Sen. Tammy Duckworth Doesn't Know If She Can Take Maternity Leave


Whether to take maternity leave—and for how long—is a question all working mothers struggle with, but Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth is in a rare predicament. As the first pregnant sitting senator, Duckworth has no roadmap for the balancing act of serving her country and caring for an infant, she told Politico's Women Rule podcast. 

"If I take maternity leave, then I won't be allowed to sponsor legislation or vote during that time period," the Democratic senator said. And if she did want to vote, she wouldn't be able to take her baby to the Senate floor. "If I have to vote," Duckworth said, "and I'm breastfeeding my child, especially during my maternity leave period, what do I do? Leave her sitting outside?"

The baby, who will be Duckworth's second child, is due in April.

Leaving her baby with a staff member, she continued, would be a conflict of interest, leading her to wonder, "Am I allowed to vote? Can I not do my job? What are some of the requirements there?"

Until the baby is born, Duckworth told Women Rule she is committed to working through current legislation, and especially finding solutions to her situation, "so that other legislators behind me can continue to do their jobs but also look after their families." She told CBS that fellow senators on both sides of the aisle have congratulated her (Cory Gardner from Colorado even joked that Cory is a unisex name), and she's hoping she can transform that goodwill into tangible maternity—maybe even paternity—leave policies for legislators.

Duckworth hopes her situation will lead to tangible policy change. She also hopes it will encourage more women to run for office to create more, as she put it, "family-friendly" legislation. "It's a big deal because it shows women are finally getting to the halls of power and we need more of them; there's only 22 of them and it's not enough." 

Women have been serving in the Senate for decades, yet there's no protocol for accommodating new mothers. Let's hope all the senators congratulating Duckworth on her pregnancy are equally excited to vote for better parental leave.

Listen to the podcast

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