My boss stared at me from across the conference table, his arms crossed and moustache twitching. "You're my best writer! How could you have a baby during our busiest time of year? What were you thinking?"
I bit my lip to keep from blurting out that my hubby and I sure weren't thinking about him nine months ago when we were alone on a Caribbean beach, under a strawberry daiquiri-colored sunset, the condoms forgotten back at the cabana.
"Can you at least stay for today's meeting?" Jim pleaded.
"If I do, will you promise not to call me for two months?"
He nodded and glanced under the conference table where my infant was asleep in her carrier. I rocked her seat with my toe, silently praying she'd sleep through the meeting.
The account managers and art directors began filing in, followed by our new clients—two somber, silver-haired VPs in three-piece suits. After the introductions, Jim launched into his speech about how we must "feel the customer's pain" to create a good ad. Pain? Come to think of it, my breasts were throbbing. Right on cue, Melinda started fussing—softly at first, then louder, until there was no denying the crying baby. I apologized and bent down to pop a pacifier in her mouth. She shoved it away and wailed. The VPs squirmed.
"I'm so sorry. She must be hungry," I said, lifting her out of her seat and settling her in the crook of my arm.
I plucked a bottle from the diaper bag and tried to coax it into her mouth. Her flailing arms knocked it out of my hand, splattering a coworker's beige silk blouse with drops of formula. Jim rolled his eyes and tried to distract the clients by rearranging the ad samples on the table. I felt my breasts ballooning as my milk 'let down.' Desperate, I draped a blanket over my shoulder, fumbled underneath to unhitch my nursing bra, pushed the wailing infant against my chest and waited for her toothless gums to latch on.
I felt Melinda clamp down on my bowling-ball-hard breast. She sucked noisily. A coworker snickered. Another looked away. After a few minutes of obscene-sounding slurping noises and still no milk, Melinda arched her back and howled, pulling the blanket down on top of her. A thin stream of milk squirted out in a perfect arc from my exposed breast. Everybody stared at the grey-white puddle on the art boards. Then at me. I grabbed a cloth diaper, tossed it on the puddle, settled Melinda on my now free-flowing teat, repositioned the blanket, and smiled at the VPs.
"So, what do you think of our campaign?" I asked.
They stood up quickly, gathered their papers and briefcases and hurried out of the room, my boss trailing after them. As the door swung shut, my coworkers burst into applause.
My boss didn't call me even once during the rest of my maternity leave.
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