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Buttons coming for pregnant women to signal other CTA riders should give up their seats

Relief for pregnant women left standing on CTA trains and buses is coming in the form of a button.

CTA image of ad used to remind riders to give up seats to pregnant women.
After years of relying on ads like this, the CTA confirmed it’s now working on a plan to issue pregnant women buttons to remind other riders to offer up a seat.
CTA

“Here, take my seat.”

Those are words the CTA hopes will be directed at more pregnant women on trains and buses after an upcoming awareness effort that will include buttons expectant mothers can wear to indicate to fellow riders that it would be nice if someone offered up a seat.

The program will be launched later this year, the CTA confirmed.

“Look for this to happen sooner rather than later,” said a CTA source, who also noted that planners trying to roll out the program are well aware that July and August have the highest birth rates of the calendar year in Cook County.

But the transit agency isn’t commenting on exactly when it is being rolled out, how buttons can be obtained, what they’ll look like or what they’ll cost.

“The details of the CTA program — specific launch date, distribution plan, button design —are close to being finalized,” CTA spokesman Brian Steele said. “We’re stoked about it.”

The CTA has relied on loudspeaker announcements and signs to remind riders to offer up seats to pregnant women — tactics that simply aren’t enough, according to several moms and moms-to-be.

Erin Fowler, 38, is one of those moms. Six years ago, she brought the button idea to the CTA. Fowler was a pregnant and frustrated L rider who took the Red Line downtown on a daily basis.

She presented the idea at a CTA board meeting, where she was allotted a few minutes during a public comments portion to say her piece.

A prototype “Baby on Board” button Erin Fowler had made in 2013.
Erin Fowler presented a prototype button during public comments at a CTA board hearing in 2013 when she was pregnant and regularly left standing on the Red Line.
Erin Fowler

“I had a script and I tried to be articulate and get them to take me seriously, and I submitted a summary of my comments,” said Fowler, who lives in the Buena Park neighborhood and works for a philanthropic foundation.

Inspired by a trip to London where she saw pregnant subway riders sporting “Baby on Board” buttons, Fowler went so far as to print similar prototype buttons in the colors of the Chicago flag and show them to CTA board members.

She left the meeting hopeful but has since given birth twice — and still uses the CTA regularly — but has seen no uptick in courtesies offered to pregnant riders.

Fowler, who was excited about the upcoming buttons, offered several theories as to why pregnant women are left standing: People are too absorbed in their phones to notice, others are mired in the awkwardness of not wanting to assume a woman is pregnant or that she’d want a seat, and others, though very few, don’t seem to care.

“And sometimes in the winter you’re just so bundled up it’s hard for people to tell you’re pregnant,” said Megan Nufer, 32, who gave birth to her daughter, Charlotte, on May 31.

Megan Nufer with her daughter, Charlotte
Megan Nufer with her daughter, Charlotte
Megan Nufer

Several weeks earlier and still routinely “waddling” aboard the L, Nufer reached out to the CTA to suggest a button system be implemented. She was surprised and delighted to get a return note confirming the wheels were already in motion.

“Once the buttons are finalized and signage is developed, we will be issuing a press release ... stay tuned,” it read.

For pregnant women who often work right up until the birth, the change can’t come soon enough.

“The tricky part in pregnancy is you’re more prone to motion sickness when you’re not the driver or the navigator, and just being able to take a load off by sitting down would be outstanding,” said Dr. Julie Levitt, a clinical instructor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“The other thing that happens is that when you’re standing motionless, you’re more prone to fainting because the circulation in terms of moving blood back to the heart is a little slower in pregnant women,” she said.

The buttons will spur a lot of sweet moments, she said.

“It’s one of those ideas that will make the world seem like a smaller place, like people care again,” Levitt said.