A Working Mom's Dilemma

Feminist Anthropology Professor under fire for nursing her sick daughter during class.


Recently, Amanda Pine, single mom and assistant professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, D.C., found herself in a tight spot. Her year-old daughter Lee woke up with a fever and couldn't be dropped off at daycare.

Since it was the first day of Pine's class on Sex, Gender and Culture, she didn't want to cancel at the last minute. So she decided to take her baby to work with her. It was a bit of juggle for Pine to keep her daughter occupied for the 75 -minute long lecture.

The baby, who alternated from being strapped on Pine's back to crawling at her feet, found herself in all sorts of precarious situations. At one point Pine had to fish a paper clip out of her daughter's mouth and also had to snatch her up before she played with an electrical outlet. Pine's teaching assistant held the infant though Pine insisted the job description didn't include babysitting.

When little Lee grew restless, Pine did what she did often to calm her daughter, and briefly breastfed her while continuing the lecture. Luckily, her daughter drifted off to sleep and Pine was able to give her full concentration to finish up class.

Apparently, some of the students were offended and complained about Pine's breastfeeding her daughter in the classroom. The next morning she was contacted by a reporter from the school's student newspaper, The Eagle. In an e-mail the reporter asked her to "discuss what had happened in class."

Suddenly Pine found herself in the middle of a controversy. What began as a typical working mom's dilemma suddenly exploded into a debate about breastfeeding in the workplace. She was shocked that the incident was even considered "newsworthy" and felt that the student reporter had hounded her for details.

In an essay titled "Exposéing My Breasts on the Internet," Pine told her side of the story at Counterpunch.org, exposing e-mails exchanged with the school reporter and charging the paper with creating a “hostile work environment.”  She's also asked The Eagle not publish the story. The newspaper hasn't yet run it. From the essay:

If I considered feeding my child to be a “delicate” or sensitive act, I would not have done it in front of my students. Nor would I have spent the previous year doing it on buses, trains and airplanes; on busy sidewalks and nice restaurants; in television studios and while giving plenary lectures to large conferences. I admit those lectures haven’t always gone so well (baby can get fidgety), but as a single parent without help or excess income, my choice has been between sacrificing my professional life and slogging through it.

It seems that many students at the University had strong opinions about the breastfeeding incident and commented about it in the newspaper's rants section. One student wrote:

Professor Pine is one of the most unprofessional people at AU. It’s hard to maintain your reputation as a scholar when you’re making your classroom a distracting environment. If there’s a baby there, everyone is going to be watching it the whole time to make sure it doesn’t die. Whether it’s on your boobs or not is not the issue, and her diatribe only emphasizes a lack of professionalism.

American University issued a statement about the incident and chastised Pine for bringing her sick child to work, saying, "For the sake of the child and the public health of the campus community, when faced with the challenge of caring for a sick child in the case where backup childcare is not available, a faculty member should take earned leave and arrange for someone else to cover the class, not bring a sick child into the classroom.”

As far as nursing her baby in class, AU noted that the university policy provides breaks and private rooms for mothers who wish to express milk during work hours.

Do you think that Pine was wrong to bring her sick infant to work with her? Was it inappropriate for her to breastfeed her daughter in front of the students? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Tammy Osier September 19, 2012 at 11:50 PM
And for the record, I never did that in public. :) The most public I got was while a passenger in a car driving on the interstate. The blanket came in handy when truck drivers drove by. lol
Sue Anderson September 22, 2012 at 10:34 PM
I wouldn't have done it, but I probably wouldn't condemn it either. However, it's a bit much to expect her assistant to babysit. ;)
Rex Smithers September 22, 2012 at 11:04 PM
With sympathy for the baby I say, the Mother did what was best at the time. But… for the life of me, I will never understand anyone choosing a career over raising their own child. I have an opinion but would never tell a woman what she should be allowed to do with her own body (regarding abortion). I do however have a problem with a woman choosing to have a child while also choosing that someone else raise that child. Our society promotes professional & financial success and that's fine but when you choose to bring another into this world, you damn well owe that child 100%. Choosing to drive an $80,000 Benz to drop your child off at daycare just seems unreasonable to me. This of course is just 2 cents, coming from a man who has never birthed a child nor owned a Benz.
Athens Mama September 23, 2012 at 02:07 AM
I can definitely sympathize with her situation as a single Mom, trying not to miss an important day of work. Rex, although I think you have some valid points, it doesn't sound like she has the option of not working. Unless you are a trustfund baby or your ex is very wealthy, single Moms have to work to make ends meet. I think society is too hung up on "professionalism" and separating parenthood from personhood. If you are viewing this issue from an American paradigm, then yes, it was an inappropriate move. If you are viewing this issue from an international "human" paradigm, then it's really not that big of a deal. It is a case of a Mom doing what was necessary to hold it together.
Rebecca McCarthy September 23, 2012 at 11:47 AM
Dear Chris, As you may remember, the Patch terms of use do not allow for personal attacks, and you crossed the line with your attack on Athens Mama. So I deleted your last comment. I realize a lot of these issues rile people up but please refrain from demeaning personal comments in the future. Patch like folks to play nice. Thanks. Rebecca


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