How did I end up here? I am wedged into a narrow cubicle, banging my elbows against the side as I turn on the breast pump, hoping the batteries, which are as tired as I am, last just a little longer.
I am on my way back from one of the biggest conferences in my field, where I presented my work and picked up an award that will open doors in the future. I am jet-lagged and missing home, my six-month-old baby and his brother.
I had not planned for this. When my abstract was accepted, I thought I would be better off taking my baby — I was breastfeeding, after all.
That is when my naivety became apparent. There was no on-site childcare. The nearest available hotel was two miles away, with prohibitively expensive childcare. Money to cover this was not forthcoming: “No-one’s ever asked that before,” was the response to my inquiry. My vision of carrying my baby in a sling and taking him with me was laughable according to the conference website — no children were allowed in any of the conference sessions.
So my breast pump and I became buddies — a freezer-full of milk was left at home, and more was pumped in preparation for my return in a strip-lit room at the conference centre, in toilets, on the plane. I had quick conversations with the other pumping mums — all wishing our children could be there.
We know that diverse science is better science (see Nature 558, 19–22; 2018). Not having affordable, accessible conference childcare shuts down career advancement and collaborative opportunities for those with young children, inevitably affecting women more than men. I wasn’t supported — not out of any kind of maliciousness — but simply because nobody had asked before and nobody had thought to make plans. But that is not a good enough reason. Conferences must improve by providing childcare facilities — this is a problem we all need to solve.
Nature 564, S89 (2018)
This article is part of Nature Events Guide 2019, an editorially independent supplement. Advertisers have no influence over the content.