How annoying it was to write “Lactate Like a Champion Today”

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

Last week, I published a post on where you can nurse or pump in private on game day at the University of Notre Dame. Along with that post comes a story.

I initially thought that would be a quick and easy blog post to write. To give you a sense of how wrong I was, that was at the beginning of August, and the post came out in mid-October.

The process of writing the post:

– started with me losing some faith in my University at large,

– finished with me gaining a lot of respect for our Gameday Operations folks,

– and involved several hours of phone calls, emails, and requests to committees, only one of which actually mattered in the end.

I tried to prevent the original post from becoming one of those blog posts where you scroll past the author’s entire life story just looking for the recipe. But I’ve realized that I want to share the details of the story behind the post with you. It’s important to show how difficult it can be even for one nursing and pumping mom (me), who has a ton of resources, to find the resources she wants – specifically, a private place for lactation that isn’t a bathroom (after all, would you want your food prepared on a public toilet?). So buckle your seatbelts. Here we go.

I started my search for a lactation space as I start anything: by turning to Google.

I quickly found the info on where to pump in the stadium while the stadium is open (all listed in the original post). Also, the Gameday website specifically lists that pumps are allowed to be brought into the stadium though many other larger items are prohibited. I was glad to see that information.

But things started to get confusing pretty quickly from there.

First, as you might have picked up from my original post, one of the two lactation rooms (Corbett E469) is shrouded in mystery. No one I’d talked to has actually ever seen it. I couldn’t find a way to get access to it, even on a non-gameday. (UPDATE: a friend of mine got in! You can read her thoughts on it here.)

The other lactation room (Duncan W211) was really easy to find, get access to, and use. I was impressed that the front desk worker at Duncan knew exactly what I was talking about and how to give me what I needed to access the room.

I am disappointed that there isn’t a way to still be involved in the game if you’re using that lactation room (no radio, no television). So if you do need to take a pumping or nursing break during the game, you are removing yourself from the atmosphere entirely. Still, it’s a nice room and easy to find.

But here’s the biggest problem: these rooms are only available two hours before the game and during the game.

Where can you pump before the game? Or if you don’t go to the game?

I had to know. After all, say it’s a 2:30pm afternoon game (as compared to a 3:30pm afternoon game or a 7:30pm night game). That still means that from 8am, when tailgating really kicks off, to 12:30pm, when the stadium opens, the Duncan and mysterious Corbett lactation rooms aren’t available. And any parent of a newborn can tell you that four and a half hours is a long stretch for a baby to go without feeding. (Actually, my 16-month-old would tell you the same thing about toddlers if she could say that many words.)

Let alone if it’s a later game. Going from 8am to 5:30pm without a lactation space? Yikes.

Keep in mind that tailgating before the game is a massive part of ND culture, and a part that I love. I go on campus to tailgate almost every game, even though I haven’t had season tickets since 2017 (I got vomited on – in the grad student section! – two too many times that year and we haven’t attended games regularly since). Coming to campus, enjoying the ND family, the yells and spontaneous songs, the generous offers of brats and beer – these are important features of gameday. And yet, there was no information about where you could step away from that for a few moments to feed your little one or express milk. I know that supporting lactation isn’t a high priority for everyone, but this struck me as odd.

So, I did some digging.

Sure enough, I learned that, pre-covid, the University had more resources. There had been private curtained areas for lactation in every first aid tent (many of which were publically available, with no need for a ticket to the game, throughout the course of gameday). However, those had been closed during the pandemic.

Thing is, people are still lactating during the pandemic!

But, when Gameday Operations emailed me back, they informed me that if you need to nurse or pump before the stadium opened, or somewhere not in the stadium, the recommendation of the University was that you do so in your car or in a restroom.

When I heard that, I was disappointed and frustrated.

Thankfully for me, someone at Gameday Operations didn’t like that answer either.

For two weeks, I tried to find another answer.
I investigated what other universities did – our peer or aspirational universities (aspirational in either in terms of academics or in terms of football). They all had lactation pods.
I remembered a trip to the Indianapolis Zoo where I’d seen my first lactation pod.
So, I got in touch with Mamava, an organization that sells lactation pods used by several other universities (Mamava was really helpful with resources and ideas, so if you find yourself in a similar situation, I highly recommend you reach out to them).
I wrote up a letter asking the University to consider purchasing a pod or making other accommodations for lactation, but I couldn’t even figure out whom to address the letter to.
I asked the ND Fire Department (this makes more sense if you know that they used to run the first aid tent lactation spaces), the Family Resource Center, the Gender Relations Center, Human Resources, a representative from the University Committee on Women Faculty and Students, and the other lactating parents I knew on campus:

Where could I nurse or pump privately that doesn’t involve me having a gameday car pass or nursing/pumping on a public toilet?

Or, even, who would read a letter I’d written asking for help finding or funding that space?

Then I got another email from one of my earlier contacts, at Gameday Operations.

She had solved the problem herself by arranging for the lactation suite in Hesburgh Library available to the general lactating public from 8am to 8pm during game days.

Boom. Just like that.

Now there’s a spot for people who need to nurse or pump, thanks to that individual not liking the answer she had to give me and taking the initiative to fix the problem.

That’s the story of the three options for lactation spaces on gameday, and the story of how I learned about them.

Nursing and pumping are hard. Nursing and pumping while trying to do fun things out in the world, like going to a football game at Notre Dame Stadium, shouldn’t be even harder.

I’ll be honest; the process of answering this question was really annoying. It took a lot of time and effort for me to find even some answers to my question.

Keep in mind that I’m lactating, so the time and effort I put in were directly beneficial to me. And I had the benefit of being physically present at the University on non-gamedays; I was able to scope out areas ahead of time. Because I live in the area, I was able to persist in doing that across the two and a half months it took for me to write that post. Also, being a student at the University meant that I had access to people whom I wouldn’t have had as much access to otherwise (especially HR). If I had been a visitor or community member, this process would have been far more annoying. I had all this going for me, and I still don’t have all the answers yet.

I’ll keep trying to get into the other lactation room, and I’ll update this post if I do.

But, at the same time, I’m thrilled that my simple email looking for information prompted someone to go above and beyond answering my request for information to actually SOLVE the problem. I give massive credit to Gameday Operations, particularly that employee, for making life easier for parents and their littlest Irish fans. Making lactation spaces available in more times and to more people – especially when those spaces already exist – is a concrete, straightforward way to support people, and I really admire how Gameday Operations made that happen.

If you want to read more about access to lactation rooms at universities, check out my doula trainer’s dissertation.

And if you have a hack for navigating the bureaucratic structures around lactation at universities or in stadiums, comment below.

GO IRISH! Support lactation! 🙂

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