Statehouses Have A Ways To Go To Accommodate New Moms In Virginia, a new class of state lawmakers includes mothers of young children. The delegates are finding a workplace not as accommodating as they would like.
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Statehouses Have A Ways To Go To Accommodate New Moms

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Statehouses Have A Ways To Go To Accommodate New Moms

Statehouses Have A Ways To Go To Accommodate New Moms

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

An unprecedented number of women are running for political office across the U.S. They may be ready to legislate, but statehouses are not necessarily ready for them, especially if they're new moms. NPR's Sarah McCammon reports from Richmond, Va.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: On a busy morning at the statehouse here, Delegate Kathy Tran is in her legislative office meeting with a lobbyist and multitasking.

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY COOING)

KATHY TRAN: All right, Kyle (ph), how are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I am doing just fine.

TRAN: This is Elise (laughter).

MCCAMMON: Tran cuddles her 1-year-old daughter on her lap, at one point briefly ducking under a cover to nurse. Elise is Tran's fourth child, so she's done the working mom thing before. But it's her first time doing it as a state lawmaker.

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY COOING)

MCCAMMON: Tran is by all accounts the first delegate to breastfeed on the Virginia House floor.

TRAN: I had a baby that was hungry and I needed to feed her. And so I, you know, used my cover or her blanket. We've done it a couple of times. And nobody said anything. I've had a couple of folks just remark that it was the first time and they were - you know, like, this is a major change for Virginia.

MCCAMMON: Tran is part of a change that's happening around the country. She was elected in November 2017 in the first wave of women to run for office after President Trump's election. Tran's colleague, Virginia Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, is another. She says family and friends helped her campaign through a difficult pregnancy with twins that included bed rest and preterm labor. She's now parenting two healthy baby boys while traveling about an hour between her district and the capital.

JENNIFER CARROLL FOY: I was very disappointed to come down to the General Assembly and find that there aren't nursing rooms that's readily available. There aren't baby changing stations in the women's bathroom. And we can't say that we want to be family friendly and that we want women to run for office and be successful and be great legislators when we're not doing things to help accommodate them as much as we possibly can.

MCCAMMON: While Tran and Carroll Foy - both Democrats - are newcomers, their Republican colleague, state Senator Jill Vogel, was the first Virginia state lawmaker to have a baby while in office in 2008. She remembers slipping away to pump breast milk, then sending it to her office with a Senate page.

JILL VOGEL: We were on the Senate floor for hours and hours. You know, you can't - the baby can't be hungry.

MCCAMMON: Did the pages mind?

VOGEL: They didn't know. They had no idea what they were delivering.

MCCAMMON: It's a relatively new challenge. It was just this year that the nation reached a historic threshold. Twenty-five percent of state legislative seats are now held by women. Katie Ziegler with the National Conference of State Legislatures says many women with children have waited to run for office until later in life.

KATIE ZIEGLER: It has been much less common for women to run and serve with infants and toddlers. It has been uncommon. And we've seen that in really how few state legislatures and capitol buildings have fully figured out how they will accommodate nursing mothers.

MCCAMMON: Ziegler says many capitol buildings are beginning to make accommodations, and more will need to do so as women are elected in greater numbers. That includes the U.S. Capitol, where this spring Tammy Duckworth will be the first sitting senator to give birth in office. She says there's no precedent for maternity leave in the Senate.

TAMMY DUCKWORTH: I'm one person that's facing this here in the Senate, but there are women all across this country who are facing starting their families and there's no policy for them either. And they don't get - they're not United States senators and get the kind of attention that I'm getting.

MCCAMMON: From maternity leave to lactation rooms, Duckworth says her situation illustrates the importance of having a full range of women's experiences reflected in the lives of those who represent them. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Richmond, Va.

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