Pumping adventures on the way to Mozambique

By Tara Haelle | October 26, 2014 | Mozambique

Remember the International Reporting Project (IRP) fellowship I said I had received to travel to Mozambique and report on child health and immunizations? Well, I’ve been here just under two days and have had the pleasure of meeting all the other awesome colleagues I’ll be working alongside. Tomorrow will be our first official set of program events, and I’m already excited to learn more about the country and the stories I can tell. Expect to see a number of updates about the trip from me here over the next two weeks, starting with today!

The trip over here was relatively uneventful, but catching four flights over two days was grueling: Peoria to Chicago to DC to Addis Ababa to Maputo. The trickiest part for me, though, was pumping. My husband, mother-in-law and mother are taking care of my 4-year-old and 7-month-old while I’m here, but I want to be able to continue nursing when I return, so I’m traveling with — ready for this? — four breast pumps. Yes, four. I have one fantastic hospital-grade Medela Lactina Electric Plus, for which I had to buy a converter since it’s 120V input only. But boy can that sucker pump well! I’m incredibly grateful to my lactation consultant, Kathy Ireland at OSF Breastfeeding Resource Center, for setting me up with it.

Then I brought two Ameda Purely Yours pumps because one is several years old and was much used, but the brand new one was acting up. I brought both because there may be times I’m without access to electricity (or when we’re out in the field for many hours), and both can operate on AA batteries. Of course, neither pumps very well, and I didn’t trust either one — hence bringing both. And then I brought a Medela hand pump. Just in case. Yea, I suppose I’m taking this preserve-my-milk-supply thing pretty seriously, but it’s important to me to be able to continue nursing my youngest through 1 year, and this trip is personally and professionally important to me, so this is as close as it gets to working moms’ “having it all,” I suppose.

However, I’m going to be tweaking my pumping schedule on an ongoing, as-needed basis, which started right away. I flew to DC via Chicago on Thursday afternoon and pumped that evening, but I didn’t get up early enough to pump before leaving for the airport the following morning. I left at 7am for an 11:15am flight, and Dulles was an hour from where I was staying. Seems reasonable, right? Well, the drive took over an hour, then check-in took WELL over an hour (long enough for me to write a whole story on my iPhone), then there was security, then there was catching the train to my gate, and then I finally arrived at the gate… a few minutes before boarding began. No time to pump.

So, I boarded and asked the flight attendants for help in finding an outlet. None in the bathroom. None in the seat (even though this was a Dreamliner). The only place there were outlets was beside an emergency exit door in the aisle. So with the help of the flight attendant, I sat in the jump seat, plugged in the pump and got set up. And then I proceeded to pump in the aisle of the plane while boarding continued. Good times. The woman in the row across from the jump seat was a nurse and was very sweet and helpful. When she pointed out that my container was overflowing, I realized I only had one choice if I wanted to continue pumping (and I had to given how long the flight would be and how long I’d already gone), so I disposed of the milk in the only reasonable way I could right there, and then I continued.

So, that was a couple of firsts wrapped into one. However, I have to say I was incredibly impressed with how understanding, helpful and accommodating the Ethiopian flight attendant women were. Three of them helped at various times, and several checked on me throughout the flight. I wonder if American airline flight attendants would have been as accommodating. For the rest of the 12-hour flight, I pumped just two more times because the battery operated Amedas (the outlets didn’t work in flight) were lousy, and it was super cramped to be standing in the plane bathroom for 20-25 minutes. Then I briefly pumped with the Ameda in the Addis Ababa airport “bathroom,” which I put in quotes because it was a plywood makeshift area encircling one stall and two portable sinks. I stood there as a long line of women used the restroom, some asking me about my baby and where he was, some looking surprised, some confused, some shaking their head (I’m not sure why, but I think it was in sympathy). Needless to say, I was grateful for that 5-hour flight to end and finally arrive at the hotel.

Since arriving, things have gone a bit more smoothly. We had a luncheon today with all the fellows, and it’s quite an incredible bunch we have here, each with diverse backgrounds, experiences and reporting interests. (Seriously, check out everyone’s bio! And follow us on Twitter with the hashtag #IRPfellows!) I’m already getting excited about reporting by talking to them, and I was relieved to hear some of them express some of the same anxiety I had about really making this trip count by finding and reporting on some good stories. (However, I already have some ideas I’m looking forward to pursuing.) I’ve also been especially thrilled to meet fellow Chrysula Winegar, also a mom and a blogger, who works with the UN on issues related to health and motherhood. She and I hit it off right away, and it’s nice to have another mom on the trip who “gets” what it’s like to be pumping and leaving the kids behind.

And, speaking of mothers, that’s a perfect transition to the piece of art that captured my heart today, the one in the photo above of a big, strong mother wearing her baby and carrying a book. This sculpture sits outside an art museum in Maputo, the country’s capital, through which we took a walking tour today. Seriously, what could be more perfect than that? Strength, pride, defiance, love, motherhood, education, learning… It’s such a lovely sculpture, and the kind I’d love to see outside an art museum in the U.S. The other piece of art I appreciated so much will be in my next post.

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