Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois became the first senator to give birth while in office in 2018 and her daughter, Maile, became the first newborn admitted onto the Senate floor during a vote. Shortly after having her first child in 2015, the politician was a member of the House and found herself flying back and forth from Illinois to DC.
Finding a place to pump breastmilk in an airport was no easy task and, often, she could not find a comfortable place to do it. The experience inspired the mom to take action and legislate.
Sen. Duckworth was asked to pump in a toilet stall and called it “disgusting.”
In an interview with Business Insider, Sen. Duckworth gets candid about her experience. “I was told to use the handicapped stall, the toilet, which is disgusting,” she admitted. “You wouldn’t eat a sandwich in there. Why would you ask me to express breast milk for my daughter? That’s not sanitary.”
The only alternative was to pump in the middle of an airport gate or next to strangers on a plane.
You might have noticed new lactation pods and rooms in airports over the past few years and that’s thanks in no small part to the senator.
In 2015, Duckworth sponsored a bill to help get lactation rooms into airports. That effort collapsed, but in 2018, the Duckworth-sponsored Friendly Airports for Mothers Act (FAM) was enacted. The new law ensured that medium and large airports could spend money from the Airport Improvement Program, usually reserved for things like terminal building repairs or runway expansions, to add private lactation spaces.
However, smaller airports, classified by the FAA as those that process 0.05 to 0.25% of annual US commercial enplanements, were left out of the equation. That was an issue, Duckworth said because many travelers start their trips at small airports, before grabbing another flight at a larger hub, usually with tight connection times.
“The best place [for those passengers] to express breast milk, it’s really the initial flight,” Duckworth told BI. “And those are the small airports.”
Notwithstanding delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, Congress earlier this month passed the Friendly Airports for Mothers Improvement Act, which extends the use of Airport Improvement funds for maternity rooms to small, regional airports, as well. President Trump is expected to sign it into law. The bill should take effect as airports and passengers emerge from the pandemic.
“When we start traveling again, moms who work outside the homes, and families that are traveling, are actually going to have this benefit,” Duckworth said.
The Senator recently made waves after writing a letter following the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Specifically, Duckworth criticized the judge for her past support of an anti-IVF group.
In the two-page letter, Duckworth issued to her colleagues on October 2 where she talked about her own experience with IVF and the subsequent conception of her 2-year-old, “I write to each of you today, and especially to my Republican colleagues who cooed and cuddled Maile when she first visited the Capitol, in the hope that you will fully consider the very real impact your vote on this unprecedented nomination could have on those Americans hoping to start families of their own.”
“I urge you to fully consider the message a vote in favor of a Supreme Court nominee who appears to believe that my daughters shouldn’t even exist sends not only to me as a mother and as your colleague, but to parents-to-be around this country struggling with infertility and whose dreams may only be achieved through IVF or other technologies,” the letter continued.
“While my two beautiful little girls are unique, my story of struggling with fertility is not. Assisted reproductive technology (ART), including IVF treatment, has enabled thousands of Americans to safely start families in red and blue states alike.”
“I fear that, if confirmed to the nation’s highest court, Judge Barrett would be unable to resist the temptation of overturning decades of judicial precedent in an effort to force every American family to adhere to her individual moral code,” she explained.
“I fear that if a case involving ART were to be brought before the bench, families like mine would not be able to trust that her opinions would be based on facts, laws, and the Constitution rather than swayed by her personal beliefs,” the letter concluded.
We’re so inspired to see Duckworth stand behind her principles and fight for mothers and others who have used IVF to become pregnant. As the only senator to give birth while in office, it’s no wonder she’d be the person to turn to on those issues.