Like so many of us out there, Jessica Coakley Martinez is a working mom trying to balance career and family. One way she’s committed to giving her sons her all is by pumping breast milk for them while she is working. She exclusively breast fed her first son for a year, and wanted to do the same for her second son, now eight months old. That’s why, even though she had to be away for 15 days for work, she packed up her breast pump and expressed breast milk all over Europe (well, into breast milk storage bags all over Europe, ha ha) in between meetings during the day and in her hotel room at night. When she was finally ready to head home, she had 500 ounces, or two weeks worth of pumped milk to take home to the United States for her little boy. (Any of you who have pumped while working or away from your baby know this is a HUGE accomplishment!) She had flown several times via different European airports throughout her two weeks with the milk in tow, so she was totally unprepared for what happened at London’s Heathrow airport when she made her way through security.
Despite begging, pleading, and even crying on Martinez’ part, security agents at Heathrow would not let Martinez carry on or check her breast milk. Not the 300 ounces of breast milk she had frozen and not the 200 ounces that were still liquid. She was forced to throw ALL of it—two weeks worth of food for her son—into the trash. Incensed and grieving, Martinez took to Facebook to write a heartbreaking letter to the agents who confiscated her milk.
In her letter, Martinez details the struggle of being a working mom, saying it is “the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” She goes on to say, “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.”
Then Martinez dives into the issue at hand. While admitting she didn’t read Heathrow’s policy on traveling with breast milk, which says that mothers must be traveling WITH their babies to carry breast milk on board, she stands by her right to travel with her son’s food. (Is it just me, or is that CRAZY? The whole point of having expressed breast milk is that you express it because you’re away from the baby!) She says:
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.
I think the particularly powerful part of Martinez’ letter is when she compares her breast milk to other liquids that people often have to leave behind rather than carrying on an airplane. The fact is, breast milk is by far in a class of its own.
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.
As a working mom who pumped herself when my older two children were babies, I completely understand Martinez’ heartbreak. Even spilling 5 ounces of breastmilk could reduce me to tears; I can’t imagine having to trash five HUNDRED! I hope her letter and the publicity around it leads to policies that make more sense when it comes to transporting breast milk on flights. I think mothers should be able to take breast milk on board whether their babies are with them or not. What’s your opinion?