Let’s take a minute to ponder a different world. A world where men, not women, had to breastfeed. Did you snort out your coffee? Well, that is exactly what creative director Ruben Grijalva and producer Sam Gordon imagined and brought to life in the video, If Men Breastfed. I got a chance to ask a few questions to Ruben and Naya Health CEO and cofounder Janica Alvarez about the makings of this alternate reality. And if you haven’t seen If Men Breastfed yet, make sure to watch the video before going any further.
Karen Lee: How did you come up with the idea for the concept If Men Breastfed?
Ruben Grijalva: We kept hearing all these stories about how hard it is to pump at work, how inconvenient it is, how undignified the experience can feel, and it quickly became apparent that this was a largely ignored form of workplace inequality. Extending this thought, we realized that if men had to breastfeed, the culture around it would be much different. Men have historically dominated the workplace, and so workplace accommodations and perks tend to be male-oriented. So we started to discuss in what ways the world might be different if men breastfed, discovered some fun gags, and went from there.
KL: Can you tell me a little bit on how you worked together on this video?
RG: The focus testing really helped us gain confidence in the idea, because it allayed our fear that this would be funny to men but not women. If anything, the women we pitched were into it more, because it’s full of breastfeeding jokes that guys won’t necessarily get. Men also responded well to it, though, because we’re gently teasing macho culture at the same time. Unlike some of our more earnest concepts, this one was resonated in some way across genders.
KL: Something we talk and think about a lot at Naya Health, is the way women feel about pumping at work and the kind of situations they find themselves in when they have to pump two, three times a day. What kind of research did you do to understand the difficulties and challenges women go through?
Janica Alvarez: This was my world for three years. After a few months, I created a routine that worked for me and my full-time career. This consisted of both breastfeeding and pumping and at times supplementing with formula. I pumped all over the place: in the car (there is such a thing as “pumping and driving”), on a plane, in a bathroom, etc. Like millions of mothers, I went to great lengths to pump. I shared a lot (probably too much) with Ruben and Sam.
RG: Sam and I went really deep (maybe too deep) into this world we knew little about before we started. Janica was helpful in sharing her experience and introducing us to other women who’d been through it. YouTube was also a helpful resource, because it’s full of moms supporting each other through this process. Google is convinced by my search history that I’m expecting now, by the way, and keeps trying to sell me baby products. Through our research, we kept finding more and more subtle ways that this process can be burdensome, concepts like pumping and driving we’d never considered. I think it’s safe to say we are both now strong advocates of anything that helps women have a better experience in this area.
KL: What’s your experience with breastfeeding or pumping? OR When did you first learn about breastfeeding or pumping?
RG: I’m the oldest of four, and we were all breastfed, so I’ve always been aware of breastfeeding. I’ve always thought the various ways in which women are shamed for breastfeeding, in public or otherwise, doesn’t make any sense, particularly because the science is so clear on the benefits for the baby. Pumping is something I was vaguely aware of, but I had no idea how much was involved, how often it had to happen, or how long it took. The level of commitment involved is something I had no idea about.
KL: Describe the thought process of turning the breast pumping experience into a man’s paradise?
RG: We started by thinking about what makes pumping such a pain: it’s a private thing you have to do in public spaces, you have to lug around an ugly dated machine (which, of course, Naya is making better), you have to clean all the parts, you have to have a place to store your milk, it takes a long time, you have to excuse yourself from work multiple times a day, you rarely have a comfortable place to pump, etc. Then we started thinking about solutions that were funny, but also awesome. The big solution is that in our alternate universe breastfeeding and pumping are championed by the culture. Rather than treating nursing fathers as inconvenient to the job, the job bends over backward to be convenient for them. Rather than treating the pump itself as an embarrassing medical device, it becomes a point of consumer pride, like a car or electronic gadget. Rather than lamenting the time it takes, the Lactation Lounge allows them to embrace the experience.
KL: Your video touches on many truths felt by moms who return back to work and pump. As men, what surprised you most during the creation of this video?
RG: Again, we were surprised by just how dedicated you have to be to stick with breastfeeding while working. A huge percentage of women quit pretty soon once they go back to work, and I think that workplace culture has a lot to do with that.
KL: In your opinion, what kind of conversations do you hope this video raises for men, women, and companies?
JA: I found the experience of transitioning back to work after giving birth to be very curious. Maternity leaves are short, support and accommodations in the workplace are lacking, and the technology is crappy. You should never have to describe technology that touches your breasts frequently and enables you to provide nutrition as “crappy”, but that’s what it is. Women deserve better. This video is a way to insert Naya Health into the conversation about health and wellness of moms and babies. Naya is doing its part by creating better technology. It’s time for all of us to step up and make the world a better place for the working mom. Far too often women find themselves deciding between their family and career. The two must co-exist for today’s mother.
RG: My hope is that the reason it’s so crappy for women is that the rest of us just don’t know what’s involved. I certainly didn’t before we started this. My hope is that by calling attention we can nudge work culture toward more sympathy for what is, at the end of the day, a fundamental human task. I mean, we all want babies to eat, right?