Buffy Wicks Voted on the Floor With a Newborn in Her Arms

Well, our session ended Aug. 31. There were a lot of tough bills coming up, and it was clear it would be until midnight the last night. I started getting texts from colleagues asking if I would be there.

I asked the speaker directly if I could vote by proxy. He was really trying to make it work, but the legal interpretation he was advised was that it would leave us open to litigation if there was a close vote. So my husband and I talked a lot about it: Do I stay home even though I could be a deciding vote on bills about single-use plastics and housing and family leave? I felt compelled to go and decided to bring my daughter because we’re feeding every two or three hours — most of the time she’s literally on me. So I loaded the stroller, the BabyBjorn and all the accouterments in the car.

What was it like when you arrived?

I wanted to mitigate exposure when I got there, and there are a hundred people walking around the Assembly at any given time, so I spent the vast majority of time in my office alone. Then around 11:30 p.m. or so I was feeding my daughter on a couch in my office, looking up at the screen with the votes. I knew they were going to need my help and it was going to go fast. So I basically detached her from me, ran down to the floor and went up to the podium, to speak.

The clock was ticking, and she was hungry and wasn’t having it. I felt the moment of everyone paying attention to me and what I was saying. As I say my two cents, my mask is falling off, the blanket is falling off, she’s crying. And I blurted out, “OK, I’ve got to finish feeding my daughter.” I still had to drive an hour and 15 minutes, and it had been a long day. It’s a long day with a newborn anyway.

When you spoke to the speaker, who later apologized, how much did you push back?

He basically said that maternity leave doesn’t fall within the parameters of the bill that passed to set up voting by proxy. I took him at his word. I honestly think that he wanted to make it work — he’s a compassionate person who cares; his career was about early childhood. He was concerned about the legality of proxy voting. I don’t want to paint this as his fault.

I do think many institutions are trying to figure out this issue of working remotely, of parents. Coming out of this, we’re looking at this policy: Can we provide parameters for members who care for parents, who have spouses who are cancer survivors or are undergoing treatment? How can we provide flexibility that’s still legally sound?

People have called you a hero for working mothers, and your image went viral (thanks in part to your former boss Hillary Clinton) and made the news in Peru. Why do you think it resonated?