Thursday, June 9, 2016

What I Learned Taking a Baby to a Professional Conference (Part 2)

I took 5-month-old Josephine to an informal professional networking event last night and reminded myself that I still had yet to write about our adventures at an out-of-state conference together last week. Rest and catch-up are top priorities after returning from travel. Now I can reflect on the positive and negative of bringing a baby to a professional conference.

Working and playing, as well as we can together.

Community Support

I had a lot of fears about being a working mother after I gave birth to my daughter and it became clear that she was too young to be away from me for long. I worried that I would be seen as less than professional if I brought her with me. I expected negative or inappropriate comments. I would not have been surprised if people had asked me to leave when they saw me with a baby. Babies don't belong in work environments, right?

My fears were the furthest from the truth. Every time I brought my baby, I was welcomed with open arms. Colleagues and new acquaintances loved meeting her and watching her grow. Young women and older men thanked me for bringing her. Only once was I asked not to attend a meeting with her, a rare exception to the warm welcome she's received. She's an instant star no matter where I go. The one downside is that on occasion, colleagues are more interested in talking about her than about business!

The way I saw it, I could either bring my baby with me or stay home, out of sight. Bringing her to one day of the local Space Congress was a test. Taking her on a plane to Colorado, without my husband, for a 3-day conference to the Next-generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in Broomfield, Colorado was the real deal! How would she behave? How would others react? Would I be able to attend the conference talks at all?

I was overwhelmed with the generosity, encouragement, and support from the conference staff and attendees! From the moment we arrived, others offered to hold her, play with her, give her toys (conference swag), and take care of her. Conference staff made her a special name badge. She attracted conference attendees like a magnet. One man thanked me for bringing her because her sounds during the talks lessened the seriousness of the atmosphere and reminded him of home and humanity.

Baby Genius - All Star!

The Noise

There's no way around it: babies make noise and there's no quieting them. I knew that I would be in and out of talks. I just hoped that I would be in more than out.

I lucked out with a relatively mellow baby. She doesn't cry all that much, but she does have her moments. She wasn't feeling well on Friday afternoon, so I hid in the bathroom for a long time, hoping the thick doors would dampen her screams. But worse, I didn't have my phone or laptop because I couldn't return to the conference ball room with a screaming baby to retrieve them, my feet were hurting me in brand new dress pumps, and there were no restroom chairs, so I sat barefoot on the floor not even knowing the time while she screamed and screamed. Eventually she did calm down and we reemerged. Aside from that outburst, screaming fits were rare.

More common were little baby grunts from learning to crawl and play and “songs” from learning to use her voice. When those got too loud and persistent, I needed to leave the room. Sometimes I would walk with her along the back wall by the door, leaving when she was loud and returning when she had quieted. In and out, in and out. While this certainly is not an ideal way to hear talks, I was able to pick up bits and pieces of conversation this way.

Most of the time, she was quiet enough for me to be in the room. Especially when she napped in my lap! During those periods, I could focus on the speakers and pretend I was attending a conference as usual. Except that I was in the back of the room sitting on the floor next to toys, usually.

Conference swag makes for good toys.

Baby Wearing

I wore my baby in her wrap less often than I expected to. There were times when it made sense, such as during a tour of a nearby company's facilities where we'd be walking a lot. I opted not to bring a stroller to the airport, instead wearing her around the terminal. However, during the conference talks, mostly we were sitting down. I tried sitting with her in my lap, but she got bored quickly. Instead, I laid a baby blanket on the ground and let her play with toys independent of me as much as possible. Outside of talks, she would be passed from person to person so much that it didn't make sense to attach her to me. I'm glad I brought the wrap and I did use it frequently, but she wasn't attached to me at all times.

Baby hanging out on the tour.

Hotel Sleeping

I have difficulty sleeping in a strange place. So, it seems, does my baby. We didn't have our normal routine and sleep aids such as her swing, so sleep didn't come as naturally to her. It was a struggle each night to get her to stay asleep. Usually I succeeded an hour or two after her usual bedtime.

I opted not to bring her crib, instead allowing her to sleep in the king-size bed with me. At home, her crib is right next to our king-sized bed so she spend half the night in her bed and inevitably half the night in ours. Co-sleeping works well for us. I didn't even think twice about keeping her in the bed with me while on travel.

Sleeping on my lap.

Brave, Hero and Supermom

I was called all these things for bringing a baby to a conference. I am none of them. I am simply a working mom who loves my career and loves being with my child. I find it interesting that in our culture, we would see this behavior as something to be praised highly with descriptions such as brave, hero, and supermom. In my opinion, this only points to the need to combine maternity and career for new moms and make what I did common.  

Thanks for bringing me along, mom!


  1. I took my daughter to so many places when she was growing up. Now that she is a woman, she is incredibly independent, strong and confident!

    Watching you as a leader will inspire your daughter to be OK with many roles, not just the ones proscribed by society for her.

    I think having a partner would have been better for all concerned when I think back on it. It just wasn't an option for us for most of Katheryn's life at home.

    You _are_ brave and all of those other things! Own it because it will show up in the not so normal things you do, this is just an example!

    Pam Hoffman

    1. Aww thank you! That's so kind. It must be very rewarding to look at your daughter now and know that she learned so much from your example.