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On the intersection of the very professional and the very personal

Last week I took a brief trip to my alma grad school mater for a conference. It was strangely emotional–a combination of being separated from my babies, being in a familiar place but being a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PERSON from the one I was when I lived there, seeing old friends, and being full of anxiety about a) professional goals and b) the extremely intimate and personal necessity of whipping my breasts out every couple of hours to extract some precious, precious milk which then got poured down the drain instead of into the belly of my beloved infant.*

As I mentioned, I’d requested a meeting with a super big Bigwig in my field, really the biggest wig of them all. I knew there was a good chance the meeting wouldn’t happen because she’d be too busy, and because these meetings are actually rather hard to pull off. Conferences are chaotic, with few breaks during which networking can happen. And these breaks are also the only chance for addressing biological necessities like URINATION and consumption of calories. This leads to people elbowing each other in the face to get at the coffee and food (after being starved for several hours when talks go longer than they should) and then, when they get there, standing right in front of the food and coffee yakking, which makes it tough to approach a particular person, because he or she is often all the way on the other side of a wall of coffee-crazed academics. It’s like trying to meet with one shark in particular when someone has just thrown a big bucket of chopped up surfer parts into the water. Plus you really have to pee! And even if you make an advance plan with someone, some other jackass invariably pops up right as you’re setting out for your private meeting, and you have to either tell him (it’s always a HIM) to FUCK OFF BECAUSE I AM MEETING WITH BIGWIG! or wait for Bigwig to do this (and sometimes Bigwig will, but usually Bigwig won’t) or allow him to tag along, and somehow HIS fabulous research always ends up being the focus of the chat. Ahem. PLUS WHICH, the Bigwig I’d hope to meet with was one of the organizers, which meant she’d be extra super impossibly busy.

The added complication for me was needing to pump. Not being a crazy person, I made no effort to squeeze this in between talks, but just ditched certain items to attend to my breasts. I had my list of lactation stations on campus, and on Friday I used the one in my old building, which was…strange. Once I was an anxious, overwhelmed, poor, lonely grad student, now I’m a tenured, lactating professor. Wow. But I knew the building would be closed on Saturday. I could have used the bathroom in the conference venue. Except…I really just…couldn’t. I just couldn’t pump while sitting on a toilet in a tiny, rickety stall with a door that didn’t close very well and an endless procession of people coming and going. Not when I’d experienced the total luxury of sitting on the dirty floor of a single occupancy bathroom!**

So, on Saturday morning I found Bigwig and asked her if we could chat at lunch…………………….and if she could let me into my old building so I could pump.

I have to say, I am proud of myself for asking those things, given what a terrified mouse I used to be…but it ranks up there on the weirdness scale.

In the end, I did NOT have that lunch chat with Bigwig. It’s my own fault–I basically threw away the chance in favor of a chat with someone else, which ended up being pointless… But she did invite me to come give a talk, and I had a good set of other networking chats, planned and unplanned, and on the whole, it was a very successful (for me, considering how aimless and unproductive my conference attendance usually is) experience.

And then I came home to my family. THE END.




*OH MY GOD THE HEARTBREAKING WASTE, particularly considering that we were going to use up my entire freezer stash plus all the stuff I’d stored by adding lots of nipple-destroying pumping sessions for the previous two weeks while I was gone…

**Mediocre Institution is not nearly as fine or beautiful or well-endowed as my alma grad school mater, but I must say, we do pumping stations UP RIGHT. Places to SIT, for example.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. At the very least, you know that Bigwig will never forget the woman who once asked her to let her into a building so she could pump.

    Hurrah for being back home with adorable babies! I can only imagine how hard it must have been to dispose of that precious, precious fluid instead of using it for its intended purpose.

    March 20, 2013
  2. Conferences are a hell-storm of unpredictability. I basically hold no goals whilst attending and instead go for the “throw your card at anyone who will take it” approach. Imagine a “make it rain” situation, but with business cards. That’s how I roll.

    March 20, 2013
  3. you are by far my favourite tenured, lactating professors of all time.

    March 20, 2013
  4. Darling, I am amazed by your abilities to not only relate this, but actually to have gone through IT ALL before hand. Yourself. Hats off to you! And you pulled it off with Bigwig in the end. A-MAZED. I have been so fucking tired lately, and the boys have been either teething, or fighting naps, or god knows whatever else we have been dealing with on top of sodding viruses and germs, which on,y makes me say it again: you are amazing. And I agree with Sara, you have now made it impossible for Bigwig to ever forget you. Which you can now work in your favour. 🙂 Well done.

    March 20, 2013
  5. That’s why I have always preferred careers with conferences focused on a) the free tcotchkes, and b) the after-hours drinking. Because otherwise, there are things like networking and bigwigs to think about and that just sounds like too much pressure to me. Kudos to you for asking for what you needed, it’s not an easy thing. I bet those chubby little baby faces were a sight for sore eyes when you got home too. 😉

    March 20, 2013
  6. sounds much like my conference-going experience recently…scheduling pretty much everything around NEED TO PUMP AND DUMP, which was pretty horrifying, and yes, same situation with the used-up frozen stash. Lactating professors. Yup, that’s us.

    March 21, 2013
  7. So true about the jackasses. These must be the extroverted academics, or perhaps just the impervious jackass academics. Glad you had a successful conference experience! Next post please: Bunny’s tips for effective networking whilst one’s primary concern is the state of one’s hair/boobs/uterus (the hair and uterus being my concerns); or, how NOT to stand there like an idiot with a drink in your hand.

    March 21, 2013
  8. Ana #

    Ugh the conference pump & dump. Hated. But glad you got something useful professionally out of the whole deal. And I’m sure the reward at the end was so so so sweet!!!

    March 21, 2013
  9. I’m another one of your die-hard fans. Right there with Mina wondering how the hell you pull it off when I can barely get in a shower.

    The guys always seem to be the ones chatting up the bigwigs, so true, but somehow I don’t think they get to experience coming home to the little creatures quite the way that we lactaters do.

    March 21, 2013
  10. Misfit #

    I was fortunate to freeze briefly and checknfor the flight home. Dumping would have broken my heart.

    March 22, 2013
  11. SRB #

    I have only had to pump and dump once and I BAWLED MY FUCKING EYES OUT. Yep. Party dress hiked up to my neck pumping in an alley behind some closed up shops during a wedding. At least I was in the car?

    I like what Sara said above about making a lasting impression on the Bigwig. I think it speaks volumes about you in a super rad way.

    March 22, 2013

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