Audrey Gelman was overwhelmed and stressed on Wednesday, traveling away from her 10-week-old son, Sidney, for the first time and trying to figure out how to navigate the demands of new motherhood while catching a flight.
At LaGuardia Airport, she spotted a Mamava pod — a private space set up for breast-feeding or pumping — and ducked in before her flight to Boston.
Inside, she found an unexpected chorus of support from other moms cheering her on.
“Be kind and gentle with yourself. YOU ARE ENOUGH,” one note said. “You are literally sustaining life with your incredible milk. Super-hero type stuff!!!” another said.
“LaGuardia’s, like, the last place in America I thought I’d have this kind of a sentimental experience,” says Gelman, CEO and co-founder of the Wing, the women’s co-working space and social club. “But I was moved. I think it was just this amazing moment where women I’d never met before were telling me exactly what I needed to hear.”
She posted photos on Instagram and wrote about how much the discovery meant to her. Less than a day later, more than 14,000 people had liked her post and more than 500 had left comments.
Gelman had unknowingly tapped into a trend of hidden encouragement that has spread into lactation rooms at airports and train stations around the country.
“It’s kind of a phenomenon,” says Christine Dodson, chief operating officer and co-founder of Mamava, the company that has put 152 of these portable suites in 57 airports.
Dodson said she first heard about moms leaving each other notes in the spaces at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport about a year and a half ago. She’s aware of similar happenings at 15 to 20 other major hubs, and a company spokeswoman said the same thing has happened at train stations. Dodson said she wasn’t surprised that women took it upon themselves to build each other up.
“We were just really psyched to see it happen organically,” she says. The company included an ability to share messages with other customers digitally through its app about a year ago and has since provided sticky notes to leave in pods for users who want to leave their own notes.
At LaGuardia, which is in the midst of a renovation, the note-leaving started with Grace Stevens, a new mom who works at the airport. When she was traveling with her infant daughter Sienna, who is now 15 months old, she had used nursing rooms and come across similar encouraging notes.
“It can feel so overwhelming, like, how am I going to do this?” she says. “When I was in the moment and saw other notes and messages of inspiration, it really did empower me to know that I could figure it out — and I did.”
Stevens, who is manager of community and external relations for LaGuardia Gateway Partners, the operator and developer of the airport’s Terminal B, decided she wanted to share that inspiration with other moms who came through the terminal. After talking to the guest experience team, she wrote a few notes — one including the phrase, “You got this, mama” — and left a pen and sticky notes there this year.
“It really does take moms working together to lift each other up and help each other out,” Stevens says. “I’m just so happy that I could be a small piece of that. Obviously it started with one or two notes, but hundreds of other moms have joined in.”