Bend, Oregon is 175 miles south of Portland. Surrounded by the beauty of the pines and the silence of the desert, I am tapping out this post. If you read “On Being a Trophy Wife,” you would know why I am in Oregon at this past weekend. Yes, I am still enjoying the spoils of being a trophy wife. (By the way, I am a platinum not gold trophy—less glitzy but far more valuable!)
It is early Sunday morning and we have all emerged from our rooms, still sleepy and starting to talk our way through the day. Karen Skoog and I have become great friends through the years of travel to meetings with our hubbies. Have you ever found a friend with whom you could connect and reconnect time and again even though you live 3000 miles apart, never speak by phone, email infrequently, and only see perhaps, maybe, once a year? This year we were luckily able to meet up for two adventures! Happily, I have found such a friend.
Karen is about to become a grandmother again, and so our discussions turned towards the challenges of working and breast feeding and on-site day care. She told me about the different work environments different companies provide. One hospital workplace provides on-site day care and a breast-feeding room for nursing mothers, complete with separate cubicles and privacy curtains. Time taken to pump was not counted as break time. Seemed almost unbelievable, but then I remembered that it doesn’t have to be.
Once upon a time, when the Women and Children’s Hospital was not part of a large corporate health care system, we, too, thought that the women at the hospital deserved on-site day care and our own breast feeding room. Sadly, the excellent on-site day care center was dismantled about 6 years ago, much to the dismay of many employees. It was not profitable, although the waiting list was long. hat was a hard pill to swallow.
As for a breast feeding room of our own, I not know if it still exists, but I can (and will) proudly tell how it came to be.
In 1995 the women health professionals at the Children’s Hospital came together tocreate an endowment fund, the purpose of which was to help women health professionals work more effectively in their work environment. We called ourselves the Women’ Health Professionals Endowment Fund (WHPEF). Membership was open to any woman who worked in a medical field that required licensure—doctors nurses, respiratory therapists, speech language pathologists, etc. To build the endowment, everyone had to make charitable contributions on a sliding scale, e.g. surgeons paying more than medical doctors paying more than nurses paying more than….. You get the picture. The membership grew rapidly as did the interest in the programs and of course, the endowment. Each year part of the endowment was used to fund a project.
Quarterly meetings prepared for the annual program and project. We utilized pediatric grand rounds and had an invited guest speaker. One year it was Dr. Cathy DeAngelis, then a medical school Dean and today editor-in-chief of JAMA. This was followed by a morning of seminars and workshops to help women health professionals optimize their work potential. Lunch provided the forum for our annual report, elections, and project choice.
The “Lactation Station” was the project chosen in 1996. Obtaining a postage stamp piece of real estate within the hospital was difficult, but we did it. The WHPEF provided a pump, a refrigerator, and a comfortable chair, and our lactation specialist helped oversee its operations.
Many grateful women could now pump and continue feeding their newborns breast milk while they went back to work. One less item to feel guilty about! One more health benefit for women and children!
In 2005 the WHPEF disbanded. The endowment reverted to the general endowment of the now Women and Children’s Hospital. I don’t know what happened to the room, or to the chair, to the pump or to the fridge. But what is left is the knowledge that it only takes a few people to care, to get involved, to invest, and to make a little noise. A small change can have a very large impact on the lives of so many very important, but often overlooked people—the mothers who bear the children of our future. I really hope all of our women will have a room of their own.