Last night, an acquaintance’s wife posted the message below on Facebook. She wrote, “I normally would not post something this personal, but I do not remember the last time I felt so justly upset,” and we totally understand why!
Evie and I are HUGE breastfeeding advocates, having spent years of our lives breastfeeding five children between us. We believe moms should have the right to nurse where they need to, have time and a private place to pump, and should NOT have to throw away their child’s food unnecessarily. WTH Heathrow?? Read on.
An Open Letter to Aviation Security in Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport
Being a working mother is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Trying to manage the logistics of drop-offs and pick-ups and conference calls and meetings and finding the time and energy to make sure both your family and work are getting ample amounts of your care and attention is both challenging and fulfilling, but mostly extremely exhausting and stressful. When you’re fortunate enough as I am to have a job that involves travel, it’s an exciting opportunity, but it comes with even more extreme challenges when you have kids – being away from them, managing care back home from afar, and in my case, figuring out how you’re going to feed your 8 month old breastfed baby while you’re required to be away for 15 days and travel to eight different cities. For months I pumped and froze milk during the day and in the middle of the night to feed my son with the hopes I would have enough to see him through my time away, but eventually I had to deal with the sense of failure I felt when I realized it wouldn’t be enough to nourish him while I traveled, and thus I would have to introduce formula. Formula is perfectly acceptable (I clearly give it to my son), but as we had established a good breastfeeding relationship, it was my first choice and priority. I had also breastfed my first son until a year, so I wanted to give my second son the same.
To help ease the personal guilt, I resolved to pump at every possible moment between my meetings, presentations, business lunches and dinners, taxis, flights, and long waits in airports. This meant pumping while sitting on toilets in public restrooms; stuffed in an airplane bathroom; in unsecured conference rooms, showers, and closets because certain office spaces didn’t have a place for a nursing mother – and then dealing with the humiliation when a custodial employee accidentally walked in on me. It meant having to talk about my personal matters (my nursing schedule) with my professional coworkers and my supervisor in order to sneak away to said closet or public bathroom – a discomfort I had to learn how to swallow if I was to supply my son with breast milk. It meant going to each hotel and convincing them to store my giant insulated bags of milk in their restaurant freezers to preserve it. It meant lugging this giant block of frozen breast milk through four countries, airports and security checkpoints and having them pull out every single ounce of breastmilk and use mildly inappropriate sign language to convey “breast” and “milk” so that they would let me through. Which they did. Every one of them. Except you.
You made me dump nearly 500 oz of breastmilk in the trash.
You made me dump out nearly two weeks worth of food for my son.
I acknowledge my part in this equation. I should have looked up the Civil Aviation rule. You do not allow breastmilk on the plane if the mother is not traveling with her baby – a regulation in and of itself that is incredibly unfair and exclusionary in consideration of all of the other working mothers like me who are required at certain times to spend time away from their baby, but intend to continue to breastfeed them. That being said, more than 300oz of that milk was frozen. Solid. Like a rock. I was willing to let go of the liquid milk. But you also wanted the solid milk because it could “melt and become a liquid.”
I travel significantly for work and personal leisure. I have two small children and have breastfed them both, bringing frozen breastmilk on plane after plane after plane, including in countries with strict liquid laws. Never have I ever been asked to throw out the milk because it might at some future time become a liquid. In fact, in most of those locations, they simply test the liquid milk as well and let me take it ALL on, liquid or frozen, child or no child with me. The truth is that had I read the Civil Aviation rule regarding liquids, I still would not have checked the bag because by it’s very definition, a liquid is “not a gas or a solid.” And since the milk was frozen, it was by all technical definitions a solid, so I had no reason to believe that it wouldn’t meet your standards, as it had met the non-liquid standards of dozens of airports around the world on so many of my previous trips,, including four in the past week alone.
I offered to check it. But that wouldn’t work either according to you, because I had crossed the border and the only way for me to check the bag now was to exit the airport and re-enter – which I was also willing to do. But you wouldn’t give me the milk back – because now it was a “non-compliant item” and needed to be confiscated. It was as if you were almost proud to deny me at every possible point of compromise. Despite my begging, pleading and even crying out of sheer shock and desperation for a solution (which you essentially scoffed at with annoyance), you treated me as if I was trying to smuggle liters of hydrogen peroxide onto the plane. There was no room for discussion; “it’s the law.”
And yet how many times have I not taken off my shoes or taken out my laptop or not put my liquids in a quart bag full of 3oz bottles or rather had WAY more than a quart bag full of 3oz bottles? I can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen people attempt to bring on a unique souvenir that is deemed a potential weapon and they’re sent back out to check it so they can keep it. It happens. A lot.
Airport security is extremely important – it is essential in the world’s current threat environment, and I’m deeply appreciative of the work done by thousands of aviation security workers at airports around the globe; but it’s not a production line, despite the perception. There is an important place for customer service, judgment and critical thinking, and there are moments that should be treated as opportunities to assist people in their travel when there is ample evidence that an individual or item isn’t a threat. I can say this because I’ve not only seen it, I’ve experienced it at many airports, domestic and international. Rules and procedures at airport security are rarely universally enforced because similar to police officers, a significant aspect of your job is public trust and engagement, which includes using your judgment regarding appropriate enforcement in complex situations. Such as a mother trying to bring food home for her baby. In fact, after I agreed to dump the liquid milk after being spoken to by a manager, I was asked by a different employee what to do with the milk, as if it was open for discussion. Apparently it wasn’t clear to her off the bat, which leads me to believe there are exceptions made in similar situations in the past.
This wasn’t some rare bottle of wine or luxury perfume I was trying to negotiate as a carry on. This was deeply personal. This was my son’s health and nourishment. This was the money I would now need to spend buying formula that wasn’t necessary. This wasn’t tomorrow’s milk; it was two weeks worth of nutrition for my child. And it was the countless hours of my time, my energy, even my dignity in some instances, all driven by my willingness to go to any length to get my child what he needs that you dumped into the trash like a random bottle of travel shampoo and deemed a hazard, simply because I made the completely logical and scientifically supported assumption that a solid isn’t a liquid. And your absolute unwillingness to use professional judgment and customer service to make a reasonable exception in the face of equally reasonable circumstances is shameful.
If I acted irate, it’s because it was the only appropriate reaction I could muster. I now don’t have the option to solely breastfeed my son because I don’t have enough milk to supply him while I’m at work, despite all of my best efforts. Being a working mother and ensuring both my job and my child get exactly what they need is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but you managed to make it nearly impossible in a single afternoon. Security is the priority, but it isn’t and shouldn’t be your only goal, and it certainly shouldn’t punish those you intend to protect. Beyond literally taking food from my child’s mouth, you humiliated me and made me feel completely defeated as a professional and a mother. I hope the next time you encounter another mom just trying to make it work and looking for a little help along the way, you consult your conscience (as well as a physical science textbook) and reconsider your options.”
Despicable, Heathrow. Let’s share this post. Get this out there.