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April 26, 2015 / 7 Iyar, 5775
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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

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Coping With On-The-Job Frustration

 

Dear Rachel,

As a devoted reader of Chronicles, I must say that what I enjoy most about your column is its frank, outspoken style. Somehow you’ve managed to take on sensitive topics without making the reader squirm with discomfort. Over the years I’ve seen you deal with problems concerning marital infidelities, child abuse, the gay issue, mental depression, infertility, etc., among other ills that plague our communities, in a dignified and forthright manner.

You’ve also written about women in the workplace, but I’ve yet to read of nursing women in the workplace. Here’s my dilemma: For well over a decade now I’ve held an important position in a large government-affiliated office for a high-ranking official. I started working there in my single years and eventually got married and started a family.

I’ve always been diligent in my attendance and worked through nine months of pregnancy, virtually until going into labor. Though I could technically apply for a maternity leave of absence of up to one year, I have consistently opted for a more reasonable three months, in the interest of not wishing to create undue hardship for my boss. And needless to say, my paycheck comes in handy. (For the record, maternity leave is unpaid leave; vacation and sick days run out in no time.)

As a nursing mother, I am left with one alternative: to pump and store my milk during the day/working hours. No, my place does not provide a baby-sitting service, and no, I did not insist on nursing on the job. All I respectfully asked for was two breaks a day and a room to accommodate my need. Thank G-d portable machines with all the vital gadgets to keep the pumped milk fresh are widely available in this day and age.

Our floor has a public restroom, public meaning for non-employees who come and go during the course of the day. Not practical for my need, and not suitably sanitary. We have a small restroom for our office staff, or I can make use of the facilities on other floors – which would mean infringing on personnel not associated with us, as well as wasted time commuting.

Our staff restroom does the job (it has an electrical outlet and a window sill on which to rest my knapsack) and I let my co-workers know beforehand that I will be occupying it for a half hour or so. Not that I must announce it, but out of decency I alert them so they can opt to use it before I lock myself in, and of-course in this way I assure myself complete privacy without disruption.

At this point I should divulge that my boss is an Orthodox Jewish male. Since he is heavily reliant on me, I need to let him know when I will be inaccessible. This is not a big deal; we are all mature adults and as a married man with grown children, he knows about these things.

And still, I can’t count how many times he has berated me for not being around or for taking so long. He either had a sudden need of the facilities when they were “occupied,” or something important came up and I put him on the spot by not being available to him. The situation improved to some degree when I recently finagled access to a conference-like room seldom in use. In this way, the restroom remains accessible to my boss who for some reason manages to need it just when I’m in there.

Like I said, this has eased a bit of the tension. However, lately my boss has taken to teasing me relentlessly about my “extracurricular” activity. As the day winds down and most of the staff have already gone (he has a very demanding position with an inordinately grueling itinerary), he often sits down and gets into amiable chat-mode (contrary to his hard-hitting persona during working hours). The other day when he complained to me about a difficult employee who is always in need of something, he managed to quip: “Need this, need that, need to pump…”

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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