There's so much work ahead in the journey towards equality for women and mothers at work and at large, that the mountain we need to climb can seem overwhelming at time. But we are inspired and strengthened in our resolve by other incredible initiatives being built up in this space. Today, we shine a light on UP-STAND, an organization founded by Christine Serdjenian Yearwood to create more accessible locations for pregnant women and nursing mothers in Queens and beyond.
When I gave birth to my daughter in 2014, I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. Why hadn’t anyone told me it would be this lonely? What had happened to my relationships? Why had I earned these degrees if I wasn’t working outside of the home? Why was it so hard to do anything or go anywhere with a baby? In many ways, I didn't recognize myself. In search of connection with others who would understand, I joined a local mom group and put myself out there when I was most vulnerable, tired, and most certainly the least put together version of myself.
While in that community, I spent a lot of time listening. I heard pregnancy story after pregnancy story about a lack of accommodations and inaccessible spaces leading to health complications - being expected to perform dangerous work, standing too long, carrying something too heavy, fainting from exhaustion or motion sickness, and being shoved on crowded trains. And worse, once people had children, it became incredibly hard to access the subway or ride the bus with a stroller, find establishments with diaper changing tables, feel welcome breastfeeding or to locate a place to pump, or gain access to a restroom in a potty training emergency. Pregnant women and caregivers felt overwhelmingly overlooked and unwelcome. Many said they felt forced to stay at home.
I heard pregnancy story after pregnancy story about a lack of accommodations and inaccessible spaces leading to health complications.
It is not, as some would argue, about entitlement. It is about valuing all members of society enough to develop and implement policies and practices that allow everyone equal access to spaces and opportunities. In the United States, it can seem like we simply do not value pregnant women and parents enough to provide the practical support that they need to be able to fully participate in, and contribute to, society. This rings true for sectors of society that encompass almost every one of us at some point – our youth, pregnant women, disabled and elderly members, and caretakers. If we want to be a healthy society now, and raise the next generation to be the most productive and considerate citizens possible, we need to do better at being more inclusive. Parents and kids cannot be expected to permanently stay at home - they need to be able to grocery shop, get a haircut, use the bathroom while out, experience libraries, museums, theaters and sporting events, and travel - and we should give them every opportunity to do so.
After a plethora of personal experiences with inaccessibility during my pregnancy and the first year at home with my daughter, encouragement from my husband and other moms, sufficient research and business planning, and completing the search for a part-time daycare, I founded UP-STAND in 2015. UP-STAND’s mission, made possible by lots of coffee and late nights, is to make life more accessible for pregnant women and families via our consulting services, workshops, products, event management, and advocacy.
One of the things we champion, which is near and dear to my once-again-breastfeeding-a-newborn-nonstop-heart, is lactation accommodations. We use our social media platforms to raise awareness by giving shout outs to companies and organizations that support breastfeeding, work with elected officials to create legislation such as New York’s Family Accommodation in Entertainment Act (A9775), offer pop up lactation accommodations at festivals and fairs, and advise HR Departments as to how to best provide sanitary and private lactation spaces for their employees. Last summer, we used an online voting process to select over twenty establishments to receive and display our Breastfeeding Welcome Here signs as part of a Family-Friendly Astoria Campaign, making our Queens neighborhood an oasis of locations lactating women could frequent without fear.
Last summer, we used an online voting process to select over twenty establishments to receive and display our Breastfeeding Welcome Here signs, making our Queens neighborhood an oasis of locations lactating women could frequent without fear.
With my second child, we’re always on the go for my first, and I’m not able to plan around breastfeeding at home or somewhere private. While I’ve lost the hesitancy around breastfeeding or even pumping in public, I’d still prefer locations that are comfortable, supportive, and clean. We have a long way to go to make that the norm, but we’re working toward it.
On August 1st, we will kick off World Breastfeeding Week by co-hosting a Latch-On Event, coming together in solidarity around breastfeeding and bringing attention to the week with Assemblymember Aravella Simotas. Each year, celebrations are held during the first week in August in more than 120 countries, in order to highlight the benefits that breastfeeding can bring to the health and welfare of babies and to push for better maternal health policies and outcomes.
As with any social justice work, there are setbacks and discouragement – you may have seen the news that the United States recently opposed a breastfeeding resolution at the UN – but my daughter proudly points out every Breastfeeding Welcome Here sign she sees in our neighborhood, and my son will be at the forefront of the Latch-On. I’m proud of this work and am thankful my children get to see me lead it.
Christine Serdjenian Yearwood holds a B.A. in Sociology from Brown University, MST in Teaching ESL from Pace University, and a ME in Higher Education from Harvard University. She is the Founder and CEO of UP-STAND, a movement to make life more accessible for pregnant women and families. Christine resides in Queens, NY with her husband and two children.