Opinion: Breastfeeding on the campaign trail

Having my daughter saved me emotionally from the deep despair of the election results. And it inspired me to run for office.

November 8, 2016 was going to be a great day. It was my due date, and my daughter was going to be born the day we elected our first woman president. For the first time in my adult life, I wasn’t in a campaign headquarters for election day. I was sitting on my couch in Oakland, watching the election results come in. I had worked for President Obama for six years, and in progressive politics for over a decade before that. It was all very serendipitous. Except it wasn’t meant to be: we weren’t going to break that last glass ceiling and my baby wasn’t going to be born that day. And I didn’t know it then, but it was actually the beginning of a very unexpected journey.

The day after Donald Trump was elected, I was still very pregnant. I joined a small, informal group of former Obama campaign and White House staff members on a conference call, the first of many such calls. What do we do now? What is our role moving forward? What is my part in this new world order? We had fought so hard for so many things, many of which were in jeopardy now. It was on that call that I remember hearing the word “resistance” for the first time.

During our birth classes at Alta Bates, I disregarded any information about cesarean births. I was going to have an easy labor, with little to no drug interventions. I had done a full Ironman triathlon two months before getting pregnant. That’s just how I do things. But my daughter refused to come. I tried every natural way to get her out. Hikes, herbs, acupuncture, you name it. My daughter finally came two weeks and two days late on Thanksgiving. She came after a three-day induced labor, complete with 26-hours of Pitocin, and ending in an emergency C-section. Her first act of civil disobedience.

Weeks into being a new mother, I was trying to make sense of so many things – the state of our politics and breastfeeding included. Both perplexed me and challenged me in ways I underestimated. I struggled for weeks with breastfeeding, each feeding every 2-3 hours causing severe pain. Originally I had planned to breastfeed for a year, now I wondered if I would I even make it a month. I hated breastfeeding. Hated it. Every time I read about how special and amazing it was for other people, I thought, who are these women who enjoy this?! For me, it was sheer pain. I saw an array of lactation consultants, to no avail. Finally, by the fifth lactation consultant, we were advised that our daughter was not opening up her jaw all the way because she was so compressed during the long labor that her neck muscles were tight. We were sent to a chiropractor who specializes in babies. Though initially very skeptical, we did a few sessions and it worked! Now I just had to manage the logistical challenges of breastfeeding and being a working mom. Lugging pump bags, coolers, and all the other necessary accoutrements from meeting to meeting.

Having mastered breastfeeding, what would my role be in our new political world order? Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women and got away with it. It was unconscionable. When my daughter was about four months old, our State Assemblymember, Tony Thurmond, announced that he was running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. That meant that our seat in the Assembly would be open in 2018. Could I run for office with a four-month old baby? After much reflection and conversation with my husband, I realized that she couldn’t be the reason I didn’t run, she had to be the reason I did run.

As a new mom and a first-time candidate, I launched my campaign and started fundraising, securing endorsements, attending house parties and candidate forums. A year later, I am campaigning in full swing and all the while still breastfeeding. I’ve nursed my daughter while campaigning at street fairs and on the stump at house parties. I’ve pumped in my campaign manager’s car, while being driven from meeting to meeting. I’ve pumped at gas stations (pun intended), café bathrooms, hotel lobbies, my political consultant’s office, in the bathroom of the State Capitol. Those are the annoying and inconvenient parts of breastfeeding. The joy of breastfeeding my daughter is in the early morning nursing, when it’s quiet in the house, before my day of meetings and fundraising calls begins. When it’s just me and her. I know these are some of the most special times of my life. When I look down at my daughter nursing, I see part of my heart outside of my body. And now a full year into the campaign, and heading into the general election, my daughter is now 18-months old and we are weaning. I didn’t expect to nurse this long, it just happened. Will it be easier not to nurse while on the campaign trail? Of course. But I am experiencing the unexpected sadness of the end of our nursing, something else I didn’t anticipate.

Having my daughter saved me emotionally from the deep despair of the election results. And it inspired me to run for office. Am I a perfect mom? No. Am I a perfect candidate? Absolutely not. But, like many of us in this moment, I am putting one foot in front of the other trying my hardest to create a better future for my daughter. And if I’m elected, I will help bump up women’s representation in California, which is at a 20-year low with only 22% of the legislature. I will fight for early childhood education, better paid leave policies, more affordable housing and increased funding for our public schools. I know how hard it is to run for office as a mother, as a new mother, and as a woman. I’ve been told not to bring my daughter to campaign events, that it will turn off voters. I’ve been told that if I don’t, I will look like a bad mother, or imply that I’m not caring for my daughter enough and putting my career ahead of her. These are the concerns and criticism that we as women and mothers still have to deal with, even from well-meaning people. What really keeps me going is the sisterhood of other moms I meet on the campaign trail, cheering me on. To all the moms out there running for office, marching in the streets, advocating for what you believe in, thank you for all you do. As you bring your child in tow to the next protest or campaign event, know that you are showing them the future you’re fighting for.

Buffy Wicks lives in Oakland with her husband, Peter, and daughter, Josephine. They call her JoJo. She is running for State Assembly District 15, recently finished first in the Primary, and will be on the November ballot competing against Jovanka Beckles.