Does anyone actually use those nursing and baby changing rooms present in each women's bathroom at the school of engineering? I mean, let's face it --- in the school of engineering, we women hover at 13% undergraduates and 26% graduates. We are swimming in a sea of solder and men.
In 1985, 37% of the graduating class in computer science was women. Now, it's 16%.
Couple that with the delayed age at which women are choosing to have children. Although the national average age of first-time moms is 25, there is an eight-fold increase in the number of women waiting until they turn at least 35 to have their first child.
I know why these nursing rooms exist. The University has least 50 employees, and so is required by law to provide safe, clean rooms to pump milk. President Obama signed into law the Reconciliation Act (2010), which allows each working mom both time and a place to pump or express milk during her workday. The place needs to be different than a bathroom, and the time needs to be ample for pumping... For an entire year after the baby's birth.
The reason we women need these nursing rooms is because the odds are against us. Without breastfeeding support from our employers, we would stop nursing. The CNN article, breastfeeding rooms hidden in health care law, reports about the dismal state of breastfeeding in the US. The Centers for Disease Control reported in 2009 that although the majority (74%) of moms initiate breastfeeding, the number of moms still nursing at three months drops (33%), and then plummets to a small fraction (14%) by six months. Meanwhile, the American Association of Pediatrics recommends at least a full year of nursing, and the World Health Organization suggests two full years per child.
Yet still, the question remains: women are in such a vast minority; women undergrad and grad students are so unlikely to have babies... who uses these rooms?
When my son was an infant, my mother would watch him for the four hours I was in class. In the break between classes, sometimes, we would meet in the nursing and baby changing room. The room is about the size of a large walk-in closet. There is a ledge that serves as a table, an oversized cushioned chair, an overhead fluorescent light, and heavy, stuffy air that would get hot within a few minutes, with all three of us crammed inside. Sometimes, when they did not come to meet me, I would pump alone in that room: liquid gold collecting for our next class period.
Once, two young students walked in on me as I was putting away the hand pumps I dual-wielded during my pumping sessions.
"Oh, sorry?" they said, as if it was a question, with the inflection rising at the end of the sentence.
"You know, you should really knock first," I replied.
"We didn't know what was in here?"
Just a chair, a table, a plug, and my thoughts.
When, a few weeks later, I stepped into the nursing room on a different floor of the same building, knocking first, I caught a glimpse of a large breast pump hidden behind the chair, covered by a blanket. Who is this mystery woman? I thought. We have things in common, she and I.
Nursing rooms are huge step in the right direction. We technical women with nurslings may be in the minority, but we need all the support we can get --- perhaps because we are in the minority. I applaud you, University, for making these rooms available. I applaud you for keeping them clean, well-lit, and private. Keep up the good work.
I never did find out who the other woman was.