Welcome to the latest edition of “The Faces of Pumping & Working” where we learn about the triumphs and challenges of the increasing number of women working to both provide breast milk for their own child(ren) while also contributing their unique skills to the paid workforce. Today’s post is about Megan Hopkins Sokorai, owner of And Here We Are (and-hereweare.com), a rad print shop, stationery and gift company based in Columbus, Ohio. Meghan walks us through what it was like to be the boss, working in a not so private open space when you need to pump breast milk. She also gives a glimpse into the art of fitting pumping in when your profession requires you to be up and moving all day. At Proud Ounces, we have a special love for Meghan as she created our amazing brand designs (while pumping!).
I, Meghan Hopkins Sokorai, pumped breast milk to feed my own baby while running my own letterpress printing and design studio.
Did you set any breastfeeding goals for yourself before returning to work?
I hoped to produce and store enough milk to feed my daughter each day.
Can you give us an idea of what your physical workspace was like?
We work out of a 1,000 square foot industrial studio filled with printing presses, a stock room, a packaging area and our workspace. It's a great space to work but less ideal for pumping privacy. My desk is in the middle of the open space so I have absolutely zero privacy if any of my assistants or employees are in the studio with me. At the time my daughter was born, I had 2-3 employees working with me most days.
How did you identify a space for pumping? Was it easy to accomplish this considering you own the business?
Since I'm the boss, I didn't have to worry about employer policies or expectations, but I felt a need to be mindful of my employees' comfort levels. To me that meant not pumping at my very public desk when others were present. We hadn’t had a reason yet to identify a designated lactation space in our large, open studio so I opted to “make it work” by finding a few options that could serve as private pumping space. I pumped in my car on the way to and from work and in the closet or restroom at work. I also occasionally did choose to pump at my desk only when I was working alone or in front of one employee who had told me she was comfortable with it.
Tell us about the most challenging moments that stick in your mind when you think about the experience of pumping during that time.
For me it was definitely about the schedule. I'm often on my feet all day printing, so it was both a blessing and a curse to be forced to sit and pump every few hours. Also, lugging around the pumping equipment and milk every day was difficult, I can't tell you how often I completely forgot a whole day’s worth of milk in the fridge and had to turn back around for it.
How was the actual experience of breastfeeding/pumping & working different from what you anticipated?
I worked out of a home studio with my first baby and had a part-time nanny, so I usually just took breaks and fed him myself. Now I work out of the house and our children go to a daycare facility, so the process was totally different with my second child. Even though this was my second time breastfeeding (and pumping), it was my first time pumping every day and sending a baby to daycare with bottles. I don't know what I anticipated, but I definitely didn’t plan for the amount of work and planning it would entail, carrying supplies and milk back and forth, cleaning pump parts and bottles every night, finding comfortable and private places to pump or breastfeed, etc.
Did you ever feel that you had to choose between breastfeeding/pumping and work responsibilities?
My work and day to day life doesn’t involve much sitting still. I’m usually on my feet printing, running around, packing orders or helping my assistants (not to mention being mom to a busy toddler at home) so stopping that momentum to pump required a deliberate break in the flow of my day. I often had to shift my printing schedule to make room for pumping. Being forced to sit and feed or pump was hard for me but I also found that it was kind of nice to force myself to take a break.
Did you feel comfortable being 100% open and honest with your employees about your breastfeeding/pumping needs?
No, I didn't. I think it had a lot to do with the employer-employee relationship; I was hyper aware of not making them feel uncomfortable or weird about it, and I wasn't fully sure that they would be truthful if I had asked if they were okay with it.
What type of support could have improved your breastfeeding and working experience?
I would love it if our society as a whole was more educated and open minded about the concept of breastfeeding and pumping. Our team is really great and open but I still felt embarrassed about the idea of pumping in front of them, whether it was because they actually held judgement or I'd internalized more societal shame around it than I'd like to admit. I was not ever ashamed of breastfeeding in public, but attaching my breasts to a machine in the middle of the office felt so much stranger.
Did you end up hitting the goal you had set for yourself prior to returning to work?
At first I produced more than enough to feed my daughter each day as I had hoped, but as time went on, my supply dwindled and we eventually added some formula in addition to breast milk.
What was your proudest pumping & working moment?
When I figured out how to pump while driving. : )
Is there anything you would want to say to a new mom just starting her pumping & working journey?
Whether intentionally or not, you are a part of the movement of normalizing and celebrating pumping and breastfeeding, thank you!