A collaboration between Missouri Breaks Industries Research, Inc. (MBIRI.org), Cheyenne-Eagle Butte Upper Elementary School and the West River Eagle has created a network of Mothers Rooms around Eagle Butte.
Mothers Rooms are for anyone with a child who needs safe space to take a break. “As a mom of four, I don’t know how many times I was in the back seat squished between car seats trying to comfortably breastfeed a kid in the cold,” said Rae O’Leary, Public Health Analyst at MBIRI.
Part of an overall system of health
Missouri Breaks runs a series of programs focused on overall health. O’Leary works on maternal wellbeing to “support mothers, because we know that women who breastfeed have fewer chronic illnesses; and babies who are breastfed also have fewer chronic of illnesses.” She says the Mothers Rooms are just one example of their public health initiatives.
“We work in the community to make sure that the community has opportunities to be healthy. We can’t just sit back and tell everybody, ‘Oh, go diet and exercise and take your vitamins!’ Part of it is making sure that those opportunities are structural, and systemic things are in place so it’s easy to be healthy,” says O’Leary.
Cheyenne-Eagle Butte Schools Superintendent Kara Four Bear says, “Our school board did not hesitate to ensure our school could provide a much-needed service for our community members, staff members, and students’ families by adopting a Nursing Mother’s Policy and working with MBIRI to develop the Nursing Mothers Room.”
Away from the hustle and bustle at C-EB School
The Mothers Room at Cheyenne-Eagle Butte School hasn’t been used yet because of COVID, but Four Bear expects it will be a wonderful spot for mothers to step away from the hustle and bustle to bond with their child.
The room, which used to be a closet, is painted soothing colors and has a window, inspiring artwork, a comfy chair and a side table. O’Leary says during the planning process they heard from a mother who works at the school. She asked why there wasn’t anything like this when she had her baby 11 years ago. “She actually said, ‘I breastfed in that room. But it was a storage closet and it wasn’t cute and comfortable,’” said O’Leary. There is even a sign to indicate when the room is in use and occupied.
Four Bear and O’Leary agree that there’s a lot of potential for usage of the room at the school, given the demographics of the staff and teachers.
“Teachers and staff have families, busy personal lives, and busy professional lives and we want to honor them by taking into consideration their needs as community members. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 76% of all public-school teachers are female and 24% are male. There is a need for more flexibility in meeting the needs of those female educators within the workplace and we are doing what we can to contribute,” said Four Bear of the decision to go forward with the plan.
O’Leary emphasized the rooms are not just for staff, they are for guests as well. “We actually made a decision to call them Mothers Rooms, as opposed to Breastfeeding Rooms, for the reason that it’s not just women who breastfeed who need this kind of space. If your baby just needs a break from the noise or a fresh bottle or a diaper change, it doesn’t necessarily have to be exclusive to breastfeeding. It’s basically a comfortable space for parents and babies to do what they need to do.”
An easy decision at the West River Eagle
The decision to create a formal Mothers Room at the West River Eagle office was an easy one. The newspaper already had a room set aside before they heard the words “Mothers Room” in a conversation with Missouri Breaks.
“At the newspaper, we just had an extra office that we turned into a bedroom for the babies,” said Fran Carr, who has three young-adult children. “It’s all women in the office and it was totally a non-conversation. We said, ‘Okay, we’re all going to keep working. What are we doing with these babies?’”
Staff members Kimmy Scherer and Latesha Robertson are both mothers of small children. When Scherer’s daughter was born in August 2020, she checked with her coworkers to see if it was okay to bring the baby to work. Everyone agreed, including publisher Kelsey Majeske from Mobridge, who is a working mom herself.
The Mothers Room at the West River Eagle used to be full of some old desks. Scherer changed her daughter on the floor on a blanket. The old furniture was moved out to make room for a recliner, lamp, side table and a mini-fridge supplied by MBIRI. Scherer plans to bring in a changing table and a Diaper Genie. The room is now set up for use by any mother who needs access.
A hub in Eagle Butte
Like the Mothers Room at the school, the one at the West River Eagle office will be open to the public once the pandemic is over.
O’Leary says the Mothers Room at the West River Eagle will serve as a hub. “A lot of people don’t live here [in Eagle Butte],” she said. “They’re just in town for appointments or whatever, and they’ll need that space while they’re in town.”
Scherer says, “It will be a cool way to use this room once COVID is over because, to be honest, I’d rather be out there in the office. I like it sometimes and it’ll be nice, when your kid’s being crabby, to bring her in here, close the door, and let her cry it out. Being a new mother, I understand how, when your baby starts crying in public, you think, ‘Oh, my God, what am I going to do?’” A Mothers Room is the answer to that question.
Robertson, who is the mother of a three-year old and a newborn, said, “When we used to be open before the pandemic, we used to get a good amount of people in here at once. I think it will be a good situation. If someone is here doing their business, whether it’s printing or waiting for something else to get done, it’s not a very stressful moment for any type of mom.”
Babies at work are essential to economic stability
Both Robertson and Scherer agree it would be tough if they couldn’t bring their babies to work. Robertson says she’d have to work around it. “You just can’t leave a newborn,” she said. Scherer said she couldn’t quit her job, but she’d have to cut her hours.
Robertson thinks it’s unusual for a workplace to be so child-friendly. “We’re pretty fortunate to have a job that actually allows us to have babies here,” she said. “We always support each other; we cover for each other.”
All three women at the West River Eagle are the primary wage earners for their families. Carr reiterated that, “A facility for us to have babies in the office provides stability to all of the households because the moms can work reliably.”