Earlier this week, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (Illinois) made history by bringing her newborn on to the United States Senate floor and casting a vote. The image brought back so many memories for me, and great pride in my wife Sally.
It seems like only yesterday that Sally delivered our son in December 1999 – and made history as the first woman in Georgia to give birth while serving as a state legislator. With the legislative session starting only two weeks later, we were faced a major logistical challenge. How would Sally be able to fulfill her duties to her constituents, and also care for a breastfeeding newborn who was too young for daycare? We knew that she was going to have to take baby Joseph with her.
So, being the practical, collaborative woman I know, Sally approached then Speaker Tom Murphy to ask him about bringing her baby with her back to work. Word quickly spread among other members about what she was asking to do. There was reluctance and concern. She was warned that bringing our baby to work would upset some of her colleagues. It was outside of their comfort zones.
Back in those days, Speaker Murphy was notorious for never saying “yes,” to anything, but if he didn’t say “no,” you could proceed with caution. Well, Speaker Murphy didn’t say “no,” so Sally persisted. She talked with her colleagues to hear their concerns, and she found a supportive committee chair who agreed to let her use his office close to the House chamber for feeding and changing.
We got my cousin to come help out and our baby came with Sally to the Capitol every day. She carried him in a baby sling and breastfed him on the floor of the House during the regular session. He caused not a moment of trouble down there, and in the process, lots of minds were opened. A mother nursing her baby, where and when she needed to, didn’t harm anyone. There’s nothing like a demonstration to prove a point.
Georgia Public Broadcasting even did a very nice profile of Sally called, “Baby in the House” that aired during their nightly legislative news program.
Our second child was born during the summer 2001 special session for reapportionment. Our baby girl attended the 2002 session, the same as her brother before her and also was breastfed on the floor of the house.
It was during that 2002 session that Sally authored a bill to change the breastfeeding law in Georgia. The previous bill allowed breastfeeding in public, but required that it be “in a discreet and modest way”. Of course, those words sound so reasonable. But it left too much room for abuse in enforcement.
Sally’s bill removed the “discrete and modest” wording and made breastfeeding in public an absolute right. The law is now clear – not open to interpretation and no gray areas – breastfeeding is always allowed in Georgia, anywhere the mother and baby are allowed to be.
Due to the machinations of the legislature, it passed as a senate bill, so she doesn’t show as the author. For me that’s too bad, but Sally isn’t interested in credit, just getting the job done.
And it was no small job! Sally led by example and managed to get the Georgia legislature – a group largely composed of grandfathers – to remove the “discrete and modest” language from our breastfeeding law. She got them to agree to do what was right for women and children, without restrictions, even if it might make some people uncomfortable. This was a sea-change in thinking.
The breastfeeding law wasn’t the only hurdle overcome or legislation Sally passed during her tenure in the Georgia House. But, I think that I am most proud of her because of her efforts and persistence to give women in Georgia the freedom to breastfeed in public without
As your Georgia Senator for District 40, Sally has proven that she will fight for the rights of women to care for their own bodies, and for babies to have the chance to grow up healthy.
And that baby that made history at the Georgia Capitol? He turned 18 last December, and will get to vote in his first election next month on May 22nd – with his Mom on the ballot again!