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November 2018 - President's Message
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President's Message - November

Heather Stern
WLALA President 2018-2019

As I “stand” (metaphorically speaking) on the precipice of hopefully bringing another healthy baby into this world (due November 1, 2018), I am “reminiscing” about my previous experiences trying to manage breast pumping and a full time caseload of litigation responsibilities.  Don’t worry – for those of you screaming “TMI,” I’m not going to talk about female anatomy, or the various apparatus or creams, or how to store and transport the end product, or the pain, discomfort, draining fatigue, and plain boredom of it all.  I’m just going to talk about having a place to do it.  Because, and I know this will come as a SHOCK, the world is not exactly arranged in a way that takes into account the needs of a working mother and her baby.

My previous experiences date back roughly two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half years ago, when I was breast pumping to feed my twin girls, who had been born four weeks premature and who never seemed to gain enough weight to quite satisfy the powers-that-be.  For those who have never had the pleasure, it’s important to breast pump at approximately regular intervals, because otherwise, among other things, you hurt.  So, whether you’re traveling to court or a client meeting, or attending an all-day trial or mediation, or taking a plane out of town for business, you are always hoping against hope for an ability to make an appropriately discrete exit, at a roughly regular time, for roughly a half-hour, to take care of this particular need, in a hopefully appropriate place.

One of my favorite experiences was breast pumping on the go as I traveled to San Jose for an appearance at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of California.  You have to picture a modern federal courthouse building, with an entrance staffed with somber-faced U.S. Marshals who demand I.D. and impersonally subject you and your belongings to a metal detector and other equipment designed to ensure you are not entering their world with unacceptable items.  This is a serious business. 

Now, this was an up-and-back in a day trip.  So, regardless of where I ended up doing the pumping, the bottom line was that I had to have my breast pump with me for the day as I traveled from house to airport, airport to airport, airport to courthouse, and back again.  I did not have the luxury of a hotel or an office or even a locker I could keep it in.  So, naturally, my pump was in my litigation bag.  

You also have to know, for purposes of this story, that my breast pump was a square box, clearly electronic in nature, with plastic tubes coming out of the top.  So, there I was, in front of a U.S. Marshal, with a square box in my bag that had a certain appearance that might be alarming, trying to enter a federal courthouse.  I don’t think I appear as a particularly threatening person normally, so I can remember the war of emotions on his face as he tried to assess me and my equipment as a threat, without the slightest clue as to what he was looking at.  I let him process those emotions.  I did not offer any explanation.  Why should I?  This is my normal. 

Finally, he asked, “what is that?”  I replied, in my driest of voices, “it’s my breast pump.”  A red flush seized his somber face, and he quickly shut my litigation bag as though to erase the memory.  I’m looking forward to my next visit there with my breast pump.  Maybe I’ll bring along a box of tampons too.

My other favorite story is from an all-day mediation I attended in San Francisco with a corporate client at one of the fancy modern offices of a professional ADR service that was charging us an outrageous sum to try to broker peace with a crazy person.  I checked in early in order to have a discrete moment to ask the receptionist if there was somewhere, anywhere, I could pump in private during the day.  Urban legend had led me to believe that sometimes, in fancy places that are supposed to be hip with the times, that I might be able to find one of these unicorns.  Unfortunately, the receptionist advised, no such room existed.  As I walked around the offices, I could see why.  Modern architecture, you see, has a fetish with frosted glass and a feeling of openness, not with the triple locked soundproofed sanitary broom closet I was hoping for.  She sheepishly offered me a small employees-only kitchen with no lock on the door.  I respectfully declined.

All morning I was waiting for the moment to arrive when I might leave my client alone for a half-hour to go to the bathroom to pump in a stall, without concern I would miss some parley or discussion that might keep the negotiation “process” flowing.  Finally, I thought that moment had arrived when we had a joint session with the mediator (a retired judge), followed by a longish sit-down with him on our own, culminating in the comment that there was a wonderful lunch of sandwiches and cookies we should go explore.  

I made an excuse to my client and exited with my litigation bag in tow, since that’s where I kept my breast pump.  As I was wheeling my litigation bag into the women’s restroom, the mediator came out of an office up ahead and stopped short.  “Are you leaving?” he asked.  “No,” I said, “I’m just going to the bathroom” (duh).  Then he commented, in a wonderful example of someone who apparently has no inner voice, “Boy you take a lot of things with you into the bathroom.” 

Now, I have a sense that there are some mediators who try to embarrass lawyers to deflate their egos (and inflate their own) as a means of trying to manipulate resolution.   Whether this particular mediator was engaging in that type of approach, or just plain insensitive and ignorant that a person might have a medical need requiring that person to take equipment into a bathroom, I’ll never know.  In any event, the case did not settle but I did successfully, if noisily, pump in the bathroom stall and later transport my “family fluids” back through TSA and home to my babies.

I remember pumping many times in bathroom stalls at the airport and wondering why no one had thought to create a nursing room at the airport when I really do see a lot of mothers traveling with babies.  Since then, I’ve seen a few airport terminals where small camper-like nursing pods have been plopped down in hallways in between gates, which is apparently the airport’s solution to this issue.  I’m really looking forward to checking out these alien artifacts.

Wish me luck!