This Is What I Want To Tell All The Breastfeeding Haters

by Ashley Gillis
Originally Published: 
Ashley Gillis

On June 24, The Virginia-Pilot published the following editorial in response to Virginia Beach Councilwoman Jessica Abbott bringing her baby to City Council meetings. As a breastfeeding working mom, I wanted to take a moment to respond to the archaic, misogynistic letter to the editor that goes against everything women in the workforce have been fighting for years.

In part, the letter stated: “I am a mother of one child, who is now 37 years old. I was a teacher for 37 years. The year I started my first teaching job, I had my son on Dec. 1, three months after the school year started…I had never contemplated, nor would I now, asking my employer to give me breaks to pump milk for my child, and I never would have asked to bring my newborn to work with me. My work ethics would not allow it…No mother can give her full attention to her job if her baby is there on the job…It is not the employer’s responsibility to work around parents’ schedule with the child.”

The letter’s author went on to write: “Women are demanding to be treated equally in the workplace, but new mothers who seek these accommodations are asking for things that men, and women without children, don’t get. This is discrimination against those groups…Women need to decide between working or staying home longer with their newborns. Studies have shown that newborns should not be exposed to public places for health reasons. And when the baby is sick, other employees are exposed to the germs.”

Working and breastfeeding mama here…

I write this while cradling my cooing 8-week-old baby boy. While blogging is my job that provides me my creative outlet, my day job is working in finance for a Fortune 500 company while raising two small humans.

I have been a working mom since my daughter was born 27 months ago, and throughout the first year of her life, I was a breastfeeding working mom.

After returning to work at 14 weeks, pumping breast milk came apart of my daily routine. Three times a day at work, I would pump breast milk for my daughter in my office or the Mother’s Room to feed my child while she was at daycare. I worked through my pumping sessions to not get behind on work, or rarely went out to lunch with my co-workers so I could provide for my child. Pumping was a small sacrifice to provide what I thought was best for my daughter.

As I prepare to return back to work in the next couple weeks, I am not only emotionally preparing to drop my child off at daycare and leave him 8 hours a day after only giving birth to him 12 weeks prior, but I also prepare to return to my pumping schedule that involves providing for my child nutritionally and financially. I’m not sure why the author of this editorial and others in America can assume a mom is not able to simultaneously provide both for her children.

I know what Jessica Abbott was thinking when she brought her 2 week old to a City Council Meeting.

Steve Earley / The Virginia-Pilot

As an elected member of the City, I am sure Councilwoman Abbott wanted to get back to her job of representing her constituents after giving birth.

If she took her 12-week maternity leave (I am sure the writer of the editorial would refer to this as her vacation), we would read editorials of Councilwoman Abbott’s constituents not being represented and calling for her return to work.

So as a mother and a bad ass working professional, Councilwoman Abbott did the only thing that made sense, packed up her 2-week-old baby and headed to a City Council meeting. Let’s be honest, the baby probably slept and nursed the whole time anyway and was not a distraction for Councilwoman Abbott as she did her job.

Councilwoman Abbott did what any mom would do — she got back to work to provide not only for her family, but the people of Virginia Beach she represents.

Why this editorial is so wrong:

There are so many things wrong with this editorial. Not only does it do nothing to support women in the workplace, but it undermines the efforts decades’ worth of women have fought to make right.

Today, women are surpassing men in college graduation and entering the workforce.

As a country, it is so important that we encourage these women not only to get into the workforce, but to stay and excel in the workforce — while at the same time, enabling them (and their husbands) to start families and raise their children.

A mom shouldn’t be forced to choose between providing nutrition for their child over paying their mortgage — which is why laws that allow mother’s to pump at work are so important to families in this country.

Not once as a breastfeeding working mom have I ever sacrificed my productivity to provide for my child. I took conference calls while pumping, missed lunch, or stayed late to ensure that my work was completed and I never got behind.

Pumping is never a break; it is a job in itself, and any employer thinking they are providing an employee a “break” by allowing them to pump not only shows their ignorance on the work involved in pumping for your child and needs to spend a week on bottle cleaning duties.

Yes, women are demanding to be treated equally.

The editorial states: “Women are demanding to be treated equally in the workplace, but new mothers who seek these accommodations are asking for things that men, and women without children, don’t get. This is discrimination against those groups.”

Yes, I am demanding to be treated equally as my male and non-mother counterparts. I demand to be paid the same as my male counterparts in the workplace for the same work and not to be treated differently because I am a female.

But asking for accommodations so that I can pump milk for my new born is in no way discrimination towards my male employees and women without children.

If you read into the Break Time for Nursing Mother’s law, the time to pump is considered a “break” and is not required by law to be paid. I cannot tell you how many times I ate a sandwich while attached to my pump on my lunch break since all my break time had to be used for pumping.

The only additional “accommodation” that the law requires is that the pumping room be private and not a bathroom.

You would not believe how many moms share stories of having to pump in closets, break rooms, shared office space or random, uncomfortable places in the office.

So this “discriminatory accommodation” that mothers are requesting is no luxury. In fact, if you want to take three 20 minute “breaks” in the storage closet while gobbling down your lunch attached to a machine, be my guest.

Well shit, if it was that easy…

Lastly, the editorial goes on to say: “Women need to decide between working or staying home longer with their newborns.”

Yes, America’s maternity leave policies make it so easy for moms to make that decision.

As a mother currently out on maternity leave, I can state for a fact that decision is far from easy.

My first six weeks were covered by short-term disability, meaning I received about 60% of my normal pay, not even my full paycheck.

Ashley Gillis

Then, luckily, I had a C-section so I get an additional 2 weeks of recovery. How sad is that? A mom has to be cut in-half and undergo major abdominal surgery to get to stay home with their newborn an extra 2 weeks.

After the 6-8 weeks (depending on delivery), a mom can stay home up to 12 weeks on Family Medical Leave which is unpaid. But many mom’s don’t even qualify for these 12 weeks of unpaid leave, so this is not an option for everyone.

Given the choice to work or stay home with my baby, I would 100% choose to stay home with them until they were 18, but its not that simple.

In America, 42% of women are the breadwinners, with 22% being co-breadwinners. With nearly half of American women providing 40% and more of the financial support for their family, the option isn’t between “working or staying home longer with their newborns,” it’s the decision between putting food on the table and a roof over their heads or staying home with the newborns. For most families (including mine), the decision isn’t easy, but providing for my family will always win.

You can be a working mom and a good mom.

What the writer of this editorial is missing is that Councilwoman Jessica Abbott and millions of other moms can be a good mom and a good employee.

My husband’s loyalties to his family and his job are hardly ever questioned, but when you’re a mom dropping your 12-week-old baby off at daycare you will be questioned by co-workers, family, mom friends and complete random strangers. Let’s not forget my husband had to leave our children at four days old to go back to work, but me going back to work at 12 weeks makes people question my parenting.

It is assumed in our society that if you are a good mom that you’re a shitty employee and if you’re a good employee you’re a shitty mom. Why can’t a mom be a good employee and a good mom?

I believe that a mom can be a good mom and a good employee. Jessica Abbott’s display at the Virginia Beach City Council meeting is exemplifying what millions of Moms do every day.

I thank Councilwoman Abbott for doing what Moms have done for thousands of years, providing for their families while taking care of their newborn.

This public display of working motherhood in our local government is a beautiful thing and should be applauded not chastised. I, for one, thank Councilwoman Abbott for continuing to pave the road for working mothers.

As a mother of a young two-year-old daughter, I hope that my daughter chases her dreams, receives the highest level of education she wishes, excels in the workforce and knows that she can do this all while being a great Mom to her children.

Ashley Gillis

I hope that she has brave smart women like me and Councilwoman Abbott to look up to and that editorials like this one attacking working mothers become a thing of the past.

To all the moms out their, whether working at an office, or staying home with your kids, fight the good fight, and mom on.

For more information: I would strongly suggest watching Jessica Shortall’s Ted Talk or her website, Work. Pump. Repeat.


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