Even Senator Tammy Duckworth Can’t Get Decent Maternity Leave, and That’s a Problem

Tammy Duckworth
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Senator Tammy Duckworth from Illinois has broken a lot of ground in her tenure in Congress. An Iraq war veteran and double amputee, Duckworth is the first disabled woman to be elected to Congress. She is also the first senator of Thai descent. And come spring, Duckworth will be the first sitting senator in United States history to give birth.

Duckworth, 49, is set to give birth to her second daughter in April. And while becoming the first senator to give birth while in office is a milestone she should be proud of, she is already finding that combining motherhood and work in the government sphere is not as easy as she thought it would be.

In a podcast interview for Politico’s Women Rule, the Senator discusses some roadblocks she’s already faced in planning her maternity leave this spring.

“I can’t technically take maternity leave,” Duckworth explained. “Because if I take maternity leave, then I won’t be allowed to sponsor legislation or vote during that time period.”

Although the Senate has rules for how to deal with a member who must take medical leave during their service, they have never dealt with maternity leave, so things will have to be reinvented. Duckworth plans to take 12 weeks of maternity leave, but needs to figure out how she can still participate in important votes while out.

“It’s going to change some Senate rules,” said Duckworth.

One rule that will definitely need working around, explained the Senator, is the rule that prohibits children from entering the Senate floor.

“You are not allowed to bring children onto the floor of the Senate at all,” Duckworth said. “If I have to vote, and I’m breastfeeding my child, especially during my maternity leave period, what do I do? Leave her sitting outside?”

Tell it, girlfriend. Keeping up breastfeeding or pumping while working is hard for so many women. It’s eye-opening and validating that Duckworth is sharing her own struggles with it.

“I can’t leave her with a staff member, that’s a conflict of interest, so am I allowed to vote?” Duckworth asked in the podcast. “Can I not do my job? What are some of the requirements there?”

These are good questions — not just for Duckworth, but for all moms struggling with inadequate and confusing maternity leave practices. And Duckworth knows that she needs to work on this issue, not just for herself, but for future moms who decide to work in public office. After all, if our lawmakers can’t get decent and fair maternity leaves, who can?

In the podcast, Duckworth says that she is making this issue a top priority and plans to work through and refine current laws and guidelines “so that other legislators behind me can continue to do their jobs but also look after their families.”

This isn’t the first time Duckworth has stood up for the rights of working moms. When her first daughter was young, Duckworth was appalled by the terrible pumping and breastfeeding conditions available to mothers in the airports where she frequently traveled.

As she recently told CBS’s Face the Nation:

“I would go into airports and well, it’s the handicapped stall in the public toilet, and I was like, ‘That’s disgusting. You wouldn’t eat a sandwich there, why would you think I should nurse my baby there or pump breast milk there?'”

Duckworth found the whole thing so atrocious that she wrote an editorial on the matter for Cosmopolitan, and has since tried to push legislation through Congress that would require airports to provide clean accommodations for breastfeeding moms.

“It was humiliating, and so I tried to pass some legislation on it and it’s out of committee — mandatory nursing rooms for moms, at airports — and hopefully we’ll get an FAA bill and it will become law,” says Duckworth.

Duckworth, who calls it “ridiculous” that it’s 2018 and she’s the first senator to give birth, makes it clear that the work she plans to do to addressing the issues facing working moms isn’t just about her. It’s about making it possible for all moms to balance their career goals with motherhood.

“The perfect life where you can do everything is a lie,” Duckworth tells Face the Nation. But she hopes that her current pregnancy and the changes she hopes to make in Congress inspire other mothers to join public office and help champion for more “family-friendly” legislation.

Can we give Senator Duckworth a standing ovation, please? It looks like we’ve got ourselves an awesome advocate for working moms here. And it’s about time.

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