By Heather O.
I stayed up way too late the other night reading about Sophie Currier. Don’t know who she is? Let me fill you in on the basic facts:
She’s a graduate from MIT and a student at Harvard Medical School. She’s also a mother of two. She is about to start a residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, which is ranked as the #2 hospital in the country, or at least it was when we lived in Boston. She can only start the residency if she passes her medical board tests, something that she tried to do when she was 8 and a half months pregnant. She failed. Now she is trying to do it again, this time a lactating mother. She requested that she get extra time to pump during the exam.
The Board refused.
She sued. And she won.
Let’s hear it for the moms! Straightforward win for breastfeeding, right?
Maybe, maybe not.
You see, not only is she a lactating mother, she also has a diagnosis of ADHD. That means that she is entitled to extra accomodations. Those accomodations take the form of her already receiving twice the alloted time to take the test. The test is supposed to be done in one day. She gets two. My understanding is that a regular test taker is allotted 45 minutes for a break throughout the test, to be allocated as the student sees fit (i.e, 5 minutes here and there to pee, eat, brush the hair that you have been pulling out of your head, etc). She gets two 45 minute breaks, that is, 90 minutes of break time to be used as she sees fit.
She says this wasn’t enough time to take the test, eat, pee, etc, AND pump milk. She wanted 20 extra minutes for each break, essentially adding up to 40 extra minutes (again, this is my understanding. If somebody finds a fact that is different, please feel free to correct me).
Okay, so here’s the thing. You’d expect that this woman would take some heat from other test takers, people who think women should just suck it up, etc. What surprised me, however, is the overwhelming negative response she got from other nursing mothers. She had a blog, which I tried to click to, but apparently it has been made private, owing, I gathered from another site, from the vitriole that was flung at her.
I’ve been thinking about this for a few days now, wondering why people haven’t been sailing in to give her more support. I mean, after all, we want to believe that a woman can have it all, and here is an example of a woman who is, presumably, rising to the top of her very demanding profession, asking for accomodations to express milk. Every lactating woman knows she can’t go a day without expressing at least some milk to avoid engorgement, clogged ducts that can lead to mastitis, and a serious overall ouch factor. So why the cold shoulder from so many women?
Is it the ADHD factor? After all, Ms. Currier has spent her academic career being accomodated, including having students read her books to her at MIT, as well as access to other student’s notes. Despite all our talk about inclusion, do we really believe it? Is it that we look upon Sophie Currier not as a lactating mom fighting for her rights, but as a woman who has learned to work the system to her advantage, and this latest stunt is just another weapon in her arsenal to be used to move her along the ladder of success? And could I have possibly used a cornier mixed metaphor in that last sentence?
Frankly, I don’t know. I’m not sure what to think of her story, or how to feel about her asking for more time to pump. Sarah Waldeck over at Concurring opinions is concerned that this wasn’t a victory for breastfeeding moms, because it makes it look like accomodating them is difficult, when really it isn’t. Lactating women succeed in the workplace all the time without accomodations, after all. I did. I pumped in a bathroom on my lunch breaks. I’m sure the other employees were not totally thrilled with seeing bottles of breast milk in the fridge next to their lunches, but nobody said anything. So we know it can work. Did Sophie Currier take the fight for breastfeeding moms forward, or back a few steps? And why are so many nursing moms so mean?
Regardless of the outcome, I certainly don’t envy the woman her board exams. Pumping or not pumping, she’s bound to leak some, and I’m sure it’s difficult to concentrate on neuroanatomy while you are wishing you had a dry shirt.
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