Breastfeeding Advocacy in Action: From new mom to workplace lawsuit

Please note: This post was written by Lara Stachler in her personal capacity, the opinions, thoughts, and experiences are hers alone and do not reflect the view of Breastfeed Chicago. While Breastfeed Chicago makes efforts to ensure our information is accurate and complete, Breastfeed Chicago cannot guarantee that this post is complete, accurate, or up to date. Breastfeed Chicago is not and can not be held liable for any inaccurate information. We reached out to Chicago Public Schools for comment, and they indicated that they do not comment on pending litigation.  

Please note: This post was written by Lara Stachler in her personal capacity; the opinions, thoughts, and experiences are hers alone and do not reflect the view of Breastfeed Chicago. While Breastfeed Chicago makes efforts to ensure our information is accurate and complete, Breastfeed Chicago cannot guarantee that this post is complete, accurate, or up to date. Breastfeed Chicago is not and can not be held liable for any inaccurate information. We reached out to Chicago Public Schools for comment, and they indicated that they do not comment on pending litigation.

My name is Lara Stachler and I am breastfeeding mom of 4. I am suing the Chicago Public Schools for the discrimination, harassment and retaliation I experienced when I returned from maternity leave and tried to pump for my baby while doing my job.

I am a breastfeeding advocate and an outspoken person, but this is by far the boldest action I have ever taken. While it terrifies me to take on such a big, powerful entity, I do so because I am confident in my rights and what myself and my baby are entitled to. Where did this knowledge and confidence come from?

Breastfeed, Chicago.

I had my first baby in 2012, at the former Little Company of Mary Hospital. I knew I would breastfeed but at the time I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. One day I attended a birth & breastfeeding talk and found myself in front of Katrina Pavlik, the founder of Breastfeed, Chicago. She spoke with intensity about the importance of breastfeeding to the mother and child, and she caught my attention with the conviction she exuded about how it was vital to the greater Chicago community. I was hooked and wanted to learn more. She invited me to join the Facebook group.

In 2012, there was no Breastfeed, Chicago non-profit. There was no 501c3, no website. It was just a Facebook group of Chicagoland moms coming together to ask each other and the experts just what we were supposed to be doing with these nursing babies of ours. There were posts from SAHM moms asking for information and support, there were posts from pumping mamas about how to navigate work life and lactation and there were posts that came with authority and sources. Breastfeed, Chicago board member Patricia Berg-Drazin (RLC, IBCLC, CST) is one of those experts I remember in particular, as she was there from the start. In 2012 I remember knowing that if she commented on a post with her insight, it was valid information I should take directly to heart.

Breastfeed, Chicago was not only my first experience with the breastfeeding world, it was my first experience with an online community. Facebook was relatively new almost 10 years ago and I was a new mom isolated in my home. This is where I connected with others by learning about our mutual valued interests: breastfeeding, children, family and the women who made it all happen (ourselves.)  Emboldened by education and community, I developed my role as an advocate for my new baby as well as other nursing mamas. I learned about my rights to nurse in public, nurse wherever I needed to and how to continue nursing when I went back to work.

The road to nursing all of my babies to a year or more has been riddled with obstacles. Despite my best intentions of doing everything I can to advocate for myself and baby, I cannot force the world around me to understand that they must prioritize our rights as well. I remember breastfeeding my 2nd child at the wading pool in the community while I watched my 3yo play. The young, female lifeguard yelled across the pool that children were not allowed to eat on the pool deck and that I must leave and feed my baby in the locker room. My defense mode immediately engaged because I knew I had a right to feed my baby exactly where I was, yet I was in an impossible position to advocate. I could not get up to speak with her, I had to watch my 3yo. I would have had to scream my rights across a pool of toddlers, topless, while feeding my baby. And I knew if I raised my voice to respond, my nursing baby would be distraught. I sat there frozen and unsure of what to do next….and then my sister-in-law jumped in. My soft-spoken, non-confrontational sister-in-law stepped up and publicly defended my rights until the lifeguard stopped yelling and let me finish feeding in peace. Where did this comadre of mine learn about breastfeeding rights and gain the confidence needed to enforce them?

Breastfeed, Chicago. She too was a member, tandem nursing 2 babes of her own.

Empowered women empower women.

This is the outcome I seek with the lawsuit I have filed. When I had my 3rd baby, I was an employee of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and it was a battle to balance the needs of my job, my baby and my body upon return from maternity leave. I reached out for support and asked if I could take intermittent FMLA and return to work part-time until it ran out. I was told CPS would not consider it, but it could be fought if I wanted to. I remember thinking, “Fight? How can I fight CPS for what I need NOW, when each day is an epic battle to find the energy to make it through til bedtime?” Each day as I pumped in the unlocked closet I was assigned, praying nobody would walk in on me, I pondered this question:

“I would fight to the death to get my child what they need. But who is there to fight for a breastfeeding mom?”

Over two years later, I have that answer: Me. This girl. Lara Stachler. I have filed a lawsuit against Chicago Public Schools because they would not consider granting me needed accommodations to pump for my baby while returning to work. Telework, flexible hours and light duty could have easily addressed the challenges of being an educator and nursing mama in a pandemic yet the district wouldn’t even discuss it with me. And when I persisted, the result was retaliation, harassment, discipline and being forced to take leave. None of this is ok to do to another person, let alone to a working mother of a newborn who is an educator trying to survive in the middle of a pandemic. This treatment was both unacceptable and illegal, and it needs to be addressed. So I will fight for the rights of breastfeeding moms of the Chicago Public School district, for working moms in the Chicagoland area and for any mother in this country who needs my story spoken publicly as they navigate their own fights.

Where did I get the conviction, knowledge and confidence to do this?

Breastfeed, Chicago.

Thank you Breastfeed, Chicago. From all of us.

Lara Stachler has been carrying, birthing, nursing and raising babies for the past 10 years, while simultaneously developing her career as a speech-language pathologist in the Chicagoland area. She currently works as a bilingual speech-language pathologist for the Chicago Public School district and you can follow her fight to make it a more supportive place for breastfeeding educators on Twitter @LaraLucy17.

Photo credit: Kriss Abigail who volunteered her services for a project promoted in the Breastfeed Chicago group in 2012.

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