Breastfeeding: An Empoyee Right?

Is Lactation a Disability?

Here is an interesting story of which I am struggling to form an opinion:  a female police officer, Officer Sashay Brown in Washington D.C. was recently denied desk duty that she requested in order to continue breast feeding her new baby.  She had just come off maternity leave which exhausted her sick leave.  Medical Services Branch Director, William Sarvis refused to bend a  new department policy that was meant to force officers who had made  dubious claims of health issues back to the street.

The article does not state whether she had vacation time left or whether she was allowed to apply it in this case.  As it wasn’t mentioned, I have to assume that it was also gone.   It states that this was her second child, but not whether it was the second time she took maternity leave with this department.  Nor does it indicate whether or not Brown had any discipline or work performance issues before this situation.

“Because of my condition, I am unable to wear my  [bulletproof] vest,” Brown wrote in her June 12 request to be detailed back to  her station on limited duty. “Wearing my vest is extremely painful and could  clog my ducts and slow down the production of my milk supply.” She was then  checked out by a department doctor, who advised that Brown be given a  limited-duty desk job.

In a June 24 memo to Brown,  Sarvis wrote, “I have reviewed your case and determined that  you will not receive authorization to participate in the limited duty work  program.”

Sarvis said that until department doctors determine  Brown is fit for full duty, she’d either have to take sick leave, or unpaid  leave if she didn’t have sick days left.

Note that they weren’t firing her.  She was given unpaid leave and a job to come back to.

As a once lactating mother, my first reaction was negative.  But immediately on the heels of first impression came another, larger wave of suspicion.  I am done with knee jerk reactions to news of this nature.  I support a woman’s right to feed her baby.  Breast milk has been proven to be critical in terms of antibodies, fat & nutrition- perfectly suited to a human baby’s health needs.  I support breast feeding in public places.

But here we come to the crux of the matter.  The work place & women.  Having been recently battling young ‘feminists’ on their tantrum blogs, this has been lately on my mind.  Just how much sexism really exists in the workplace anymore?  Having spent 20 years in the work force- in the U.S. Army,  a police force, and 15 years in the corporate private sector, I can honestly say that I have not experienced sexism, per say.  Harassment & violence- once. Discrimination?  No.  I have always been hired & paid the exact equivalent, or more, than my male counterparts.  My job has never been defined by my sex.  I have had equal opportunity to follow my career as I saw fit.  Yes, there is the occasional butt-head who didn’t like me- but that could also be chalked up to my sometimes abrasive personality (*ahem*).  I’ve had lots of women not like me too.  Is that sexism?

The question that comes to mind concerning this police officer is,  “Is breastfeeding an employee right?”  And on a larger scale, “Do workplaces need to make accommodations for a woman’s child bearing desires?”  The Family Leave Act and others like it have already forced businesses to give unpaid leave (6-12 weeks depending on the job and/or state) to both the father and the mother when a child is born.  Most work places offer various levels of paid time off as well for child birth.  The work normally done by these parents is divided among the other workers.  Should they also accomodate breastfeeding?

Can a woman be said to have a ‘medical condition’ because she wants to breastfeed?  Is she unfit to do her duty as a police officer?  Should the police department allow an officer a year in desk duty while other police officers must cover her more dangerous street duties?  Do women have a ‘right’ to this special treatment?

No.  She doesn’t.  There are so many jobs a person can do in this country.  Every job offers benefits different from the others.  Isn’t it the job of any adult to plan their own lives?  Women included?  As a woman, I always knew I would have children.  That is why I chose to be a management consultant.  A sole proprietor.  I knew I wanted maximum flexibility.  Sure, my contracts are between 3-12 months at a time, but I have always had a job when I wanted one.  Because I did my  homework and kept my skills sharp.  And I got the flexibility I wanted for child-birth and anything else my family needed.  Did this police officer not understand the terms of employment beforehand?  Did she not inquire about leave, sick time, maternity benefits?  Why didn’t she plan her life to include the things she needed and wanted?  Should other officers be forced to do more dangerous street time because she wants to nurse?

The fact is, feminists today would call these types of decisions, ‘sexism’, when they are not.  Businesses are about money.  All they care about is who can do that best for them.  Women cost more money than men.  Women are less dependable than men as they tend to take long maternity leaves for babies or completely drop out after costly training for the job.  Women complain because there are not more women CEOs.  But my response is that any woman who is willing to drop child-bearing or child rearing altogether and put in the 50-60 hour week necessary to be a CEO will become a CEO.  That is what male CEO’s do.  Most of us don’t want that though.  Hence, fewer female CEO’s.  Not sexism.

Sometimes reality must set in.  The government does not need to impose more legislation to ‘protect’ women.  Women, young women especially, need to be smart and plan their lives according to their desires.  The feminist message is a false one and causes young women to stumble in their life plans:  “You can have it all.  A power driven career, a great husband, children & nurse- all at the same time!”  The feminist message also denies a woman the simple joys of being at home with their babies.  This is painted as ‘weakness’, ‘giving in’, ‘sacrificing’, ‘the greatest American brain drain’ and a ‘sad dependence on a man’.

On the one side, feminists scream that they want to be in the police force, fire department & military.  They are equal to men.  Fine.  But then they turn around and say, “Treat us like women- we are DIFFERENT than men! Don’t you see we need to give birth and lactate?”  That, my friend is having your cake and eating it too.

Women need to wizen up and see things for what they are.  We bear children.  Most of us enjoy the process.  It is extremely fulfilling and challenging to stay home with your kids- it is not a brain drain.  Child rearing is one of the most critical jobs of society.  It is difficult to do well.  Work forces should not be forced to make up for our lack of life planning.  You can’t have it all.  Why should you want to?  It’s exhausting.

12 comments

  1. Actually, SLR, the comment about women being cold hearted was just an attempt at humor. I was referring to my ex-wives, but I guess I should have explained it better!

    Donn

  2. SLR,

    It doesn’t surprise me that you were the best shot with an M-16. Women are often better snipers than men. It seems that they tremble less and can control their breathing better than men. I’ve heard that they have a better tolerance for pain and can overlook physical discomforts better too.

    Most of them that I have know are pretty cold-hearted also! I think that would fit right into the sniper mentality!

    Donn

    • I can’t explain it. You may have some good points there. I hate to think I am cold hearted, but the fact of the matter is that I can really, really focus. When I get to that place, I feel like a laser beam. I think I could be a sniper and sleep well at night. Maybe that makes me cold. Who knows?

  3. SLR and Toosoxy,

    Just some quick comments here from a man’s prespective. First, you both have made some great points. As to the differences in ages, I can hear the fear in Toosoxy’s writing and the confidence in SLR’s. I understand both points of view. Toosoxy, like SLR says, you will be fine. If you get down, just remember that by the grace of God, you were born and raised in a country where you can better yourself by making tough decisions and working hard. In most countries, you would have few of the choices that you have here in America.

    SLR, you mentioned that it may simply be a case of the department using lactating as an excuse to get rid of a troublesome worker. I agree, it may be, but we don’t have all of the info to make such a determination. I hope it isn’t. But here is how I feel. If this woman IS a troublemaker, she has brought this attention upon herself. In my opinion, a troublemaker shouldn’t challenge her employer into being forced to make a decision that if he sides with her, it goes against all other employees who do not want to breastfeed at work. Someone else is going to have to perform additional work to pick up her slack.

    Another point is that this woman may be a true slacker. She may be “riding a good horse to death,” as my father used to say. She has already been given maternity leave and allowed to use her sick or vacation days as an extension to her time off from work. As you say, she knew that there would be a time when she would be required to continue the job that she was hired to do, and that she was being paid for, EVEN DURING THE EXTENDED TIME THAT SHE WASN’T AT WORK.

    Speaking of fairness, is it fair to her co-workers to extend the time that she isn’t able to perform her regular duties, (patrol work) and force them to do her more dangerous duties? They had no input into her choice of wether to bear children or her choice to breastfeed her child. What happens to fairness when a co-worker is filling her patrol slot and is shot and killed? Do you think the husband or wife of the dead patrolman is going to feel that it was OK that their loved one was killed just so a co-worker could stay on desk duty and breastfeed her child?

    In a corporation, most things that affect one employee, affects many employees. And getting back to as to why the company was not willing to set a prescedent and allow this worker extra time from patrol duty, it has been my experience that most companies want to keep their highest performers. Wether you are a consultant, a patrolman, or a soldier, if you are one of the very best, every outfit I have worked for has bent over backwards to make them happy, wether male or female.
    Donn

    • Donn, we are on the same page on this. As a woman and a so-called minority, I have had many opportunities to use this ‘special’ status to get special treatment. I have refused to indicate my sex or race on any kind of application. Including my application to West Point. I want to always be given credit for what I do, not what I AM. I agree that this department probably didn’t think the officer was ‘worth’ keeping. They could have given her special desk duty and chose not to. That tells you something. I totally agree that the surviving spouse of a dead officer who was on the beat she should have been on would be pretty upset. My feelings concerning women in jobs is this: do the job. If you can’t do the job, then you shouldn’t have it. Example: a lifeguard has to drag a 210 man off the bottom of the pool- regardless of their sex. Same with firemen & policemen. In the Army, my thoughts are: use women as snipers- not in hand to hand combat. We can’t win- no matter how big we are and how skilled we are. It is a death sentence. On the other hand, I was the best shot in my platoon with an M-16. Why not use me? I was also very good at sneaking around in the bushes. I could drive a tank, but I couldn’t lift that giant ‘bullet’ into the barrel! In fact, I dropped in on my foot and got a sprained ankle! Even I wouldn’t want me in the tank in war time. Can you imagine?

      Women are GREAT at a lot of things. But we need to just accept and REVEL in who we are. We are not victims. No one is out to get us. There is no glass ceiling. The reason we don’t have more women CEO’s is because women tend to drop out- either for short or very extended times- for child bearing. What’s wrong with that? Women who are willing to forgo that part of their lives will make it to the top (if they are good). I don’t believe everyone is great at everything. Why can’t we just be a peace with who we are and revel in that? Equality is not the same as The Same.

  4. You hit the nail on the head with this one. A close family member of mine has been in law enforcement his entire career and has seen too many women in positions with responsibilities they were not prepared — or able — to fulfill. One woman, in particular, repeatedly used her kids’ soccer games as justifiable cause to leave early from work! I know it sounds sexist in today’s world, but that’s just one of several reasons I firmly believe women do NOT belong in traditional law enforcement roles.

    When I was a young mother working in an ad agency, I would never have dreamed of asking for concessions based on my child-rearing responsibilities. That is patently unfair to coworkers who must pick up the slack. So you’re right, in my book, that it’s the worker’s responsibility to understand what is expected of her (or him) going into the job and not try to change the terms when they’re no longer convenient.

    • Hey. If she wants to DO the job, then DO it. But don’t whine!!! Right? It makes all us hard working women look bad. That being said, I was the best shot with the M-16 in my Army company. I was also one of the very last to be ‘killed’ in battle simulations. Women are small and can be quite sneaky in combat situations. I would have been a GREAT sniper. Or helicopter pilot. If women want the job, then DO the job. Plain & simple. Whining is not part of my vocabulary.

  5. I had to make a pretty tough transition two years ago. i was unemployed for a month. transitioned to part time and then full time. i was really lucky. this was about 5 months of my life where i qualified for unemployment. and 500,000 (slight exaggeration, but you get me) job applications. i had to stay with friends, which was tough. if i had had a child? no clue how i would have done that. i have wonderful friends- but i really don’t know how that would be managed. and trying to find a job with the responsibility of a child? i can’t imagine. accommodations like this would make the struggle easier. fortunately, i had friends to go to. with rent out of the way, i could concentrate 24/7 on the job hunt. i didn’t have to compromise just to get food on the table. a lot of people i know in this position went from working in television to working at kentucky fried chicken because they didn’t have the support structure i have. i was really, really lucky. seriously. i know people STILL trying to find a job- people that lost their employment when i did. it terrifies me to no end. i mean, i’m a journalist. it could happen any day… i’m a little better prepared mentally, but i don’t make enough money now to have significant savings. and my savings were wiped two years ago.
    and on to the greater economic discussion- it’s really hard to see the job climate until something like that happens to you. i’m making about half what i was making two years ago. it’s extremely difficult. add a kid into that? i shudder just thinking about it. i have a 6-year-old puppy and it’s impossible. i can’t imagine. making accommodations to support a new mother does many things conservatives might get behind, ie: support the pro-life stance.
    i’ve been a writer/reporter in some capacity for about ten years now. i’ve written about these issues. but having it actually happen? definitely an eye opening event. and that’s just me as a single person. i can’t imagine being unemployed with a kid! or unemployed with a not-so-great resume and a kid.
    anything to make it easier for people to work? i’m for it. and i wish everyone had parents to turn to (i didn’t, fyi, when i lost my job). i wish everyone had friends to turn to. but not everyone has support. it’s a sad, sad world.
    but this convo is certainly making me appreciate my job today… oh, and the fact that i do NOT have kids.🙂 here’s to hoping that doesn’t happen for a long time!

    • Toosoxy,

      I FEEL you. You will be ok! Question: did you finish college? Probably, if you are a journalist.
      Being in your early 20’s and having no money is not ‘poor’, in my opinion. It’s called ‘starting out’. And you see? you don’t have a baby and are clearly smart enough not to have one. That being said, if you did have a baby, then believe me, allowing you to lactate would not really help you that much in your situation.

      If journalism doesn’t pan out to your satisfaction, you live in a country where that just doesn’t matter! My degree was pre-med (biochemistry) and I ended up working in the telecommunications software development world! That is 100% cool. Keep your eyes open, your skills sharp and be POSITIVE about your future. Be aggressive. Employers love that.

      The question that tends to divide liberals and conservatives is not compassion. It is whether or not we should legislate compassion. Conservatives believe that is wrong answer. We believe that all individuals, with equality under the law and a good amount of hard work will make it just fine. By not interfering with the job creation machine (small businesses), we allow them to make the smartest decisions which leads to growth and more hiring, etc. The more growth & hiring, the more competition for qualified job applicants. The more competition for job applicants equals higher wages and better benefits. The higher wages & better benefits lead to more consumption, which then helps the small businesses grow. And around the circle we go!

      Liberals believe in the government forcing ‘fairness’ upon the business sector. While there is a place for this, I believe all the laws are in place. No more are needed. Obamacare & higher taxes are killing most small businesses. Many businesses are sitting on a ton of cash- but won’t hire now because they don’t know if Obama plans to raise their taxes. They also are waiting to see what the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare will be. Also, they see the price of oil going up (do to unrest in the Middle East and a ban on domestic oil production). Hence, the fear of hiring. Thus the shortage of jobs. thus the shortage of money to spend on businesses and down the toilet we go..

      I know you feel frightened by the work situation- but you used your resourcefulness- as I did- when you were down and out. I think you will do so in the future. Hardship is a part of life. We should not be spared it. It develops our skills and our character. I know it did for me.

      During my darkest days, I also did not have parental support- friends either. It was tough. But it also made me tough and made me proud of my success. It also made me a big believer in the American way.

      If it doesn’t sound too condescending, may I give some advice to you- older woman to younger woman? BELIEVE in yourself. Have a positive attitude. Go into your job hungry and do a great job. Smile. Enjoy yourself. If one job doesn’t cut it, make a command decision and switch courses. Own your decisions. Don’t get pregnant or take a chance of it. You seem pretty perky and intelligent to me. I think you will be JUST FINE.

  6. You make interesting points, really.
    But what about people who HAVE to work?
    Single mothers? They happen. And it’s not always premeditated. I’m a writer- and I’ve covered war widows who HAVE to work. Single motherhood happens, and it’s not always the result of a talking point stereotype.
    I did not see an indication of the woman’s economic standing. You say “you can’t have it all. Why should you want to? It’s exhausting.”
    True, true and true.
    But some people, some women, don’t have a choice.
    I honestly don’t know how I feel about breastfeeding in the workplace. I’m a working professional with no kids, but, with my limited knowledge of the process, I see no reason why accommodations can’t be made. Especially if there’s a precedent. “Limited-duty desk jobs” clearly exist in this position.

    But… I, like you… wonder if there’s not something else that we don’t know about behind the article. Hard to tell, right? Maybe there’s some subsurface issue going on that creates doubt, etc… on this woman in particular.

    But, if we’re speaking generally, I’d say accommodations seem fair. I’m more concerned about your generalizations on how many jobs there are in this country. In this economic climate with unarguable statistics released by the ESC twice a month, it’s a naive argument. It’s great that you can do business consulting, but most women are lucky if they can get a minimum wage job.

    Just thoughts. Have a nice day.

    • Hi Toosoxy,

      Thank you so much for your insightful, thoughtful comment and for visiting my blog. I remember you from Grace’s blog. I did have some doubts about that woman’s performance and I did wonder if the police department was simply trying to get rid of a troublesome worker. Being the in work force, I’m sure you have seen companies use these types of tactics to rid themselves of underperformers.

      I agree with you that accommodations can be made for breast feeding women! But I disagree that the Federal or State government should impose them on businesses. The reality is: women are great performers. We multi-task well and many of us truly do our best- in our efforts to live up to the motto: “we are equal to men”. Also, we juggle careers, housework, kids, nursing everyday- which most men do not have to do. This makes us quite good at being efficient. Businesses worth their salt know this. And they DO offer all kinds of maternity benefits. I didn’t mean to say that there were LOTs of jobs- I said there are all kinds of jobs. In other words, choices. A woman has to plan her life as much as a man does. Aren’t we the masters of our fates? Would you have it any other way?

      Am I better than other women? Am I smarter? Am I stronger? No. If I could do it, so can anyone else. Many times I feel that liberalism is the greatest insult to minorities and women. It assumes that they can’t do what the liberal can so easily do: succeed. And it ‘feels sorry’ for people. That would make me so mad! Feel sorry for me? No way! I grew up poor. My mother was an immigrant. My Dad didn’t go to college- he was a career soldier and worked his BUTT off to provide for us. But I took every advantage of the free school we have in America. I got straight A’s because my mother would not brook any nonsense from us. I got into West Point on a scholarship. Believe me, I had no dreams of being a soldier at 18. (what teenage girl does?) But I wanted the best education I could get so that I would have the most choices. I understood there was a price for the free ride they were offering me. Later in my quest for a higher education, I actually lived in a $75/month (gotta love it!) walk in closet with two weird girls. Did I care? No! I could use my bike to my waitressing & gas station jobs and to school. It was perfect.

      I hate to sound heartless, Toosoxy, but I don’t really feel sorry for women who can’t find a job. There are so many scholarships for poor people (even more if you are a woman or a minority)- more than any middle class american could ever expect. You can get loans to go to school- technical or 4 year. Most of these young women can still live at home or otherwise count on parental help in some way. They need to get up off their butts and get some education.

      As for women who do get pregnant and do keep the baby, I do have sympathy for them. I admire their choice and I would , if I could, make the guy marry her, get a job and be a real man. But should the GOVERNMENT force businesses to help them lactate? no, it goes too far. I have no doubt that this same girl can DO it. This is the best country on earth for women. Anyone who tries will make it.

      My reaction is this: I am sick of so-called feminists defining what a woman’s role should be. You would think that they had enough of MEN defining it in the past. When I decided to stay home with my kids, the National Organization of Women (NOW) released a statement where they criticized career women who made the same decision. They called it the ‘biggest brain drain’ in America today. Basically, they are saying that a woman’s intellect and skills, when applied to the instructing of her children, is a waste of her talent. How short sighted is that? It will probably be my kids who will be paying that lady’s social security someday! Especially if she is a lesbian without kids! I’ll bet she will be glad I gave my kids a great education then, huh?

      Why is being a stay-at-home mom looked down upon by feminists? It is absolutely the most challenging job that I have ever had (and that is saying a lot, considering the jobs I’ve held). But these WOMEN, not men, would put my decision- and me- down. Why must women give up the pleasures of babies in order to be REAL women? Must I grow arm pit hair, wear no makeup, and stop mutilating myself with high heels to qualify as a Real woman? Where is NOW when female politicians get hammered mercilessly as ‘Barbie-dolls & stupid’ just because they are pretty? Is beauty now ‘bad’ for women?

      I like being seen for who I am. I like being judged for what I do. If I want to have a baby, I will take responsibility for it. And I expect the man to do the same. If I want to wear pink, then I will. If I want to wear stilettos & make up and make men’s hearts melt, then I will. If I want to build furniture (which I do), then I will. If I want to shoot a gun (which I do), then I will. If I want to lactate, then I will. I’m not asking for any help. Don’t need it. Don’t want it.

      To me, THAT is true feminism- a woman free to enjoy all her various sides without interference- from anyone.

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