Last week, I went to a conference where the nursing mother’s room looked like a scene from Severance. No, it was an interrogation room.
Let me set the stage for you. It was the annual conference for the Association of Writers and Writing Professionals. The room had one chair and a small table off to the side, within viewing of the glass doors if you dared to look through the gauzy black curtain they put up for privacy. Even though signage clearly said “Nursing Mother’s Room,” at least 20 non-lactating parents peeked in to see what all the hype was about. The electrical outlets didn’t work – something most pumps absolutely need. It was on the fourth floor of a five-floor building. There was only one key, located at the conference help desk on the first floor.
I was only able to use the room once because by 3 pm of the first day, the conference organizers had lost the keys. I was told to go upstairs and ask someone from the facility. (Reader, note that no one from the facility was walking around). I had to pump in my car on the way home after toting my equipment around all day.
Now this is a brand new $2B building project for the city of Seattle. This was its second week in operation. For all of that money and great design and intention and care, they couldn’t put in a permanent wellness room or nursing parent’s haven? They had incredible art and a sustainable garden rooftop, but not even the portable Mamava nursing pods that have become popular in airports?
I should note: this room was set up as a part of the conference. The Seattle Convention Center’s communications director reached out and said they do have available permanent wellness rooms. When I was there, neither the conference organizers, facilities or building security crew knew about it.
I sat in the interrogation chair – after four men asked me to stop pumping and let them in so they could have a quiet place to work – and seethed. I cried. Maybe it was the hormones or my anxiety, but I was shaking.
So, I did what anyone would do. I took a picture and put it on Twitter.
The next morning, I woke up to an avalanche of notifications on my phone.
There were a lot of “This is atrocious” and “I can’t believe this happens in 2023” types of retweets. Those were completely warranted. What I gravitated to wasn’t that anger or frustration – it was the stories from moms who have kids of all ages and their own pumping stories.
One was denied workplace accommodations so she pumped in a broom closet.
Another begged for staff at a children’s hospital (yes, a children’s hospital) to cover the glass at her office.
Yet another said her favorite place to pump was her car, where she sat and took calls four times a day.
It confirmed a few things I knew to be true. First, we think we might have made progress, but we have a LONG way to go to show parents – specifically moms – their value and priority in our society. Nursing and pumping accommodations are the law in most states, and yet, it’s generally an afterthought. Second, moms have a million stories to tell and frankly just want one thing: to be seen.
It makes me supercharge a project I’m working on to build a platform for mothers to share their experiences – a no-bullshit, honest account of what it looks like for us to move throughout our world of care, caregiving, and ambition.