Photo courtesy of J.C. Penney Co. This is a store, not the headquarters.

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Keeping Abreast of J.C. Penney HQ’s Fancy Redevelopment

A note to the new owners: some women need a room without a view.

The Dallas Morning News has been reporting all week on the $400 million-plus sale of J.C. Penney’s Plano headquarters and even gave us a first look, renderings and all, of what the facility will look like after the new owner initiates a massive redevelopment. According to Wednesday’s article, the new-and-improved building will include “addition of on-site daycare, an updated fitness center, a doctor, a dentist, a pharmacy and a florist plus additional food service.” Walking and biking trails are also mentioned.

But I’d like to take a moment here to encourage the architects and new owners to think about one thing in particular: breasts.

I guess, technically, that’s two things. But the reason I make this unusual suggestion is because I spent three months at the J.C. Penney headquarters as a breastfeeding mom-slash-copywriter. I spent more than a year previous working as just a copywriter, and though the atmosphere could be a bit chaotic (this was during and after the Ron Johnson reign), corporate life was fine. Returning to work after maternity leave, however, my professional life became unbearable. There were a hundred reasons why I didn’t last long as a working mom, but the breastfeeding situation accounted for, I’d say, about 30 percent of it.

A little explanation (men, please stay with me, I won’t get too technical): As a working, breastfeeding mom, a schedule forms around feedings and pumpings. You have to feed the infant in the morning before getting in the car, then relieve engorgement every few hours throughout the day. Now the tricky part is that most people get to work around the same time, which means just about every breastfeeding mom is going to need to pump around the same time. The problem all of us breastfeeding moms faced at the JCP HQ was that in this massive office—1.8 million square feet, a quarter mile from one end to the other, a cubicle farm holding thousands of employees—there were only four “pump rooms.”

I’ll assume (after doing some googling and in-my-head estimating because this would be a very boring post if I did all the math here) that there were 100 breastfeeding moms in that building. Whatever the number, fact is, there was always a line to get in one of these rooms. Pumping itself only takes about 15 minutes, but to get down the stairs, walk across the building, and wait for the next available space, on average, I was away from my desk for 25 minutes. One time it took me 45 minutes to get through. I had to do this two or three times a day. Don’t think my absence went unnoticed. Six weeks in, a manager stopped by my desk to note that my pump breaks seemed to be a “distraction.”

That was it for me. My mama-lion feelings were unleashed, and I wasn’t going to let anything or anyone stop me from caring for my child the way I felt was best. My husband and I charted out our finances and determined that we could make it work without my paycheck. It was the highest paying job I’ve ever had, but I’ll never regret giving my notice.

All of this to say, as the Legacy headquarters’ developers, owners, CEOs, and architects update their incredible, world-class, 21st century facility that includes, good grief, a florist of all things, I hope they don’t forget this natural human activity that goes back to the beginning of time. My plea: please add more comfortable spaces to pump and give new moms a break.

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