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Sen. Duckworth: Maternity leave over, will bring nursing baby to work with her

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., carries her baby Maile Pearl Bowlsbey after they went to the Senate floor to vote, on Capitol Hill, on Thursday, April 19, 2018, in Washington. | Alex Brandon/AP photo

WASHINGTON — Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., wraps up her maternity leave on Monday, but since she is nursing her second daughter, Maile Pearl Bowlsbey, the baby – and her nanny – will be going to work with the senator.

“I took as much of the 12 weeks as I could,” Duckworth told me when we talked on Sunday about her return full-time to the Senate.

Listen to Tammy Duckworth on Motherhood

Senate responsibilities continued to loom in the background these past months, so Duckworth never was able to totally detach, not that she wanted to. “I came in not every week but I came in frequently to vote and do things.”

Duckworth had to remain tethered to the Senate after Maile’s birth on April 9 in case her vote was needed – as it was for the farm bill last week – so she stuck around Washington rather than return to her home in Hoffman Estates.

“I’m back and I’ll be back in Illinois for the Fourth of July doing two parades,” Duckworth said. She will be with Democratic governor nominee J.B. Pritzker at parades in Evanston and Hyde Park.

She will fly to Washington that evening “because I don’t want to take the baby with me and I’m breastfeeding her.”

A wounded Iraq war vet who lost her legs when her helicopter was shot down, Duckworth carries Maile in a sling on her chest so her hands are free to power her wheelchair.

Duckworth made Senate history when she became the first sitting senator to give birth while in office. She is one of only 10 women in the history of the nation to give birth while in Congress. The other babies were born to members in the House.

This is the second child for Duckworth and her husband, Bryan Bowlsbey. Daughter Abigail was born Nov. 18, 2014, when Duckworth was in the House. Duckworth turned 50 on March 12 and used fertility treatments to get pregnant.

I asked Duckworth about being off during these Trump-driven tumultuous times.

“It was both a blessing because I have a job that I could take the time and spend as much time as I wanted with her. But it was really scary and depressing as I watched Justice Kennedy (retire) and I watched families being separated.”

Her staff sent a briefing book weekly. “So the office continued. We’re still sending out letters. We’re still doing the legislative work.

So it is both nice to sort of be able to shut out the world, because when I’m breastfeeding, I’m just breastfeeding.

“I got to take my daughter to preschool in the morning and pick her up after preschool. You know all of that was really nice but it was also really frustrating and really scary to see what was happening.”

I asked Duckworth how she will handle nursing if she is at the Capitol.

“I’m going to bring Maile to work with me. And I’ll have a nanny in the office.

“… We’re going to be a very progressive office when it comes to this. We’ve already put up a health and wellness room that will have a breast pump, a refrigerator” for use by other staffers.

In a very brief pause from ongoing battles, the GOP-led chamber and Democrats changed the Senate rules in April after Maile’s birth to allow children under the age of one on the floor during votes to accommodate Duckworth.

Duckworth was rolling through the Hart Senate Office Building with Maile on Thursday, coming in for the farm bill vote. By co-incidence, at the same time hundreds of demonstrators were in Hart protesting President Donald Trump’s family separation policy at the U.S. – Mexico border.

Duckworth stopped and told the protesters she could not imagine what it would be like to have her breastfeeding baby ripped from her arms.

I actually was coming in to vote and the protest happened and I went over to the protesters to talk to them. But I wasn’t using my child as a prop, she is just always strapped to me. I was just doing my job.”

Listen to Tammy Duckworth on Motherhood