Moo is now eating Annabel Karmel out of house and home. I expect that my milk supply will have dropped accordingly and am pretty excited about working in Portugal without having to fit in four-hourly pumpings. I also think that I am really clever to have timed flights to get me there, back and job done within 48 hours.
I take hand luggage only, toothbrush, knickers, top, breast-pump, laptop, Kindle, selection of wires and plugs. As I am being frisked at the security check I see the tray with my electrical items roll along the conveyor belt, it is not followed by my handbag. I turn to find out what’s happening and feel my cheeks start to burn as two security guards untangle the knickers from around the handle of my manual pump. Exchanging confused glances they conclude that whatever the strange contraption is, I’m more likely to be a deviant than a terrorist.
Six hours on and I’m in my hotel room. I plan an hour of expressing in bed, feet up, Portuguese music TV and whatever the mini-bar has to offer. Ten minutes in and the phone rings. “We are downstairs. We asked at reception, they said you were here, we’ve booked a table for food, we can’t wait to meet you!”
After a lopsided supper I finish off in the shower.
Work goes well but my hosts are ever present and the bathroom facilities are basic. I decide to hold out until lunch and search for a comfortable loo in the restaurant. I finish my food quickly, I make my excuses, I find the toilets. A unisex bathroom with two cubicles. Cubicles with doors. Cubicles with frosted glass doors. I reason that if i can just do five minutes each side to release the pressure I can probably make it through to 5 o’clock and then, um, continue pumping in the airport. A man is holding open the door between the restaurant and the toilets and having a conversation with a woman washing her hands. I know this because I have just realised that the cubicle doors are low enough to see over whilst you are sitting on the loo.
We arrive back at Paddington with an hour to kill before the train home. Breast-milk can be stored at room temperature for up to six hours so this is my first chance to save some. The platform 1 toilets, baby change and showers are closed and I am directed to platform 12. The baby change is in the accessible (disabled) toilet, you need a radar key to get in. I pay my 30p to get through to the toilets. The shower rooms are both locked, the toilets have no lids. Looking like someone with an obsessive cleanliness disorder I wash my hands then use paper towels to open and close the cubicle door. Standing with my back to the door and without touching anything other than my sterile pump and milk storage bags I half fill one bag. I’m cursing Isambard Kingdom Brunel for designing a station without a dedicated feeding room. I swap sides. For a moment I am confused that nothing much is happening, then I realise that the entire left side of my vest-top is dripping.
I get home at a quarter to midnight, Moo is fast asleep, I have an overwhelming urge to lick her. I let her sleep a while longer and take some fenugreek.
I wake up in a wet patch with one boob resembling a grapefruit.
Our meeting is in the conference room three doors down the hallway so the day goes well, every time there is a coffee break or a bit of the meeting I have no interest in I pop to my room for ten minutes. I use the top half of a hand pump on one side and hand express the other simultaneously into the sink then swap sides. I manage to do this every two hours, it feels sustainable and apart from a slight feeling of resentment that I’m throwing away milk, I am happy.
In the evening we go to a restaurant, there’s a table for twenty and no chance of positioning myself where I can slip away, I decide to hold out until I get back to my room and enjoy the evening. Our host places a large plastic water bottle on the table and hands around glasses, the contents smell like nail varnish and taste of burning.
My colleague had arranged to meet friends and I join them for a few beers, we end up in a bar with the description “artists’ loft”. The walls are decorated with cartoons and people are smoking.
I glance at my watch and realise that it is six hours since I last expressed so I wobble off. I find myself in a unisex toilet with no loo roll and two cantaloupes which are threatening to go Katy Perry.
Now, I realise that people I know may be reading this so I’ve weighed up the pros and cons of never being able to look anyone in the eye again versus giving a no nonsense description of working whilst continuing to breastfeed. The greater good has won out, you may wish to skip the next paragraph.
I need to somehow remove the mik without spilling it on my clothes, this would be easier if the cubicle would keep still. I can only think of one possible solution. I use the ‘C hold’ they taught me on the maternity ward and suck. This is a new personal low. It gets worse. Now that I’ve gone down this road I have to make some quick decisions. I’m allergic to cow’s milk but my let-down has kicked in so if I unlatch to spit it out, I risk making the mess I set out to avoid in the first place. I decide that a wet top is preferable to a dose of the squits. I need another beer.
15 minutes before boarding the plane from Heathrow and the ladies toilets in the business lounge is finally vacant. I close the lid, wash my hands, sit down and begin hand expressing into some tissue. Five minutes in and someone is knocking at the door. I put myself away and looking somewhat dishevelled return to the lounge. The lady waiting looks me up and down but it is nothing compared to the glare she gives me as I head back to the toilet when she vacates it.
Next stop Munich. There are indoor smoking rooms with comfy chairs, ash trays and tropical fish on a video loop. I spot a baby bottle symbol but the signs lead me to the disabled loo. At this point I think I’d rather take up smoking.
Another flight and we finally reach our hotel, 13 hours travelling and 14 and a half hours since I last fed Moo. I retrieve the hand pump from my suitcase and relieve myself all over the hotel bathroom sink. At least I can have a guilt-free beer tonight!
On the train from Cardiff to Paddington I hide behind my laptop and immerse myself in editing the book we’ve been working on for over a year. It’s getting on for four hours since I fed my baby so I excuse myself and go to the loo. It’s pretty filthy in there so I stuff a handfull of tissues down my bra and go back to my seat. I carry on with the editing only now I rustle with every new paragraph.
I can’t see an obvious place in Paddington so making a mental note to find a baby feeding room on the way home I hold out for the next train. It’s a good choice, the toilets are clean and spacious, soothing music is playing and everything is a pleasing shade of purple.
Yes, it was good to express on the Heathrow Express!
Rushing about trying to find a comb I explain to Roo that she has to be good and look after her baby sister while I’m away, I list the people she’s due to be entertained by over the next four days. She’s singing loudly and trying to jump up and down on the bed, Moo is lying next to her having her nappy changed. “Haven’t you explained to her that you’re going?”
I have two minutes before I need to be out of the front door and I’m looking forward to walking across town, alone. I lean over, blowing kisses and it hits me. What if that was the last time? That last rushed 7am half asleep feed, rudely interrupted by me popping a finger in her mouth and bundling her into the crib so I could go have a wee.
I blink back tears and grab my case.
I’d been counting the days to this trip since I found out I was pregnant, this was the end of my maternity leave.
I work from home for an e-learning business, I’m very lucky in that I get to choose my own hours, I don’t have to wash or dress for meetings and I can do most things with a baby attached to my boob. Most things, except for meetings in Romania.
With the exception of a night out, a hair appointment and an interview, Moo has been exclusively breast-fed. She’s just five months old and I’m leaving her with Dadi and lots of cartons of formula. I’m a trained breast-feeding peer-support worker, if I had asked myself for information I’d have told myself that I could express a little every day and freeze it in preparation but I’ll be honest, I really hate expressing. Yet here I go traipsing across Europe with a hand-pump.