavior is still weird and OP should shield herself from it however necessary.)

    • JenniferP said:

      If it’s curiosity, this lady should make an actual friend or make friends with Google, since impromptu employee demos are Right Out.

    • Ayko said:

      The part where she was staring at OP made my skin crawl. I am having difficulty interpreting that in any kind of non-aggressive, non-creepy way.

    • JayNay said:

      I know you’re trying to caveat your comment and express that it’s still super weird, but… let’s not focus on whatever this lady’s “intentions” were. It doesn’t matter. Whatever she “intended”, it came out as harassment, and she could have noticed that herself had she thought about it for a second. Like, she knocked on a locked door to ask a fully unimportant, random question KNOWING her employee would have to answer the door half-naked. There’s really no room for “maybe just curious?” here.

    • QoB said:

      I am – all going well – expecting to be breastfeeding a small human early next year, and I would no-way no-how do this. I have IRL friends and family I can ask, and/or that’s what Google is for. I’m with the Captain and JayNay on this!

  3. Michelle said:

    It’s federal law that you have to give breastfeeding moms a PRIVATE place to pump. This is what I found online at womenshealth.gov:

    ““A place other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk” — U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, Section 7(r) of the Fair Labor Standards Act — Break Time for Nursing Mothers Provision

    Employers covered under FLSA must provide a private space for lactation that is not a bathroom. “Private” means that other people cannot see an employee while she is pumping breastmilk. Often this means putting a lock on the door, but some companies use mobile screens or tall cubicle areas. The space does not have to be a permanent, dedicated lactation room. This section shows many solutions for providing permanent, flexible, or temporary spaces and even mobile options that can be used in virtually every type of industry. Learn more about providing appropriate locations for nursing moms to express milk.”

    I don’t know if academia is covered by FLSA, but why on earth would you want to watch a mom pumping, tell her you are comfortable with exposed boobies and, when she finds a place, tell her to let you in because she wants to ask if you have seen someone? It’s super creepy and I can understand why the LW is uncomfortable. It’s like the boss decided she was to going to see those “exposed boobies” and watch LW pump no matter what. It’s creepy and unnerving.

    • Quill said:

      There’s a huge thread here, I feel of “but I’m a lady, so it’s okay! I can’t possibly make you uncomfortable!” on the part of the boss.

      … also what grown-ass woman says “boobies?” It feels so juvenile & off. My immediate thought when the word “boobies” is seen is that of a 13 year old boy who enthusiastically buys a Breast Cancer Awareness sticker that says “save the boobies!” just so he has an excuse to snicker about the word boobies.

      (Or the variety of birds whose names are also slang for breasts. Ornithologists, what’s up with that?)

      • vanadiumoxide said:

        According to Wikipedia: “The name booby comes from the Spanish word bobo (“stupid”, “foolish”, or “clown”) because the blue-footed booby is, like other seabirds, clumsy on land. They are also regarded as foolish for their apparent fearlessness of humans.”

        I would guess “booby” got its current slang making much more recently! Kind of like how regular human people go by Dick.

        • Cascadian said:

          I always thought it came from the word bubo, related to swelling.

      • I can’t speak to birds names, but I do occasionally as a grown-ass woman say both “boobies” and “tiddies” when I’m alone and/or when I’m talking with my burlesque friends and in all cases in an ironic fashion.

      • OllieV said:

        What’s up with that is that the birds were named long before the word became slang for breasts. My dictionary says the breasts meaning dates only from the 1930s. Long before (and after) that booby also meant a fool (as in “booby trap”) and the birds. Apparently there’s a Spanish root for the fool and bird meanings and the breast meaning comes from a German term for teat. 🙂

        • Quill said:

          There’s a lot of coincidence in these bird names then. 🙂

          • JustKate said:

            There’s a lot of coincidence in all words everywhere. 🙂 There are only so many sounds a human can make, after all. I mean, apparently in Slovak, “brat” means “brother” – you can find a lot more examples by googling “words from different languages that sound the same.” Etymonline.com mentions the German word as a possible source, but there are other theories as well.

            But I’ve definitely heard grown-ups use the word “boobies.” We all have our pet euphemisms.

      • Or the birds known as “tits.”

      • Lizzie said:

        What’s weird about saying “breasts”? I use that term all the time, along with a few others. Maybe she thought she was being polite or that’s just the term she likes. (I can’t stand “boobs”, myself.)

      • Angie said:

        I didn’t even think of the booby. My brain went right to the tufted titmouse. Huh.

    • TiffanyAching said:

      As long as the institution has at least 50 employees, it’s covered by FLSA! It’s also extremely likely that HR/Admin have had people needing space to pump before, so there shouldn’t be too much trouble finding a private space, somewhere, on campus.

      Source: I work in HR at a University

      • MuddieMae said:

        FLSA, Fair Labor Standards Act, covers all employers engaged in interstate commerce in any way (which is essentially all employers by court precedent), regardless of size. Smaller employers aren’t automatically exempted from the pumping requirements, it must also cause a genuine hardship to the operation. However, FLSA does not cover all employees at a given organization, and it does not apply to state or federal government agencies.

        All of that said, I don’t know that I would lean on the legal argument immediately, I think you can claim a moral right to pump and approach it as an absolute given that they’ll have a private space for you, whether or not they are required to by law.

    • RabbitRabbit said:

      I’m unsure whether overtime-exempt employees are covered, unfortunately. The breaks appear to not be required, but I’m unsure what that means regarding a private space. https://www.dol.gov/whd/nursingmothers/faqBTNM.htm

  4. Quill said:

    *Still busily reattatching jaw.*

  5. GreenDoor said:

    Bottle feeding Mama here, standing in solidarity with the LW. Push back on this! The nursing room needs to be a separate room from other activities – it can’t double as an employee lounge or private phone booth. And they cannot tell you to just “sit on the toilet” to do it either. It needs to be a one-person room that can be locked and has a reasonably comfortable chair. And being that you’re on a campus, it should be an area reasonably near your worksite – you should not have to hike to the opposite end of campus to find a nursing room. Your boss is bizarre and out of line and I really hope this was a huge one-time lapse in judgement on her part!

    • sfh464 said:

      The specific college (within a large university) I worked for until recently decided, following a renovation, that it would be totally okay for the nursing room to be the same as the prayer/meditation/quiet contemplation/whatever space. Spoiler: it wasn’t

  6. Lindsay said:

    “One of the things about academia is that it can take a second to sort out behavior that is malicious, on-purpose, weaponized oddness from behavior that is well-intended but still highly fucking odd.”
    I love this sentence so much.

    • College Career Counselor said:

      That’s the sentence that really jumped out for me, as well. I have that reaction at least once a week.

    • Jake said:

      I am so fucking sick of working in academia. It is exhausting how many people hide their crap behind this fact.

      • Ainuvande said:

        I both love and hate academia for this. The quirks, they can be cute! But they can also hide serious nastiness or horrible work ethic, and it seems to be really difficult to get rid of people here.

  7. Thank you for this wonderful and very true sentence: “One of the things about academia is that it can take a second to sort out behavior that is malicious, on-purpose, weaponized oddness, from behavior that is well-intended but still highly fucking odd.”

  8. Marie Ledger said:

    Captain Jennifer – you dispense awesome advice!

  9. Indie said:

    People are super weird about lactation. I have a cousin who, in a very cool way, wants to breastfeed openly whenever and wherever she wants; but less cool is the way she judges people who want privacy or who cover up while breastfeeding publicly. Especially when “we’re all women/friends!” Sigh.

    Who knows what weirdness lies behind this. Her excuse for interrupting you is suspect and creeptastic in the extreme and I think you need to both log + insist in the face of such gall. Log every time she intrudes, or thinks about, or mentions potentially intruding on your privacy. Also, insist on privacy. Use the words ‘my privacy and ‘I insist’, and never mind about making up excuses about not interrupting her! Insist that YOU not be interrupted. With short sentences. “I need privacy” “Well that is what I need” “I’m legally entitled to that” “I must insist” “Thank you but no”.

    • Dash said:

      I will 100% offer the context that breastfeeding in public (for ME, eventually, once I got the hang of it, after fifty frillion lactation consultant visits/hours on Kellymom/$10 breastfeeding “circles”) was fine, easy, and chill. I cannot count the number of places I have publicly breastfed (e.g., in a Whole Foods sit-down area; while standing in line for a hayride; while riding in an inner tube on a lazy river; I cannot remember my similarly highly-seasonal Spring and Winter breastfeeding merit badges but you get the idea). It’s feeding a baby; it’s just a boob; it’s not really a big thing.

      Pumping is an entirely different experience. It is exposed (your n*ps end up visible through translucent plastic in most models of double electric pump, compared to inside the baby’s mouth), fiddly, and mildly demeaning in its industrialization callbacks–AND it’s stressful because there’s a lot of consideration and concern about supply and yield and managing it in the moment (turn this up? Go for an extra 5 minutes? But I gotta eat lunch too or my supply will drop) etc etc. I had to pump in a shared office (back to back with officemate, blessedly) and that’s about the most I would ever want to do. I don’t like to do it in front of my close close family (people who saw me getting stitched up in the delivery room)–I just hate everything about pumping non-privately.

      I think even most “normalize breastfeeding” types of the extremely vocal variety see a difference when it comes to pumping. Talk about it, demand time to do it, but holy hell leave me alone while it’s actually going on.

      • Indie said:

        Most maybe, but certainly not all. I hope they see your description, which is ace. Not everyone has pumped and wrongly classify it as ‘the same’. The example I gave is someone who doesn’t understand why you wouldnt have your nips out/how is pumping different/it’s female bonding!….. Yeah.

        • A Silver Spork said:

          I hate how “it’s female bonding” is used (and not just because it misgenders me and excludes trans women most of the time). It feels like they’re either a) trying to pressure you into doing things you don’t want in the name of FEMINISM, why don’t you like it, you must be a bad feminist or b) trying to show off how COOL they are with stuff at the expense of other people’s privacy, comfort, or sometimes even bodily autonomy. Kind of like how some dudes try to pressure you to send nudes by saying “body positivity!”

          • Indie said:

            Yeah its definitely a way of being tres cool and chill and how motherhood has transformed them past noticing such passe notions of nudity and revealed real womanhood to them… which is bullshit because pregnancy is different for everyone and the gender point you make is super on point there.

      • many Bells down said:

        I’ve got a friend who had the WORST time breastfeeding but absolutely no problems pumping. I was exactly the opposite. They really are very different experiences.

    • Molly said:

      The thing is that people who cover up while breastfeeding actually *do* make life harder for those of us who breastfeed our kids openly. I don’t hold any one individual responsible, of course, and there are a zillion reasons why Americans are so freaking weird about lactation, but… the norm of breastfeeding being a thing that is either hidden completely, takes place off in a dark corner. or takes place under a giant blanket 100% contributes to a culture where people expect us (and do not hesitate to tell us!) that if *I* am breastfeeding, then I should be hiding it completely, off in a dark corner, or under a giant blanket.

    • Molly said:

      The thing is though, that the more people who cover up breastfeeding by going into another room/throwing a giant blanket over their babies’ heads, the likelier people are to think (and not hesitate to inform me!) that they think *I* should be off in a hidden room or under a giant blanket when I’m breastfeeding my baby.

      It doesn’t mean it’s fair to hold any one person who wants to nurse privately responsible for that (there are a zillion and a half reasons why Americans are so freaking weird about lactation), but I also don’t think it’s unreasonable to get annoyed at people whose choices make breastfeeding openly harder for *me.*

      • JenniferP said:

        “People who prefer privacy when breastfeeding are making life harder for me” is not a discussion I want to moderate, so, thanks everyone for your contributions, Letter Writer I hope you got what you needed, that’s all for this thread.

  10. GrumpyZena said:

    Back when I was still in academia, in a 85% male department, I STILL had a private place to pump breastmilk. It was basically a glorified closet with a seat in it, but it was lockable, private, and nobody was weird about it.

    This is weird.

  11. Oh, man, LW, as a fellow new, nursing mom, I feel you so hard on this. I work at home (gig economy, yaaaay?), so I don’t run up against this precise problem, but my life/work is very academia-adjacent, so I have experienced a lot of similar awkwardness from that direction.

    I also have a several well-meaning (I think?) colleagues, clients and friends who love to hit me with, “X would be totally okay with me! I am SOOOO UNFAZED by [body part]!” and then offer me places to nurse/pump/change diapers/apply boob medicine, etc. But for me, as soon as their focus shifts from “here’s a helpful place to do X” to “LOOK HOW COOL I AM WITH MOM BITS!” that’s when my squick factor shifts into overdrive, and I am instantly resolved never to take them up on their offer, even if my life depends on it. I am the type who prefers to demur rather than get confrontational, and with reasonable folks, a simple “Thanks for being so considerate, but I’m good!” takes care of it. With the aforementioned “I AM SO NONCHALANT” types, though, demurring never, ever seems to work, in my experience. They harp on it, which makes me more uncomfortable, which they then see, and say, “You shouldn’t be UNCOMFORTABLE, it’s perfectly NATURAL, why don’t you want to do X in front of me???” Awful, turned up to 11. Bonus points for when they start asking me intrusive, specific questions about various body parts “healing” postpartum.

    As it turns out, I have buckets of childhood trauma about my mother deliberately berating me about embarrassing body-related stuff (often with an audience!), and then further berating me because it’s WRONG TO BE EMBARRASSED, WHY ARE YOU EMBARRASSED, I AM YOUR MOTHER, YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO DISCUSS THIS WITH ME, WHY ARE YOU TURNING RED, STOP IT, LOOK, UNCLE BUB, SHE’S BLUSHING! ALL I DID WAS GIVE HER A TRAINING BRA, WHAT DID I DO WRONG?

    I stopped speaking to my mother over a year ago, so I’ll be damned if some colleague is going to treat me like that and make me relive all those awful memories. Much as I hate confrontation, I am getting much, much better at just shutting it down when they start telling me how I “should” feel about it. So usually my script at that point is something like “Regardless of how I ‘should’ feel, what I *actually* feel is *uncomfortable* about that. So thanks, but no thanks.” + subject change. And if they persist, become a broken record. (My fantasy is to yell at them at that point, but for most of these people I don’t want to burn the bridge, y’know? So I do the broken-record thing, and save all my imaginary arguments for when I’m in the shower…)

    So thanks to the Captain for bringing up the insidious “how you SHOULD feel” part of this…it is real as hell. LW, good on you for using your words and being proactive. May you have all the privacy you wish, and many easily-produced ounces of liquid gold ahead of you.

    • Yeah, I’m an atheist, and I don’t believe in hell or anything, but when I was breastfeeding I kinda sometimes wanted all the people who were aggressively being ok with my breasts at me to just burn in hell. Like, forever.

      It has been 12 years since I was breastfeeding, and it still gives me that creepy feeling, like my spine is trying to escape from my body.

    • Cassandra said:

      I wish the Aggressively Nonchalant could understand that “I, at least in theory, have no shame around this perfectly natural thing I’m going to do” can and often does coexist with “and I don’t want to do the thing in front of other people, or at least not ALL other people.” Like…I’m not ashamed of my need to sleep, but I still don’t want to nap in front of my boss, you know?

  12. Susan said:

    I knew a university administrator who had a private office she could use for pumping… in theory. Her (male) department chair had a master key, and one time he decided to ignore both the locked door and the sign saying “please do not disturb” and walked in on her pumping! She does not work in academia anymore.

    • emmelemm said:

      I can’t even…

    • Nanani said:

      In a just world, that last sentence would be “HE does not work there anymore” T-T

    • *facepalm* Because, y’know, whatever he needed to go in there for clearly couldn’t wait the all of ten seconds it would have taken to knock…

    • not really a lurker anymore said:

      I had maintenance to that to me. After that I made sure my sign was taped over the damn keyhole so there was no way they could miss it.

      For my first kid, pumping at work was mostly fine. I used the Dispatchers’ quiet room. They were fine with it, I was fine with it. It locked, it had power and a comfy chair. There were a couple of times when the room wasn’t available so I probably used other offices.

      for my 2nd kid, the boss and the Dispatchers’ were squabbling over the uses of the quiet room. I was told I could pump in there but the door had to remain open. At which point I went “no thanks” and found alternatives. Which mostly involved kicking my officemate (the system admin for the Fire Dept. of a decently sized city) out of his desk 3x a day. I did, some time later, get an apology from the boss/Chief of my dept. about the situation. I was a bystander in the fight between him and Dispatch and he recognized that he should have made an exception for me.

      • Cora said:

        So….. “you can pump in this private room, but only with the door open.”

        I just…… how does that……. what *BRAIN EXPLODES*

  13. holly13H said:

    I feel for you. When I was a graduate assistant (non-parental she/her) and our building was totally under construction, the only place offered a fellow GA for pumping was halfway across a large campus. As the IT nerd, I actually had a private office, so we came up with a weird workaround. I either planned to leave for the duration required by my fellow GA to nurse, or when I absolutely had to be there to, say, run a webinar at that time, I sat at my desk facing a wall, and she sat behind me at another desk, behind a screen. It turned out she liked to chat because I was so non-invasive so she eventually invited me to stay (but never watch) so we had more time to talk. *The key: Communication, knowing times my schedule was non-negotiable, and letting the nursing mom call most of the shots.*

    We found (since GA’s then had few actual rights that didn’t require a huge escalation and drama) that someone at the same level is most likely to be open to creative workarounds. Professors who didn’t step foot on campus on my fellow GA’s days on campus weren’t too receptive, fearing that other GA’s would start to want to use their offices! NOT THE SAME THING. I hope those buildings now have a lounge that can be privately commandeered by nursing mothers and locked to those without the right ID card!

  14. AnonLawyer said:

    Hi- want to point out that this is a fun intersection of Title IX and the ADA/504 laws. No one in HR wants the Title IX office involved.

  15. Hexiva said:

    My brain apparently completely refused to believe that she said she was “comfortable with exposed boobies,” so completely that I was convinced the letter said “exposed bodies” until I got to the part where the Captain quotes it.

    • Shaunna said:

      DITTO! 🤯

  16. I have never written a comment before but I am so aghast at this situation that I felt like I just.

    As background. I am a woman but not a mother and have never breastfed/pumped.

    It seemed to me that many of the hypothetical responses set forth below couched the letter writer’s need for privacy with her ability to produce milk for her child. While this is a very good reason to want/require privacy, I would take it a step back and say that the letter writer deserves privacy because she does. Period. Full stop. This department chair doesn’t deserve explanations or justification. Just like I don’t have to explain to someone trying to follow me into the bathroom that I prefer to pee without an audience. Whether she is well-intentioned or not, this entire situation reinforces the idea that once you become a mother (or pregnant), your body is not your own. Besides the obvious example of reproductive rights, pregnant women have strangers touch and comment on their bodies all the time. Now, it’s expected that we need to suck milk out of our boobs with an audience? It’s insanity!

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      THIS.
      Truly our culture seems based on the idea that a woman’s reproductive organs belong to everyone but herself.

    • TootsNYC said:

      I agree.

      She is so totally entitled to want privacy just because she wants it.

      period.

      And, I’m coming to a theory that MORE of us should start using “That’s just the way I am.” And then stop.

      Because, you know, if it works for assholes, it REALLY ought to work for the rest of us.

      So, “Department head, I need to not be interrupted, and I don’t like to talk about nursing or breastfeeding. At all. That’s just the way I am.”

      • lunaeule said:

        Even the “That’s just the way I am” doesn’t go far enough. It implies privacy is not something all people are entitled to in principle but something LW is asking for as the odd one out asking for an exception. Everybody should be able to ask for privacy without having to give any reasons. I know it seems tempting to use that argument because so many assholes use it and get away with things but I think in this case giving no reasons is the safest bet if LW doesn’t want to go the strategic route of appealing to people wanting to avoid hungry babies.

    • Amy said:

      This is true, but given the power dynamics between a department chair and an adjunct, it’s likely to OP’s benefit to play up a “This is a me quirk, thanks for understanding!” attitude over a “You are being weird and invasive and rude” attitude. She’d be in the right to go for the latter, but being in the right doesn’t mean it’s going to lead to a good outcome.

      • lunaeule said:

        I don’t think this dichotomy is helpful. There are many shades of grey between the two options you are mentioning and there are respectful and strategic ways to ask for things within power dynamics that allow good levels of honesty about the way thing should be. Going for something with a certain level of honesty is also good for future instances of the same problem in case the problem is systemic. The “This is a me quirk, thanks for understanding!” is a good example of how trying to be too strategic can be counterproductive even for the strategic approach. If you ask for things in a “make an exception for me” type of way, you are creating the impression you are asking for a favor you are willing to accept a “no” to. I don’t think LW is willing or should be willing to take a “no”. I think LW can be careful of power differences without having to resort to the type of politeness that misrepresents her request because she is not asking for a favor but for a need to be fulfilled. I think LW should set things up in a way that allows them to reasonably and respectfully continue to pursue having their needs fulfilled if they get a “no”. And I think they should set the argument up in a way that allows other people in a similar situation to pursue that too (but this is a bonus. It’s not always feasible). Also, I think she should set it up in a way that communicates the stakes to the person she is talking to, even if it’s in a polite and strategic way. The “make an exception for me” option can be useful in certain cases but I don’t think it’d be good in this one. If LW wants to go the strategic route, the Captain’s script with the “I won’t be able to feed my baby” script is the best option. It’s difficult to say no to that one, so LW would increase their chances; it’s also great if LW gets a “no” at first to get the problem to the next authority; and it’s great if there are other people with the same problem to build on things being a bigger problem and taking that to the necessary authority. The “make an exception” route wouldn’t help for any of those cases, which are all not that improbable.

        In general, since assertiveness is so difficult for many of us, I think we sometimes end up taking ways to approach things that can be helpful if we’re learning to be more assertive or if we are in toxic environments. But in many other cases, specially in those in which we can and should start out by assuming we’re not in a toxic environment, those strategies can be misleading to the people we’re communicating with and counterproductive to learning to be assertive, compassionate and good communicators.

      • lunaeule said:

        I think the “this is a me quirk” is a good option to deescalate but not a good one if LW needs to escalate. The Captain said it very well in a comment down thread: You need arguments that help you go both directions because you can’t know in advance what will be necessary. Deescalating is important, specially in situations with power dynamics, but you also need to leave things open for escalation if it becomes necessary. The “I won’t be able to feed my baby” is a good example for one that will allow you to do both. I also think it’s possible to ask for a private room to pump without giving any explanations, specially if LW goes to someone other than the creepy boss. In a lot of situations you don’t need to give reasons when you ask for things. It leaves a lot of doors open for whatever happens next and is clear and simple.

        • lunaeule said:

          Sorry for the double post (it’s actually kind of about the same). I thought my comment got lost in moderation.

  17. ninyabruja said:

    has dh made inappropriate comments to the other female staff/students about their breasts?

    • JenniferP said:

      We don’t know.

      • H.Regalis said:

        LW’s boss can be curious about pumping all she wants (assuming that’s what her motivation is), but trying to stealth a demonstration out of someone, much less an employee since she is abusing the power dynamic between them, is not okay. I’m sorry this is happening, LW, and I hope your job’s HR stops this ASAP.

  18. Auntie Mam said:

    I read the LW’s question aloud to my husband because I was just in the mood to blow his mind. It worked. And then read Captain’s answer so we could both go on with our day. 🙂

  19. JessB said:

    I love the Captain’s script, and I would add that I think it might be worth doubling down on the “i really can’t be interrupted during this, it totally messes with my flow”, because it seems clear that she is of the opinion that a little pop-in or even a question through the door will be NBD.

    • JessB said:

      *wanted to clarify that I mean even after finding your new private space, it’s worth emphasizing that you are off the grid during pumping. As soon as she knows your location, I could see her just popping by to run things by you so you’d want to mention that the interruptions themselves are super disruptive to your pumping groove.

  20. Britpoptarts said:

    *shrieks of horror*

    I am admittedly very modest (won’t even let my mom intrude when a nurse is taking care of my sanitary needs in hospital) but not prudish (attended but did not participate in Nudity Not Violence art shows), and this still made the hair on my arms and neck stand straight up. I don’t even want to talk to people when I am in a stall in a communal bathroom. I don’t care how natural the activity is, or how “not bothered” by my partial nudity or natural activities someone else may be, *I* am bothered, and don’t give two figs whether someone else is not.

    *I* care! *I* am bothered! It is also my body and me doing the totally natural things that require no shame, and I am not, actually, ashamed at all. I just want to be left alone while I do them. In privacy. Alone. GO AWAY.

    I think we’d all see how inappropriate this scenario would be if the person pumping had a male boss saying and doing the exact same things. It’s not magically made appropriate by a switch to someone of a different gender.

    I can think of a dozen scenarios where the employee has to do something completely non-shameful but also wants to be left the fuck alone while they do those things. Someone checking their blood sugar or heart rate, or dealing with an ostomy, or checking to see if their menstrual equipment is still doing its work, adjusting a prosthesis, or any of a number of natural, human, necessary things DOES NOT NEED AN AUDIENCE. You don’t demonstrate how totally cool and supportive and at ease you are around people doing personal things by forcing your presence upon them without them asking you to do so. (And odds are they will not ask, because YOU DO NOT BELONG and are NOT PART OF THE PROCESS.)

    Wow. That was like a horror story. LW, you have my heartfelt sympathy. That crap is cray.

    • Nentuaby said:

      I’m an occasional nudist and this still made my skin crawl!

      It can’t be emphasized enough how sketchy her _active, concerted_ efforts to peek on OP’s body are. I would not let somebody who’s that determined to see my body catch a glimpse, even while being totally unconcerned about what a total rando might see.

  21. Serin said:

    It wouldn’t surprise me if the result of the intrusion was someone who was Never Able To Pump Again Without A Padlock. The human body is weird and sensitive.

    Best case scenario, the boss doesn’t know this and was too self-involved for it to occur to her that a person might have the breast equivalent of a shy bladder.

    But there’s a reason why pumping rooms have to be PRIVATE.

    Incidentally, I work for a giant corporation, and we have private meeting rooms that are designated as nursing rooms, but I didn’t find that out until I went into one of them because I had a migraine and then one of our new moms apologetically knocked on the door. I have sort of mixed feelings about the fact that this room wasn’t clearly marked as a pumping room, because on the one hand it resulted in me being rude without intending to, but on the other hand, it means that people who are going to be weird about pumping can’t find this room and lurk around outside it being rude on purpose.

  22. A Silver Spork said:

    Be warned that the department head might get all “we’re all women here so it’s okay” or “I’ve seen breasts before so it’s not a big deal” or “(something about body positivity used to shame you for being private about your breasts)”. Not a parent and have never nursed, but I’ve met this type before (my mother decided, after spending my entire childhood forcing me to pretend I am an ethereal being with nothing resembling a body, that she suddenly wanted to talk about menstruation and pregnancy and menopause with me, and then there were friends who wanted to talk about my body and my sex life, and one who even WENT THROUGH MY UNDERWEAR DRAWER because “I’ve seen panties and bras before so it’s okay”). She might accuse you of being prudish or old-fashioned or not comfortable with your body. One strategy you could use is to embrace it! *You* know that you’re not a Victorian grandmother and that you’re totally comfortable with exposed ankles (I assume, anyway), but you don’t have to prove it to a creepy, overbearing boss who thinks “boobies” is an appropriate word to use with her subordinates.

    Also, I’m very sorry you’re going through this. Something about pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding/pumping makes people who typically keep their creepy under control totally blow their lids.

  23. OP, this situation sounds excruciatingly uncomfortable for you. You should be able to pump in peace, for fuck sake!

    When I was pregnant and later breastfeeding, I was shocked to find out the extent to which people felt entitled to make comments and decisions about my pregnant or breastfeeding body. I mean, I had experienced sexual harassment for most of my life, but I guess I never thought that pregnancy harassment or breastfeeding harassment would be every bit as bad. Right around the time I started to look like I was really, unmistakably pregnant (I was carrying 1 baby, but looked like 3), folks started in with the touching and telling awful, scary childbirth stories. It seemed like they got off on trying to terrify a first time mom. WTF, people? But the worst were the creepy breastfeeding enthusiasts.

    Waiting in line at the grocery store, and Big Creepy Dude standing behind me says in a suuuper loud voice, “You need to make sure you breastfeed your baby!” Then, he launches into a breastfeeding monologue at top volume, all the while giving my rapidly expanding breasts a good looking over. This started a discussion among others waiting in line. All about my breasts and what I should be doing with them. I just stood there, seething in silence. I was just too fucking exhausted to even try to shut these people up.

    Once, a woman actually pulled my shirt and baby blanket apart so she could show everyone my feeding baby. She made sure to loudly tell me that I should be proud to feed my baby with the beautiful breasts God gave me. I was in a restaurant, and my baby was feeding while wrapped up in a blanket because the air conditioner was cranked up to arctic coldness. I fail to see why calling attention to herself as a breastfeeding supporter was more important than my baby’s ability to eat in peace and warmth. But I suppose the feelings of breastfeeding enthusiasts must be really important because I had to hear all about those feelings so.fucking.often.

    OP, I hope you are able to find a private, quiet place with a lock on the door. Jedi hugs (if you want) and a jedi fist bump of solidarity.

    • cavyherd said:

      There is a weird category of boundary fail around weird stuff. Thank all the powers, I’ve never had to endure the reproductive variant, but the version I’ve encountered goes like this: someone finds out I keep guinea pigs. Then, nineteen out of twenty people feel compelled (and it fully reads as a compulsion) to inform/inquire: “You Know What They Do In Peru.” Like, a) I wouldn’t know? And b) I’m fascinated with thinking about people eating my pets…?

      The sense I get (and TBF, I’ve experienced this from the inside) is that The Idea is so damn big that they just can’t keep it inside their brain, and Must Share. ::eyeroll::

      • Fucking hell. Why do people do that? No one needs to think about people eating their beloved pets, for fuck sake!
        Guinea pigs are super cute. I am sorry people are thoughtless jerks about them.

      • I would be the twentieth person. I would squeal and demand their names and pics of them.

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      Holy fucking shit.
      Utterly gobsmacked…

      People who don’t have functioning breasts or career in pediatrics and/or infant nutrition should never open their mouths about breastfeeding.
      And those who qualify should do so only when requested.

      Damn, that woman in the restaurant. Wonder what she’d have done if you’d pointed out that she had just committed sexual assault?

      • Yeah, I really wish I could say I kept my cool, or said something really witty. Instead, I think I tripped over my own tongue or something. My friend, the unfortunate witness to the Breastfeeding Warrior Shitshow, said I kindof yellmumbled (her word for it) something like, “Fuckinhellgoddammitfuckingbloodyfuckgetoffme!!!!” Like, all one word. And I grabbed the woman’s wrist and yanked it off of the blanket. Total lack of eloquence. Or coherence. My friend said I looked really “scary and unhinged” (her words again). And the people in the restaurant mostly just looked annoyed by my outburst.
        It was one of those moments where you think of the perfect thing to say, something cool and witty and badass, about 10 hours too late. *sighs*

        • For what it’s worth, I think your response was nigh perfect.

        • BigDogLittleCat said:

          To be honest, that probably would have been my reaction too. Without the mumbling part.

          Let’s hope that you were scary and unhinged enough to make the BWS leery of ever trying that stunt again.

    • Librarian of SHIELD said:

      I’ve had multiple fibroadenomas, and my doctor has told me I’m probably not going to be able to breastfeed if I ever have a baby. I’m cool with that. I’ve read the research, I know that formula will give any baby of mine all the nutrition they need. But I have to say, I’m kind of looking forward to the idea of responding to meddling breastfeeding enthusiasts with the sad, sorry tale of my cancer scare and the surgery that made it impossible for me to breastfeed and “why in the world would you bring up something so personal and potentially hurtful to a complete and utter stranger?” Because, while it’s not incredibly hurtful to me, several women I know treated their inability to breastfeed as a personal failure and it really, really hurt them when meddling strangers brought it up.

      • This is awesome. You are awesome.

        • I mean, turning the horrible and painful awfulness you went through into a kind of armor against boundary crushing assholes. You are strong and brilliant and made of awesome.

  24. emmelemm said:

    OK, this is a bit of a tangent, but bear with me. My partner is a lawyer who does, among other things, various types of discrimination claims. He had a case of a woman, who was Black, who was shopping in a shoe store around Christmas time. The store asked all patrons to put their bags up at the counter while shopping, which she did. Nonetheless, the (white) store manager pulled her aside, accused her of shoplifting, and detained her.

    During the part while she was “detained”, she was sitting on a chair in the front of the store, basically. I think they were waiting for a mall security officer to come search her, or I don’t know what being “detained” involved, but it was clear that if she left before whatever the store manager wanted to happen, the store manager would make things way worse.

    The problem: she had her infant with her. After she’d been sitting there over half a hour, the infant became very fussy, and she said, “It’s really time that I need to feed him. Can I at least go back into the store office or somewhere private (WHILE STILL BEING DETAINED) and feed him?” The store manager absolutely refused to take her into any more private space and said basically, “Just whip it out, who cares.”

    Aftermath of the incident: she came to my partner’s firm. She was WAY MORE upset about the breast feeding aspect than the “I was just clearly profiled because I was Black” aspect. And his firm is very much majority women, including a Black woman partner. All of them were MORE outraged about the breast feeding part of it than the profiling.

    In the end, she did get a small sum of money and some “retraining” for store managers out of it.

  25. Rosario Sindel said:

    I don’t see any need to mention flow, or mechanics or any other explanation. I’d stick with, “I need a room with a door that locks where I won’t be interrupted.” Full stop. It’s none of her business and an explanation seems like an invitation to talk about it.

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      THIS.

    • Erica said:

      I totally agree. I can also see how, in a practical “how do we get the intrusiveness to stop” way, it might make sense to say something about “I won’t be able to produce enough to feed my baby.” But on principle I hate it. We shouldn’t have to say, “My baby needs me to have privacy for this.” The fact that it might be more effective than saying, “I, a human being, want and deserve and require privacy regarding my own body,” is just another example of how subjugated our humanity is, whether to men or to our own (actual or hypothetical) offspring.

    • TootsNYC said:

      I agree. Don’t make it long, don’t justify, argue, defend or explain.

      “I need a room that’s much more private. And I don’t want to discuss this; I’m pretty private. That’s just the way I am.” >shrug<

  26. Molly Grue said:

    Okay. It took me a while to reattach my jaw! And I WORK in academia! (I have seen some shit. But not this.)

    Just like the LW’s right to privacy doesn’t depend on whether or not she *needs* it physically to make the pumping work, the intent of the department head doesn’t matter. This is sexual harassment. I don’t care if it comes from a supposedly “feminist” place (I kind of want to put more quote marks around that). NOTHING entitles her to look at your body!

    *waves hands around wildly*

    I think the Captain’s advice is great! But I thought this really needed to be said! With as many exclamation points as possible!

    • Saskia said:

      I completely agree with you, Molly Grue.

      It also doesn’t matter whether the department head consciously knew that LW would answer her whispered request to talk about Something Urgent due to the power imbalance.

      What DH did was unacceptable and it was harassment.

      I’m so furious on your behalf, LW, and I’m very sorry you were creeped upon by your DH.

  27. MedelaNeverPumpsInStyle said:

    I am a mom who works at a University who pumped for several months at work, with all the lack of dignity that entailed, and CA let me chime in on her first pass at this. My contributions were small because CA, as usual, cut to the heart of it

    I’m back to acknowledge a few comments.

    I get that LW doesn’t NEED to mention anything about the mechanics or flow. LW can choose her path and messaging, and maybe a hard pushback with I DESERVE PRIVACY FULL STOP is the best approach. However, if she intuits that a desire to be helpful (rather than a complete lack of boundaries or a thing for boobs) is what drove the behavior, then framing it this way could be effective. It makes the chair her ally; saying, “this is how you can help me.” The Chair has been handed a way to fulfill her role on Team Solidarity for Nursing Moms because now she knows that her team contribution includes protecting mom’s privacy while she pumps.

    I’ve often been in situations where law/regulations/decency/plain ol’ common sense would entitle me to make a firm, clear demand without apology or modification, but I finesse a different response because I think it will get me more of what I want in the short or long term.

    That said, it’s great LW has been getting multiple suggestions and I appreciate that people are affirming that it’s okay for her to demand what she should have gotten in the first place without plea or explanation. LW can decide how much psychology to apply as she takes the next steps forward–she knows the landcape of her workplace and the personalities involved.

    Enjoy that new baby, Mama!

    • JLR said:

      I agree. I’m not a mom or someone who has breastfed, but this person is her boss. If she wants a way to make this go smoothly for *her* by allowing her boss to save face, your suggested approach is a good one. Only the LW can know what tactic is likely to work best with this person. For many of us, advocating for ourselves with our boss without doing so in a way that lets that boss save face (at least to start with) is only going to make our work life harder. I don’t work in academia, but I do work in law, and your approach would definitely be the kind of thing I would do with my boss.

      If the LW’s boss doesn’t respect her boundaries after trying something like this first, then she can push back with just “I deserve privacy.” But sometimes people are (for perfectly valid reasons) uncomfortable starting with that kind of unpadded directness, and if they don’t have another option that is also direct and clear but *softer*, they won’t say anything at all. If the LW is like that, this is a good suggestion, and it’s good to offer it for any other readers who might feel that way.

      • JenniferP said:

        Thank you! Sometimes there is a difference between “what is owed” and “what works given the personalities.” Especially in a precarious employment situation. I want readers to be empowered to both strategically escalate situations and strategically de-escalate them (and know which is which). The hope is that this is a one-off weirdness in an otherwise constructive working relationship. If it’s not, the LW will be prepared/equipped to escalate. I do think reasons are generally for reasonable people and no more information needs to be volunteered, but if the boss tries the tack of “It wasn’t sexual, aren’t we all COMFORTABLE” having a face-saving reason at hand might help end the conversation sooner. We don’t have to perfect these interactions for ourselves or each other.

        • lunaeule said:

          You just said here so well what I was trying to say below (with way more words…). Thanks, Captain!

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      Good point. Thank you.

  28. MusicWithRocksIn said:

    I just got back from pumping at work when I read this, and was so very glad I didn’t read it before. I already have a deep, constant fear that someone is going to break through the two locks on the door accidentally when I’m pumping. Also I know a fire drill is coming up and I am deeply afraid that it will happen when I am in there and half naked and hooked up to a machine. Just… I am so sorry OP.

    • Britpoptarts said:

      I don’t know if this is feasible, but if you feel comfortable asking HR, and if it won’t make things worse, maybe asking for a general time when NOT to be pumping because of the fire alarm would be OK? So you know that [block of time] would be bad on [day], and can pump during a slightly different [block of time].

      (This may not be something you want to do, because being caught attached to a pump during a fire drill is less horrible than dealing with your HR people, and that’s OK, too. You know yourself best.)

    • Jen in Oregon said:

      Get a small rubber door stop and carry it in an outer pocket in your bag. The kind that will hold a door open will also keep it closed if you wedge it under the closed door then give in a little kick. (You shouldn’t HAVE to, but the peace of mind will be worth it. I keep one in my suitcase/carry on bag as well for hotel rooms.)

  29. Mo Nighean Òrail said:

    I’m sorry, I’m still scraping my jaw off the floor over this.

    I’m hoping that this is a very clumsy supportive gesture from the department head, but engineering circumstances to get a glimpse of the LW in the altogether is disconcerting to say the least.

    I nursed my two children for 18 months of their lives and I can confirm that feeding a baby from your breast shows far less than a pump displays. The nipple is hidden inside the child’s mouth and the child’s head obscures the rest of the breast. You can try a nursing cover or a cloth if you want, but once you have the knack of latching the baby on, nursing is quite discreet anyway.

    Pumping is a whole other ball game. I couldn’t get much out of using an electric pump myself so I could only use a drip catching Haakaa pump or a manually operated pump, both of which left me far more exposed than nursing ever did. And that’s just the physical appearance – there’s so much more to it as well.

    Best of luck LW. The scripts are great. I just hope this is cluelessness that’s easily remedied rather than something more sinister.

  30. AndTheRest said:

    I read the title of this post and immediately thought, “Oh my god. This is the most awkward of subjects I have ever seen on Captain Awkward’s blog.” Then I read the letter. OH… MY… GOD!

    I regard loudly and/or repeatedly proclaiming how “okay” and “accepting” one is about something to be at least a yellow flag, if not full-on red. People who are truly nonchalant about a thing act… well, nonchalant. Still, the dept head’s knowingly and intentionally interrupting LW in the lounge is beyond the pale.

    Public appropriation of pregnant people meets the dysfunctional behavior of academia… [sigh]. My solution for the latter would be 5-year contracts instead of tenure and no one who hasn’t worked for a minimum of 15 years in industry or government gets hired as a professor. As for the former, the best I can do is say something – perhaps loudly and obnoxiously – when I see something: “Hey, you! Did you get permission before you touched that belly?!” >:-(

    • I regard loudly and/or repeatedly proclaiming how “okay” and “accepting” one is about something to be at least a yellow flag, if not full-on red. People who are truly nonchalant about a thing act… well, nonchalant

      Yeah, this entire reaction reminded me VERY strongly of the weird way some people react when they find out I’m gay, usually after making an incorrect assumption. Usually something like:

      Them: What does your husband do?
      Me: Wife, actually. She’s a [her job].
      Them: Oh! *Proceeds to tell awkward story about knowing/being related to a gay person*

      If you made an inappropriate assumption, instead of being all weird and over-compensating at the person, just–try to not do it next time maybe instead of making it weird?

      • AndTheRest said:

        I hear you! Cis het white guilt is a thing, but there are better ways of dealing with it than pulling out references to the diverse people one knows and expecting someone else to assuage that guilt.

  31. Ayko said:

    Since it seems likely that finding a private room might take a few days if Admin/HR don’t have a ready-made solution, I think OP should also have a script in mind for the (inevitable?) Department Head intrusions in the meantime.

    “Oh, you can pump in my office, I’m cool with boobies!” can be met with “Well no, I’ll need privacy.”

    If someone is knocking on your locked door while you’re busy, just call through the door “I’m not available right now, but I’ll be done in X minutes.” Unless they’re telling you the building is on fire, you don’t need to unlock the door or let anyone in.

    Just don’t let anyone cross your boundaries. You have a right to privacy, and it’s reasonable to treat this as an obvious fact, because it is.

  32. Angelique said:

    My brain is forming the words ‘OK… Will YOU be naked too?…’ (in response to imagined invitation to expose breasts and pump things out of them and feel totally comfortable doing it, in front of a boss.)

    • That would probably give the chair some ideas.

  33. Been there done that said:

    OP, lots of sympathy to you and a big WTF to your dept chair, who is or ought to be well aware of the power dynamics involved and who is or ought to be well aware of sexual harassment laws and regs as they pertain to higher ed.

    I agree w the captains advice in general. HR is the right place to start for finding a private location for pumping. However, as soon as any of it goes sideways, you need to go see the university’s Title IX coordinator. HR’s job is to serve the needs and interests of the institution, not those of the employees. Your school may have a fabulous HR dept that’s super good at helping employees, or have individual folks working there who are great at this (mine really went to bet for me re FMLA and made my boss back off on some unreasonable requests), but remember that their job is ultimately not to help you with a possible sexual harassment or retaliation case. A good hr dept may intervene in such cases to help prevent s lawsuit for instance, but that doesn’t mean it will go your way. Especially if your dept chair has a reputation for supporting women at the university. You may also at that point want to contact the nearest EEOC office directly. Title IX office at the U should be operating independently but sometimes they get co-opted. Documentation, and keep it some place safe and away from campus.

  34. AnotherSarah said:

    Ugh. Solidarity, Letter Writer! When I was an adjunct, the prof supervising me wouldn’t stop talking about another adjunct’s pregnancy…recommending sex to spur labor…allllll sorts of stuff in the name of female solidarity, sticking it to the man (our dean, I guess, who was a man and didn’t get along with this prof), etc.

    We didn’t have an adjunct union and HR there was crap. It may be that there are already complaints about this prof, in which case, documenting will be very good indeed. (I’m kind of hoping you’re at the same place I was; if that were true I could assure you there were at least _my_ complaints about her documented.)

  35. Turquoise Dragon said:

    I was interviewing for a new job with a one-year-old baby and was still actively nursing and pumping. After I accepted the offer, I said to my male boss-to-be that I hadn’t brought it up before, but that I would need a private space to pump a few times a day. He verbally blinked (this was on the phone) and said that he’d work something out. I showed up for my first day, and one of the tiny conference rooms with no exterior windows now had an opaque plastic film on the glass door. It was really that simple, and worked great for as long as I needed it. This should not be hard!

  36. Kaos said:

    “Let’s have a brief pause so readers can manually reaffix our jaws back in our faces.”

    I read this sentence and realized that, why yes my mouth was literally hanging open in shock!

  37. Milking It said:

    As a pumping mother, this post hits home.

    Pumping at work is tough. There’s the physical aspect of it, where you have to undress, strap on a weird bra that feels ridiculous, assemble parts that attach in the oddest ways, try not to catch the tubing on everything around you, then endure the specifically awkward sensation of getting tweaked in a sensitive areas in one second intervals for twenty to thirty minutes. The emotional aspect can be equally difficult because pumping causes the hormones to kick in, but there’s no baby in your arms to close that positive feedback loop.

    It’s just you. And that “hfft psss” sound of the pump. And your phone. ‘

    And…for OP, that already awkward moment was compounded by the presence of her boss. I feel for her. That must have been awful.

    I tried to skim through the comments, but if I suggest a repeat, please forgive me. I have several suggestions, based on what worked for me, so your mileage may vary.
    1. Find a place (or places) for yourself. Talk to your maintenance worker. They know all the hidden closets, which is all you need. Buy your own chain. Get a door wedge. Get written permission from someone (not the dept head) so that you can claim that you thought you did the right thing. And the person in charge of the building/policy/whatever doesn’t have to do anything because you already solved your own problem so it increases the chances for them to rubber stamp approval. Yes, your workplace should have taken care of this, but OP’s safety and her supply won’t wait for multiple meetings for this to be fixed. She’s going to need a place to pump every 2-4 hours tomorrow.
    2. You could bring people in on this Pumping Boundaries Project. You could let it be known that you wear headphones to better stay “focused on your child” and cannot respond to anyone while in there. Some people will listen to special zen audio or baby videos, so this is not outside the realm of possibility. For my situation, I told people about the obviously SUPER ridiculous things that OTHER people would do and how it would have such a massive negative affect on my supply. They could continue learn about what’s ok and what’s inappropriate while feeling good about being supportive. And to be fair, nobody ever explained how deeply strange pumping was before I started, so it’s pretty reasonable to have some missteps (though the dept head went well past that).
    3. I grounded the Magical Mommy perception with the reality of breastmilk. It’s really messy. And it STINKS like, well, rotten milk. A strong let down can spray milk up to 2 feet (not that I was impressed and actually measured or anything) and it’s easy to knock over those dinky little plastic bottles when you are detaching from that elaborate getup described above. Nobody wants rotten milk on their keyboards and important paper!
    4. Give yourself permission to never open the door while pumping. It’s hard because, while at work, i often feel like I owe allegiance to my boss and my job. But producing food for your child is currently your chosen goal and it trumps everything else.
    5. This could be controversial, but if this situation makes you feel awful and you hate the idea of pumping because of it and you want to ween, then go for it. Do what makes you comfortable. There’s formula out there. Fed is best!

    OP, I am sorry that this happened to you. I hope you have time to snuggle your baby and take lots of naps.

    • Milking It said:

      This is what happens when I’m up too late. I get a lot of half baked ideas and use poorly explained examples(milk isn’t stinky at first, it gets everywhere and then becomes curdled). I honestly didn’t think this would be permitted to be posted because (in the cold light of the morning) it was way off the mark! As in, the OP only wanted ways to cope with her boss, so why was I even talking about closets? -facepalm- I guess it’s a live example of what exhaustion does.

      Alright, I’m just going to go back to my lurking corner and try to avoid commenting with less than 4 hours of sleep under my belt. Apologies all around.

      • JenniferP said:

        Hahaha sometimes your friendly moderator also clears comments out in the middle of the night. 😭❤️🤞🏻

    • Indie said:

      ‘Magical Mommy perception’ is such a perfect phrase!

  38. Perfectionist said:

    Oh my stars. I read this last night, and it disturbed me so greatly that I actually had a dream about it! (I’m also nursing and pump in the mornings to keep up a supply for when my husband is watching the baby so that I can work).

    This is not normal by any stretch of the imagination, so just adding to the nursing mom chorus to say: I find this deeply and viscerally disturbing, and I’m really sorry this happened to you!

  39. Allie said:

    I am a breastfeeding and pumping mom and I would 100% not be cool with this. I breastfeed in public find but pumping is just not something I want to do around other people. Some clear boundaries are in order. That was just not okay. Speak up but definitely take it up the ladder if she persists.

  40. SRB said:

    If your HR department doesn’t have a policy in place, and is a little clueless about how to handle this, NYC has a good law in place with a lot of useful employer guidance about how to meet the needs of pumping mothers, even if you’re not in NYC. I hope sharing this might help your situation if HR is not as helpful as you need them to be.
    https://www1.nyc.gov/site/cchr/law/lactation.page

  41. scrapworks said:

    Holy moly, is my skin crawling! What a bizarre harassment, and an awful thing to go through. I hope the LW can get the situation sorted out, ASAP. I’m also wondering if this particular boss isn’t already known to HR…

  42. Persia said:

    My read is the department chair is a creep on a Donald Trump scale. She is deliberately trying to intimidate the OP into exposing her breasts for everyone to see under the guise of being supportive. Ick.

    • Jen said:

      Yeah, Persia, I’m getting a very ick vibe off of this one as well. It’s not just men who can sexually harass people. I think creepy women–while much rarer–still exist, sadly.

  43. Taigh said:

    LW, does your university have a women’s advocacy group? I work with one at my university, and that might be a good group to interact with both in terms of this question and just as a resource. For example, if you didn’t want to go to HR personally, my group (which has a couple of currently nursing mothers in it, and several more whose kids are just out of that stage) would likely know places to pump around campus, and/or be willing to approach HR (and upper administration) on your behalf.

    • yeah, the two pumping rooms at my college that i know of (i am not a nursing mother, so i do not know if there are more places anywhere else that aren’t as well-labeled) are in the women and gender equity resource centers — it runs a lot of the feminist and lgbtqia+ stuff on my campus, and they have small private nursing rooms in the back. if your college has a center like that, they probably either know where places to pump on campus are or run them themselves.

  44. cwhfstl said:

    Speaking as someone in academics, academic folks can get amazingly weird. Though this is impressive even for academics-Yikes! Best of luck, LW.

  45. Clarry said:

    This letter reminds me of all the other times I’ve heard this bizarre argument.

    (Man speaking) I’ve seen women undress before so it’s okay if I see you undress.
    I was a nurse and have seen all sorts of medical things so it’s okay if I demand to be in the delivery room (uninvited) while you give birth. (Read that one in an advice column).

    They all boil down to: “Are YOU uncomfortable? But I’M totally comfortable, therefore it’s okay if I make you uncomfortable.” If you untangle this logic, it’s “Because, if you think about it, my comfort is the only thing that matters. To hell with you.”

  46. Nihil said:

    o______________________0

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