My second daughter was born three months premature, and the nurses immediately rolled in a breast pump and told me to get to work. While my precious baby girl spent the next two months growing in the neonatal intensive care unit, I went home and diligently pumped milk to bring back to the hospital every day. Breast pumping wasn't a choice; it was the one thing I could really do for my daughter and I did so gladly.
When I returned to the office, where I worked as a director of sales and marketing, I needed to keep up production of that lifesaving elixir. Privacy was hard to come by: Our offices had floor-to-ceiling glass panels next to each door. So I went to the local big box store and purchased a simple spring rod and floor length curtain. The selection was thin; what was important was the opacity and the size, so I ended up with an ugly maroon and gold plaid curtain.
It did the trick. Two or three times each day I closed the curtain, shut my door and stayed productive—in every way. It didn't take long for everyone to know what the closed curtain meant and my colleagues respected my privacy when it was needed. My assistant tells me that one time she saw the president of our company about to barge in while the curtain was closed. He had his hand on the door latch when she shouted, "I wouldn't go in there right now if I were you."
I never thought about that plaid curtain as a feminist statement. I was just a mother determined to help my baby grow. And I wasn't the first mother who had to pump breast milk in the office. But I was one of the first mothers in a leadership role to do it so openly.
When I was done with the curtain I passed it on to the next mother. As the years passed, walking around the office you could see that ugly plaid curtain switch from window to window. My baby is a beautiful 12-year-old now. I was promoted to vice president and eventually became head of our location, overseeing a couple hundred staff members.
When we renegotiated our lease I was proud that we added a "New Mother's Room" with a good chair, a refrigerator, a sink—and no glass panel. I've been told that the room is private and convenient and appreciated. But every once in a while, I see a spring rod and a curtain up in an office. The ugly old plaid is long gone and now replaced by some equally ugly curtain, but I smile every time I see it. The curtain is a symbol of women working on their own terms; having our co-workers accept and respect our need to meet both work and family obligations; and a personal declaration that "I'm a working mother; get over it."
I've been blessed and have had several successes, but when I reflect on my accomplishments, hanging that curtain is probably one of the most impactful things I've ever done.