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Plenty of new moms have difficulty just getting an infant to latch on. So you’ve got to hand it to a mother who doesn’t just breast-feed her baby, but has figured out a way to do it “willfully and contemptuously.” Missouri mother and would-be civic duty doer Laura Trickle is currently facing the possibility of contempt of court charges, a $500 fine and even arrest — for taking her 7-month-old son with her to jury duty.
In Trickle’s home state, pregnant women can be excused from jury duty, so she deferred when she received her first summons early this year. But in September, several months later and with a young baby, she was called again. In 38 states including Missouri, breast-feeding mothers are not exempted from jury duty. That’s when Trickle, who says she’s never even had a traffic ticket, brought her child Axel with her for jury selection and tried to ask for a deferral. She says she’s willing to do her duty — she just can’t do it right now. But when she tried to ask for an extension, she was slapped with a court order stating she’d “willfully and contemptuously appeared for jury service with her child and no one to care for the child.” Another local woman is currently facing similar charges.
Jackson County Presiding Judge Marco Roldan told the Associated Press Monday that “breastfeeding mothers can pump or nurse on breaks or bring someone along to care for their children when serving as jurors.” How accommodating! But Trickle says her son doesn’t bottle feed, and that as a stay-at-home mother, she doesn’t have childcare. “It has been really scary.” Trickle told a local news affiliate, “It has been very stressful for our family.”
What Marco Roldan – and the entire Jackson County court system, apparently – fails to understand are a wide variety of economic, logistical and physical conditions that nursing mothers and their babies are operating under. Not everyone has the luxury of baby sitters or nearby family members to care for a child. Not everyone has a partner with a flexible work schedule who can assume the daytime parenting responsibilities – especially when facing a jury duty term that could stretch on for days or weeks. Have you ever done the work of caring for a 7-month-old child? Have you ever tried to make ends meet for a family on one salary – and maybe not a judge’s? Try it sometime, and see how easy it is to make arrangements.
And nursing mothers and their babies physically need to be near each other, and often. Babies don’t tell time; they don’t break for lunch when everybody else does. If they’re hungry, they’re miserable, and it doesn’t matter if the wailing starts precisely four hours after their last feeding or 10 minutes after. Likewise, when a lactating woman is deprived of reasonable access to expressing her milk, she’s in for discomfort, pain and possibly a sopping wet shirt. Now maybe that makes some people uncomfortable to think about it. But that’s the reality of a breast-feeding mother and child’s life together. It’s an intense and mutually dependent relationship. It’s not a clever ploy to get out of jury duty.
Ironically, Missouri allows for exceptions for “an undue or extreme physical or financial hardship” – an option Roldan says he’s granted in the past. And legislation is currently being considered that would excuse nursing mothers from jury duty. But for now, Trickle is set to have a hearing Thursday to make her case. “It is not right. It is not fair for us. We’re just trying to do what is best for our children,” she says, “and we shouldn’t be penalized and fined for it.” And, she adds, $500 buys a lot of diapers. For a judge not to recognize that? That’s truly contemptuous.