​​even astronauts breastfeed: what we learned from working mothers at NASA

we took barb to space!

okay, the space center, but still, we’re starry-eyed. we had the tremendous pleasure of visiting NASA this week to show up to support and nourish their working mothers and families.

pumpspotting and NASA Shuttle.jpg

a while back, we received a tour stop request from susan schuh, mother of three girls and a NASA human factors engineer (her job is to debrief astronauts post-space flight!). we knew we had to show up for this one, but what we didn’t know, was how much the visit would mean.

we pulled in with the RV for a series of stops around the offices and at the on-site daycare, plus hosted a lunch and learn panel discussion on balancing working motherhood.

with help from susan and rachel, an equal opportunity specialist at NASA, we gathered an exciting panel of employees to speak with us—and to us: a flight director, a lawyer and 5-time breastfeeder, a father who used donated milk to feed his adopted children, a spacecraft systems engineer who was one of only a few in her department to become a mother, and many more.

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i’ll admit, going in i was a little nervous. would anyone show up? would my story resonate with engineers and astronauts? was a pumpspotting visit needed in such an esteemed place?

once on site, however, magic happened.

we were greeted with such warmth and welcome. the feeling of innovation and dreaming big permeated the place, yet the people working there were down to earth and excited to hop on board our unique vehicle.

we met astronauts, tried on the inner linings of a space suit, stood dwarfed by a space shuttle only previously seen in our dreams. and we sat a big table from the Apollo mission times, surrounded by over 20 NASA employees and contractors from a multitude of departments and parenting journeys, and talked about what we as mothers need.

and here’s the truth: there is nothing that separates their community of mothers from ours.

there is no gravitational pull or mathematical calculation that guides them through parenthood. like us, they are breastfeeding, working women, too, with stories and challenges both unique and familiar.

one mother stood in mission control, pumping during shifts: a breastfeeding mother directing travel to the space station and acceptance of “mom ops” to pave the way for others.

one mother couldn’t produce enough milk, yet she could show us how to wash your hair in space.

one learned that putting boundaries up at work made her a better, more valuable, worker.

one traveled to Japan just four days after returning from maternity leave and found unexpected support: a mothering room had been prepared. (one that they decided was worth keeping available for others after she left.)

one mother working in a court house once pumped with an armed gunman outside her door because she was suspicious for taking so long inside.

one had to share a room and pump in the toilet training facility for astronauts. (seriously, best bathroom pump story ever.)

one was a father with a partner, who found the need to be perfect as a parent and perfect as an employee as challenging to navigate as the rest of us.

one new mother just needed to know that she wasn’t the only one facing anxiety.

people voiced their vulnerability. their wins. their appreciation for being at a company that puts families first (but still has some room for change).

pumpspotting + NASA.jpg

as i sat at the table, it became clear that our struggles and our needs are all the same no matter our job title or location or field of study. we are all learning the same things on this journey:

  • that instead of seeking to find work-life balance we should seek harmony.

  • that no matter whether you travel to Houston or the space station, it never gets easier to leave your family behind.

  • that fathers feel the guilt and strain and need for community too.

  • that a place to pump with a cozy environment makes a world of difference.

  • that one missed pump session can be the one reason for giving up.

  • that having a community and a coworker to look you in the eyes and say: “you’re doing a great job” is what every one of us needs.

we are all navigating the same things. whether engineers or teachers, stay-at-home mothers, or supplementers, administrative assistants or astronauts.

we are all in the room, at the table, in the office down the hall, around the block. and it is vital to be connected to this community of mothers that sustains, celebrates and supports us.

it’s also vital to change the way we connect and support at work, and that’s exactly what we’re setting out to do with our next phase of pumpspotting.

we are building a community-driven corporate lactation program to make sure no woman at work navigating breastfeeding and postpartum is alone.

this visit has me as passionate as ever about paving a new way. it’s inspiring to meet mothers and to also meet leaders at organizations like NASA who put families first and make it a priority to support. change is coming.

in fact, after our panel, one wonderful woman whose children are long grown came onto the bus and asked: what can i do to help?

to that i say, start by smiling at a new mother. tell her she is doing great work. because it is work, and whether she seems like it or not, she will need to hear this again and again.

to you all i say, keep up the beautiful work. we’re here on the app and on the road to connect and support you.

and if you should come to a point in your journey where it seems daunting, go out and look up at the stars and remind yourself that you are one of many women nourishing.

you are not alone.

i want to say thank you to Susan for your time and generosity and thank you to NASA, for allowing us to show up and sit with your working mothers, thank you for the focus on breastfeeding support, and thank you for showing us all what can happen when we come together as company and employees - a true community - to connect.


have a company you think might benefit from support from pumpspotting’s corporate lactation program? send us a note.

Amy VanHaren