At the age of one month, Elly made history. For those who missed the cringe-inducing coverage, her mom, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks drove the hour and a half from Oakland to Sacramento with her newborn on Monday, August 31. She made the trek to debate legislation she considered vital: creating more multi-unit housing in a state desperate for it, and expanding family leave protections.
When the housing bill came up near midnight, Wicks who was nursing, literally “detached” from her daughter and ran down two flights of stairs with a blanket hastily thrown over the whimpering child. “Please, please, please pass this bill,” she said on the Assembly floor, holding the swaddled baby. “And I’m going to go finish feeding my daughter.”
She’s not a drama queen. She did it because California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon had decided only Republicans exposed to COVID could vote by proxy–not new moms. He was apparently oblivious to what politico.com reports: “Postpartum mothers could experience a slew of health issues that would qualify them as immunocompromised, putting them at a higher risk [for COVID].”
Let’s hope that legislators strolling on the golf course stopped short, stunned to see how seriously some representatives take their job. How moving that Wicks feels “beholden, not just to our children — but for all the children who will come afterwards.” With a mom like that, Elly can’t go wrong.
Buffy Wicks’ photo—slightly disheveled but committed—rings bells for a lot of us. I was fortunate enough to stay home with my infants, and grateful to a department chair who covered my weekday college classes for a semester, offering me the chance to teach on Saturdays when my husband, who worked all week, could babysit. But even with those cushions—placed in situations where I had to choose between career and baby, I’m embarrassed to admit I often chose the former. How unimportant the deadline or the meeting or the phone call seems in retrospect, compared to the miracle of my four children!
But the future for Elly is different, I hope. After the news got out, working moms went ballistic, with 25,000 references on Google alone and news coverage from as far as Lima Peru, where El Comercio called Wicks the hero of “la lucha de las madres trabajadores” (the struggle of working mothers). Rendon apologized but the damage was done; the cry had gone forth: “What century does he live in?”
While 70% of women in the workforce are moms, family leave policies in the US are pathetic compared to other nations. The United States is one of a “handful” of countries among the 193 who belong to the U.N. that does not have a national paid family leave program.
Ah Elly, we have much work to do to humanize our society, making it worthy of our children. By the time Elly is a nursing mother, protections should be in place so moms never have to make the outrageous choices Buffy did. What for women has too long been a question of either/or can become a both/and. As one Republican senator commented in the film “Miss Representation,” “if the women in Congress could just get together, we’d pass family leave protections quickly.” Welcome to a more just, humane world, Elly! To Rendon and the ol’ boys club: “Your day is done. You had your chance. Your time has passed.”