Motherhood

No one told me motherhood would milk me in an airplane toilet

No one told me motherhood would milk me in an airplane toilet

“How accurately can I milk myself in this airplane bathroom sink?” is not a question I thought I would ask myself… ever. But at 32,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, there I was, my head bent over my breasts with a nipple in my hand, trying to figure out the best way to tilt my nipple into the miniature pelvis, like a Modern-day Pythagoras, with breasts.

The reason for my Nice spirit breastmilk moment was my first flight without a baby in 18 months and my first plane trip to work in over two years. I was flying to NYC from London to interview Venus Williams at a conference. I was jazzed. The flights were booked. The prospect of uninterrupted hours above the ocean with no wifi and nothing more than a stack of vanity lounges to get my attention was tempting.

Needless to say, it didn’t turn out the way I had dreamed.

The morning of the trip, I had a clear plan. The taxi picked me up at 5:30. I would dream of feeding the baby about 30 minutes before I leave, so that a) she doesn’t feel too cheated when mom isn’t around for breakfast, and b) I properly relax my breasts before the transatlantic trip .

But, when I snuck into her room, she was so beside herself—angelic in her crib—mum’s guilt hit hard. I didn’t have the heart to wake her, in case she didn’t go back to sleep, and I would really leave my husband with a grape fork on his hands. I already felt bad enough for being gone for 72 hours (ridiculous, but that’s a thing we do!) so I backed off and closed the door to his room. My boobs will be fine with a little light pumpingI said to myself in the taxi.

And at first everything went pretty well, even taking into account the added stress of traveling during the pandemic. I got through security in time, entered an airport lounge, and even prioritized feeding myself (mom’s huge win) a vegan breakfast plate. Besides feeling like I’m the mother of Alone at home – this frenetic state of constantly forgetting something (uh, my baby) – I was getting back into the rhythm of solo flight.

I used a few miles to haul myself up to the bounty, slipped into my seat with a glass of something vaguely fizzy and sighed with delight when the pilot gave us a flight estimate of about eight hours . Eight hours of uninterrupted “me” time. Good luck, I thought, as I plugged in my headphones, launched my Lizzo playlist, and began my collection of royal gossip rags.

But by the fifth hour, it was no longer the gossip that was ripe. It was me.

Missing my morning lactation had created a pair of breast monsters. I tried to ignore it, but that, combined with the altitude, engorged me to about the density of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pecs at his peak. And unlike all the insta-posts about getting great breasts while breastfeeding, at month 18 they don’t swell as much as they swell. Think less cup, more saucer.

I’m no scientist, but I guess part of the reason my boobs were so buoyant this late in the breastfeeding game was that our family had just gone through COVID-19 and I was breastfeeding my small what felt like eight times a day. So my breasts were full of Holstein Friesian udders.

Now, I’m not a total newbie. I expected to have to pump lightly during my trip and had a battery-free silicone portable breast pump hidden in my carry-on. It normally works like a charm. So I reached into the overhead locker, pulled out my mesh bag containing my pumping paraphernalia, and headed for the bathroom – trying to be as unobtrusive as possible.

I snuck into the tiny asses booth (literally – these booths are designed for people with miniature asses) and tried to sterilize the sink area with the hand sanitizer they gave me given in the “Welcome Aboard” pack. I set my pump down on the toilet counter and started stripping off the five layers I was wearing to battle the plane’s air conditioning. When my breasts were finally released, I sucked in my haakaa and waited for it to work its magic.

But something to do with my anxiety about having to try pumping and emptying the Himalayan size meant the suction pump wasn’t getting flow like I expected. I took the pump off and put it back on three times, but no dice.

Frankly, spending more than 20 minutes in the airplane bathroom is always a bit of a nervous proposition when your last name is even vaguely ethnic, let alone “Modarressy-Tehrani”. I had to speed things up.

So, in the middle of the transatlantic flight, I took matters into my own hands – literally – and started trying to hand milk myself in the tiny bathroom sink. The bathroom mirror has become a splash zone. The bathroom floor was already sticky, which as we all know is a given on any flight, no matter how short, so I didn’t feel so bad that I probably contributed a some way to that with a few errant drops of milk which I couldn’t get straight out. Looking at myself in the mirror, I realized I was a hot mom: an eye mask draped like a blindfold over my face, one breast in one hand, and a haakaa on the other.

Don’t get me wrong: my boobs are amazing. The female body is amazing. Nursing women have around 18 milk ducts, all of which help channel vital fluid for our babies. But unlike, say, a penis, there is no real ability to direct a singular jet stream at a target. So when you express by hand in an airport bathroom sink, it’s kind of like a shower head where the spray pattern is set to “random soak” mode. It was barely unlocked relaxation mode.

When I arrived at the conference, after two more episodes of manual expression in the hotel shower, I ran into a CEO who told me she had spent the morning pumping the toilet bowl of the hotel while looking at photos of her 12-month-old child. to try and get a steady flow, so she can spare her silk blouse from telltale leaks.

While we sympathized together, we agreed that what’s annoying is that moms make these kinds of equations everything time. We’re used to having to pump and dump in the wildest places, and we’ve learned not to take up too much space.

Modern society in America is all about the illusion of giving women space when you are pregnant. Expectant mothers are allowed to take up space in part because, well, we’re pretty visible. But this country is notoriously – now infamous – crap to let after pregnancy people take up space.

Imagine if moms drew airplanes. Instead of taking up valuable space on the plane with a swanky and rarely used bar exclusively for first-class passengers, there would be kid-friendly play mats and activity benches where they play, plush sofas where mums could squeeze in to breastfeed without having to be awkwardly cocked in a window seat with the baby’s head on one leg and the other leg trying to act as a shield so no passerby would be outraged, an area dedicated pumping station with outlets for battery-powered pumps, plenty of baby wipes on hand for any spills…Are you listening, Delta?

As I pile into another small bathroom to do all the song and dance again on the flight home from the conference, again shrinking in space to minimize the discomfort of others, I have to ask: why do we keep doing this?