Regret turns to action

Last week, I was angry that a few of my friends and colleagues wouldn’t be able to come to the annual conference in our field this year.  They have new babies, see, and there is no provision for them at the conference.  Every year, a mom or two brings her nursing infant along, but it’s always awkward and there is nowhere to nurse, aside from the busy lobby or packed conference rooms.  No, not even a chair in the bathrooms. 

I asked you what you do about this at your conferences — and 50 women responded in just a couple days, telling me all about the options, which seem to shake out like this:

  • Conference-provided daycare (typically through a company, at $10-$20 an hour);
  • Conference-provided nursing room set aside for nursing and pumping moms;
  • An empty room, where moms with little ones would tag-team care for each other’s children during the conference;
  • Drop-in care near the conference site;
  • Nanny or babysitter recommended by the hotel;
  • Furtive nursing in public areas (oh, wait, that might have just been me); or
  • No solution; these women stayed home.

The problem, as I see it, is that if, year after year, women stay home with babies, preschoolers, or older kids who can’t be left with friends or relatives, that they lose touch with their peers in the field.  They miss out on opportunities to present their research, to talk with colleagues, to form collaborations over dinner.  In short, they miss out on a lot.

It’s another route to isolation of young mothers, and, in this case, it can also lead to women leaving the field in search of a more collegial situation.

Every year at this conference, a few of us end up talking about this.  We coo over the baby/babies present, supporting the parents’ decision to attend as a trio.  We offer up our own hotel rooms as needed for daytime nursing and naps.  We shake our heads at the nearsightedness of the conference organizers, and we ask for accomodations on our own.  Being only one or two moms each year, though, we haven’t gotten very far.

All that is about to change.

On Tuesday morning, I hosted a simple breakfast meeting for the women at my conference.  I emailed a few women about it in advance and encouraged them to invite their female colleagues who would be at the meeting.  I posted a sign when I got to the meeting, and dropped a few flyers in the bathrooms, at the suggestion of a friend.  I didn’t have any idea how many women would show up, but I figured that it was time to provide the opportunity.  To highlight the issues of recruitment and retention of women in our field.  To discuss things like child care and whether a breastfeeding mom must stay home during meetings like this.  To talk about the graduate students, and whether they have the support they need.  To introduce nomenclature to a new generation:  the two-body problem, which is the difficulty that two scientists (two academics, two teachers, whatever) have in getting employed at the same institution or even the same city. 

It was time to bring the conversations out of the hallways and into the light.

I didn’t have any idea how many women to expect.  Twelve had responded to my emails to let me know that they’d be there — but, since it was held at 7:30 a.m. at the start of daylight savings time, when it was still dark outside for goodness’ sake, I expected that maybe eight would show up.

Ladies and gentlemen, 108 women came to breakfast.  They had lively discussions over belgian waffles, rife with laughter and exclamations, and at the end we shared what each group (table) thought was the most pressing issue for women in our field.

It was amazing.

We have some actions to take now, some things to follow up on, but, together, we have something more than that.

We have an opportunity.  


36 Responses to Regret turns to action

  1. Stimey says:

    There is just no stopping you.

  2. Barb says:

    Good for you to see a need and actually do something about it! I’m glad the breakfast was such a success!

  3. That’s fantastic!

  4. MammaLoves says:

    Damn woman!! You rock!

    That is incredible. I hope you’ll keep us posted. Maybe we can take your ideas to our own industries.

  5. MammaLoves says:

    And the bathroom fliers?? Brilliant.

    You inspire me so much.

  6. mayberry says:


    one who furtively pumped in a public area…

  7. whymommy says:

    Hey, Mayberry, I’m with you there … I had to pump IN MY CUBICLE at my last job … for over a year. If only the walls had gone all the way to the top … or if my door had fully shut or not been translucent … ah, those were the days, eh?


    But when there is no pumping room, the bathroom is filthy, and you are forbidden from using any one of the half-dozen empty offices, what else are you going to do?

  8. abunslife says:

    Awesome! I actually got a little teary eyed….I had to opt out of our advisory board meeting in May because it is over seas this year, and of course occurs right when school is ending, and there is that lapse of time before the summer care starts. For a meeting that lasts just two days, I would have to be gone for almost a week. I just can’t do it. I am concerned about what I’m missing, what decisions will be made without me, and how I will be viewed or not viewed in my absence, but I am a mother first.

  9. deb says:

    It’s hard to remember that you had cancer, or that you have two small children. You saw a problem and decided to do something about it.

  10. canape says:

    You are a gatherer of people and ideas, Susan. That is a great talent.

  11. Jennifer says:

    Congratulations! There is no stopping you, and certainly not 108 women. It is so ridiculous that this situation persists, and a glaring example of what a difficult setting academia is for women. Go Susan!

  12. Amy says:

    Just one question – why “furtive” nursing? I’m in your field (albeit, in a very small and limited way) and I’ve nursed during interviews with interns. HAHAH!

    My theory – people are going to think it’s weird and needs to be hidden until women stop acting like it’s weird and needs to be hidden.

    You rock, by the way, and I’m amazed at your energy!

  13. ruthie says:


    WOW! There is a definite need! I bet you were stunned! See what can be accomplished! Women are a powerful force and can
    accomplish much! It just needed a little breech in that dam, and whoa!, the flood came! No stopping it now! Walk right on through that window of opportunity.

  14. Robin says:

    Go you!!

    I’m a poster child for nursing in public, but even I agree that most women at a professional conference would probably enjoy having the option of a quiet, more private space.

    Good for you for putting the needs of women and families on the agenda.

  15. Nice work. Having tough life, you have done beautiful work.

  16. Wow – that’s 100 more than you thought!!! That’s wicked cool!!!

  17. Alison says:

    That is so incredible! You should, again, be so proud of yourself! In the face of adversity you have once again shone!!

  18. Susan K says:

    I told you in private, but will tell you here too!

    CONGRATS! 108 is awesome and I am still very curious to know what % of women who came to the conference that represented. And if that was in fact Sunday AM it is all the more amazing, as a lot of people don’t arrive until Sunday!!!

    Great. Look forward to hearing what your brainstorming came up with and what is accomplished by this.

  19. whymommy says:

    Thanks, Susan!

    We don’t have any way of estimating the number of women at the conference — this was a major obstacle in planning/publicizing it, as a matter of fact, as the presenter list is even recorded as first initial . second initial . last name.

    My hope is that NEXT YEAR we will place the breakfast on the official program and have an even larger attendance. This was all just word-of-mouth.

    I’m working on a summary of issues and open actions to go out to the women who participated and others who let me know that they’d be interested in the outcome. The summary will of course be posted on the new blog —

  20. JR says:

    Amazing! Effecting change once again with your characteristic grace and style. You go!

  21. delilah says:

    You are truly amazing!

  22. Ally says:

    The power in all of these women, banding together, brought tears to my eyes! There is hope. Good work!

  23. Imstell says:

    You are such a mover & shaker! I am humbled.

  24. carol says:

    I am so impressed by this because I stayed home many, many times over the years my children were small because of no available childcare or a place to nurse an infant. good for you. Change comes in increments of people taking action. God Bless You.

  25. BRAVO! What a great and much-needed step forward.

  26. You. Rock.

    I am in awe. And I simply cannot wait to hear what comes of all of this!!

    xo CGF

  27. Anne says:

    You amaze me! Today I stayed home with my 3-year-old instead of getting to go to a conference with my husband that I really really wanted to attend… because we just didn’t have childcare… It does make you feel trapped and isolated at times.

  28. Can you stand one more person telling you how fabulous you are? You rock!

  29. […] I feel like I accomplished a lot this week, I am ashamed to admit that it is in part because I feel such an urgency about the things that I […]

  30. Yea, you!!!

    There’s no end to your amazing-ness 🙂

    You really are an inspiration!! Ya got me thinkin’…


  31. beanmom says:

    You are utterly amazing.

    I’m also a scientist and mother (although not in your field); let me add my thanks and awe to the chorus.

  32. Amelie says:

    Congratulations! That’s great!

  33. Rebecca says:

    108! Staggers a la Roger in 101 Dalmations.

    D*mn girl! Obviously a force to be reckoned with (both you and the group as a whole).

  34. Stephanie says:

    Hear! Hear! Good for you for starting this important conversation! From the turnout (with minimal advertising, mind you), it seems obvious that this is an issue close to moms’ hearts.

    Please keep us posted as you move forward. I’d love to get involved.

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