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  • Writer's pictureLiz Thomas

Mama, you don’t need to hide that pump

Credit: Clare Rothstein

I was nervous the first time I did it. Nervous and a little afraid.

Perhaps I was pushing too many boundaries?  I have no problems directly nursing my baby (#dropthecover) but pumping in public?

I worried it was too weird. I was worried it was unchartered territory.

But I was also fed up. Fed up of being directed to the bathroom, the storeroom, the conference room, or the stairwell. I was tired of this bizarre pumping jig – a sort of hokey pokey to gather the bottles, ice bag, and my trusty Spectra, and desperately step in and out of potentially suitable nooks or undisturbed areas to produce milk for my infant son.

And then Rachel McAdams and photographer Claire Rothstein did their thing in a shoot for Girls Girls Girls magazine. Suddenly, emblazoned across print, websites, television, and social media feeds, was a strong, working mother, embracing the reality of modern motherhood. She looked vibrant, she looked proud, she looked uncompromising, and her breast pumps were on full display.

She didn’t just normalise pumping, she glamorised it. 

I’m not normally influenced by celebrity behaviour, but seeing those pictures in full technicolour glory, made me think again about the importance of being the change you want to see in the world. And the importance of being visible.

Yes, pumping is weird. That strange distortion of your nipples, the steam train sound of it in action, and the sheer industrial nature of the equipment can be off-putting.

But pumping is also wonderful. It gives women a chance to earn money, to further hard-earned careers, and it can be a lifeline when direct nursing isn’t possible.

We live in a world where women often have to juggle work and motherhood, where maternity leave is still woefully inadequate and where caregiving is simultaneously vital and undervalued.

But if we aren’t more vocal, and more visible about what we are doing – it’s very hard to bring about change.

How can people appreciate the struggle if they can’t see it?

So much of motherhood – but particularly the nursing and pumping – has been hidden away for too long and it is doing us all a disservice. The more visible we are, the more we show the unvarnished reality of motherhood – nursing, pumping, pregnancy, labour – the less surprising, upsetting, or unsettling the hurdles will be for those coming next.

Many criticised Rachel McAdams’ shoot as unrealistic, but that really isn’t the point. The point is to remove the veil of secrecy and open the door for discussion.

And it’s already happening: her picture prompted debate across the world, her pictures prompted others to share their ‘real life’ pumping images, her picture made pumping mothers stand a little taller, and that is the catalyst for change.

Next month in Hong Kong sees the launch of #PumpItUp, a collective photo shoot inspired by that picture, where women from across the city will celebrate pumping, nursing, and extended breastfeeding in style. The aim is simple: to raise awareness about the realities of nursing, working and mothering.

The day after I saw the Rachel McAdams image, I started pumping at my desk.

I anticipated disgust and annoyance, but what I actually got was curiosity and a little awkwardness.

Within a month that too had subsided and it felt like it barely registered at all.

Today, two months on, I got my first ‘thank you’ for normalising it.

A small victory in the battle for women to reclaim their bodies, but a sweet one.

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