When I started my Ph.D. program in 2003, I had a 2 month old, a 3-year-old, and a 6-year-old. I didn’t regularly bring my infant to campus, but when I did, it was a pain. The buildings didn’t have ramps for strollers, there were no diaper changing tables anywhere, and no lactation rooms.
I was exclusively breastfeeding at the time, so I had to pump between classes. The only place for me to do so was on the toilet of a musty restroom on the 3rdfloor of the education building. Each day, I began the pumping session by squatting over the toilet—hoping not to have to actually sit down on the toilet. I never lasted more than a couple minutes before giving up and being reduced to sitting on the actual toilet seat. Those are not fond memories.
2019 Heather would definitely have asked for a more suitable place, but 2008 Heather was younger and nicer. And that was a different time, really.
I finished my Ph.D. in 2008 and got a professor gig. We moved cross country.
Fast forward to late 2017. The long-ago baby I was pumping milk for is now 15. His older sisters are 18 and 21. My days hovering over that toilet seat while I pumped milk between classes seem like a previous life.
A pregnant friend happened to mention—in a larger conversation about family-friendly practices and spaces—that the campus where I now work did not have diaper changing tables (or lactation rooms, for that matter). I was shocked. I have never had infants or toddlers at this workplace, so I had somehow never noticed.
I started emailing anyone I thought might listen—supervisors, facilities people, etc. I enlisted some co-conspirators. We started looking at other universities and asking friends there. We asked, we insisted, we researched, we persisted, we organized. And today, I received this picture from a coworker of the restroom on the bottom floor of our building.
This may seem so small. (And, seriously, McDonalds had changing tables when my oldest (born in 1997) was a baby.) But boy could I have used these when my kids were little.
I am reminded of the old saying about how the true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to be able to sit (or some such).
People who use these diaper changing tables will likely never know how much some of us fought for and nagged and reminded and persisted that these be installed.
I am so grateful for all the many people—women especially—who planted seeds for trees whose shade they were never able to enjoy.
I am sitting under your tree, today, as I look at that changing table I will never need to use.
Please, people, find yourself some seeds and get to planting.