We’ve all been there. Inevitably, on the day you have an important deadline, meeting or project at work, you wake up to a sick child. One with a fever or sore throat or stomach bug who obviously cannot go to her usual day-care provider.
Then what is already a juggle gets about 100 times more complicated. Yes, you have sick leave, but missing work is not always an option. Day-care providers and schools do not allow sick children, in order to prevent the spread of diseases. So we do the best we can, making tough choices in our attempt to serve everyone.
Adrienne Pine, an assistant professor of anthropology at American University, was in this position two weeks ago. Nick Anderson wrote about how on the first day of her “Sex, Gender & Culture” class last month, Pine, a single mother, had to bring her sick child with her to a lecture. When the child got hungry during the 75-minute class, Pine breast-fed her while she continued to teach the class of about 40 students, Anderson wrote.
Students in the class tweeted and posted to Facebook about Pine’s breast-feeding, according to Anderson’s story, and the Internet chatter caught the attention of the university’s student newspaper, the Eagle.
Pine wrote in an essay on CounterPunch.org called “The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus: Exposéing My Breasts on the Internet” that she was not trying to make a political statement by feeding her child during class. She was just doing what she had to do to take care of her baby and keep her quiet, while continuing to go about her professional duties as best she could. She was trying to be there for her daughter and her students.
She wrote that, “desperately weighing the situation, it seemed that I had little choice. I could not bring her to daycare with a fever, and I did not feel like it was an option to cancel class.”
In an e-mail to a reporter at the Eagle that she quoted in her essay, Pine wrote: “I had no intention of making a political statement or shocking students. I merely had a sick baby who I couldn’t leave at daycare on the first day of class. It was unfair to leave the job of teaching the first class to my teaching assistant, so I had two choices: cancel class, which would have been disruptive to students (and which could also negatively affect my student evaluations, putting my tenure at risk), or bring the baby to class. I chose to do the latter. As it turned out, the baby got hungry, so I had to feed it during lecture. End of story.”
The university issued a statement Tuesday that expressed empathy for the difficult choices working parents often face. But Pine should have taken sick leave to avoid exposing her students to her sick child, according to an e-mail university spokeswoman Camille Lepre sent to Anderson.
Instead of putting a scarlet L on Pine’s chest for lactating in public, perhaps the debate should be about why, when more than 59 percent of women work outside the home or are seeking employment, there is very little in the way of support to allow them to be both moms and professionals. Maybe it’s time to have a broader conversation about day-care options, as The Post’s Petula Dvorak suggested in a column last month.
The students in Pine’s class got a valuable lesson that day, and it had nothing to do with breast-feeding. They saw, firsthand, how hard it is to be a working parent, how few options there are and how both mothers and fathers constantly make difficult choices about how to balance their jobs and their family responsibilities.