What’s a nursing mom to do?

Cindy holds Madeline right after her birthWould you eat dinner that was cooked in a public bathroom?

How about a fried egg after someone just flushed a toilet? Or maybe a sandwich?

Most people would give a resounding “NO” to that question. It’s gross, right? And yet that’s what people expect babies to put up with when it’s chow time and their mom doesn’t feel like hiking up her shirt in front of thousands of people.

In Texas, nursing moms are legally allowed to feed their babies in any public place.

Unfortunately for me when I attended SXSWi, I did not have my baby with me.  It probably would have been easier had she been with me.  Then I might not have dealt with what I did.

I took my breast pump with me to the conference each day (I live in Austin), and when I arrived on day 1, I asked at the info booth if there was a room where I could sit and pump — not a bathroom, because that’s gross.  Using a breast pump is not very discreet, and it sounds like a milking machine.  I did not want to be out in a hallway.

They were very nice, asked a lot of people, then sent me to another info booth when they couldn’t find the answer.  Same thing at the next info booth — very nice and understanding, and told me a room was available beginning on Saturday at noon.  They even told me where it would be — Mezzanine 2 in the Convention Center.

Cool.  I was jazzed.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t true.  On Saturday at noon, I trooped up to Mezzanine 2 to find a door that said it was under “lockdown,” and watched a staffer walk in.  I glanced inside for a moment to see several people staring at computer screens.  Dumbfounded, I searched out an info desk again to ask.

Again, the volunteers were very nice, but they couldn’t find the answer.  One even offered to walk with me back up to the room to ask what was going on.  Inside, we found a very busy SXSW production room with staffers who had no idea what I was asking about.  One staffer offered to find out.  He called and then ran down to find someone who could answer my question — was there a room where I could pump in private?

The answer: No.  Apparently there had been a room in 2010, but not this year.  And then the staffer told me he knew of a one-room handicapped bathroom where I could pump.

“Is that OK?” he asked.

“Do I have a choice?” I replied.

I was angry.  I was annoyed.  I had wasted so much time and missed a panel session in search of this phantom room.  I tweeted my frustration:

Dear #sxswi: really? No room for nursing moms? I have to use a bathroom? You suck. Really. Thanks.

Then, after fighting through a crowd to find the bathroom, I discovered it was locked:

So the “single” bathroom I was directed to is locked and no sound inside. Hmmm… Stall or car? #thissucks #sxswi

And that’s when I went to my car.

My friends tweeted about my experience, and I even talked to a SXSW staffer at the Digital Moms Meetup who seemed very sympathetic to my predicament.  The next day I got this response:

@cindybrummer Not sure who you talked to, but we very much support breastfeeding in public here at SXSW. (Many (cont) http://tl.gd/98qhie

I felt embarrassed when I saw it.  Had I really thought they were keeping me from doing my thing?  I just wanted to crawl in a hole.  But then, later that day, as I made the trek to my car — in the heat — to pump, I started to wonder whether SXSWi misunderstood what I was asking for.  So I sent a direct message — since that seemed to be the only way to get a response.

sxsw: So, is there going to be a room available for me to use my breast pump? I’d like to not use my car mon and tues…

Crickets.

I heard nothing.  I took it as a huge no, and I quietly went about my business.  I made it work in my car, trying not to feel entitled to a precious room, but still feeling the sting that some mother last year was allowed privacy to nurse or pump in air conditioning.

I tried to be positive — at least I was parked close by.  And at least I only had to miss two panels a day.  And at least I didn’t have to lug around my pump.  Still, I can’t imagine what I would have done if I had taken the MetroRail instead of driven.  I guess I would have used a bathroom stall.

Gross.

Should I have made a bigger fuss?  That’s not really me.  I didn’t want to go to bat over a breast pump.  And I don’t want people to think I felt like SXSWi should have set aside a giant room just for me.  But it steams me the amount of conflicting information I received and how much time I wasted trying to seek out that information.  If I had learned on Friday that there would be no room, I would have been disappointed and moved on, rather than spending so much time getting to the bottom of it.  And yes, it sucks that last year there was a room, but not this year.

It won’t be a problem for me for SXSWi 2012.  I don’t plan on breastfeeding that long, but if you’re a nursing mom who’s planning to go — be aware!  If you’re like me and you like being discreet, it might be easier for you to just bring your baby.

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