The crazy reason this U.S. senator can’t take maternity leave

Tammy Duckworth is certainly not the first working woman to be a mother, but this year, she is set to become the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office.

With this pioneering position, the Illinois senator and Iraq war veteran said that her pregnancy is causing discussions about rules within Congress that have not been confronted before. On Tuesday, she talked to Politico’s Women Rule podcast about the upcoming challenge of caring for a newborn while needing to be physically present for votes.

Duckworth: ‘I can’t technically take maternity leave’

On the podcast, Duckworth explained the benefits of paid family leave: “We need family leave not because’s it’s warm and fuzzy and a nice thing to do, but because it’s better for our economy.”

She has long been an outspoken advocate for the practice. In 2016, Duckworth introduced the Military Parental Leave Modernization Act, which would give all service members 12 weeks of paid parental leave. Her words are back by research that paid family leave gives women the financial cushion needed to return to the workforce, strengthening the economy for all.

And yet, Duckworth acknowledged that she is having trouble taking advantage of the same benefits she advocates on behalf of others for herself.

“I can’t technically take maternity leave,” Duckworth said on the podcast. “Because if I take maternity leave, then I won’t be allowed to sponsor legislation or vote during that time period.”

Although senators can vote by proxy in committee, they must be physically present to vote on the floor, and with the Senate currently split at 51-49 in favor of Republicans, every senator’s vote makes a difference.

Besides voting procedure hurdles, Duckworth also explained how Senate standing rules present difficulties to nursing mothers. Senate rule 23 does not permit family members to be admitted to the Senate floor even if they are infants.

“You are not allowed to bring children onto the floor of the Senate at all,” Duckworth said. “If I have to vote, and I’m breastfeeding my child, especially during my maternity leave period, what do I do? Leave her sitting outside? I can’t leave her with a staff member — that’s a conflict of interest.”

The Senate has not been a pioneer in accommodating its female members. In 2008, one female senator was told the Senate pool was males-only because some male senators liked to swim naked. As recent as 2013, the Senate restrooms for women only had two stalls, causing traffic jams. These small markers of progress (or its lack thereof) are why Duckworth’s history-making pregnancy has gotten national attention.

For senators who make the legislation that affects millions of Americans’ lives, it would send a strong message about family leave’s importance for changes to happen from within the house.