'I Don't Feel Superhuman. I Feel Like a Mom Who Has a Career.'

Posted May 31, 2018 2:46 p.m. EDT
Updated July 12, 2018 3:31 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — Rebecca Slaughter’s recent Monday morning started out in a pretty typical way for a working mother of a newborn. She woke at 2 a.m. to feed, burp and change the diaper on her then-7-week-old daughter, Pippa. She repeated the routine three hours later.

By 6:30 a.m., Slaughter checked her email and schedule while fixing breakfast for her two older children, ages 3 and 5. Her commute started at 8, driving her Honda minivan from her home in Bethesda, Maryland, a Washington suburb, while hooked up to a hands-free electric breast pump.

It was when she arrived at the office about a half-hour later that her day took an unusual turn. She checked into the neoclassical Federal Trade Commission Building in the nation’s capital, with Pippa in tow, as one of the country’s top business regulators — and the first to do the job with a baby in the office.

For the next several weeks, until Pippa goes to day care as a slightly older baby, she will join Slaughter on the fifth floor, either in a gray bouncy seat behind a desk or nestled in a wrap attached to her mother’s chest. It was the imperfect but best solution for Slaughter, whose appointment in March to serve as an FTC commissioner just happened to coincide with the birth of her third child.

“I am tired,” Slaughter said as she put on a nursing cover for a late morning feeding. “I don’t feel superhuman. I feel like a mom who has a career of which she cares about very much and a family she cares about very much. And I’m trying to navigate the two.”

Slaughter, a longtime legal adviser to Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Democrat in the Senate, did not think about turning down the job offer. She did have some doubts about how she could pull off the schedule of raising three children and taking a senior position in government, but the opportunity was too good to pass up.

The work culture for families has been stubbornly slow to change in Washington. To take a position of leadership in federal agencies, on Capitol Hill or in the White House requires long and unpredictable hours. Modest pay, demanding travel and meager family leave benefits also deter many women from rising in the government ranks.

Such considerations have held back female representation in every corner of government. Women comprise 20 percent of Congress. They hold a quarter of the Cabinet posts in the Trump administration.

But recently, there have been signs of change. The federal government has slowly reconfigured buildings to accommodate new moms, with lactation rooms at most agencies and in Congress. In April, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., became the first member of the Senate to deliver a baby during her tenure. Shortly after, lawmakers changed the rules to allow children on the Senate floor.

Slaughter, 36, recognized that she was lucky to be in a position that allowed her to bring Pippa to work. She does not have the same luxuries as Marissa Mayer, the former Yahoo chief executive who built a nursery in her office and hired a full-time nanny to look after her infant son a few years ago. Nor does she have the luxuries available to Ivanka Trump, who is now championing more favorable workplace policies for women: The president’s daughter flew to Miami for business eight days after giving birth to her daughter, Arabella, via the convenience of the family’s jet.

But Slaughter does has an office that allows her to nurse the baby and pump in private, and for Pippa to nap in quiet. She divides most household duties with her husband, Justin Slaughter, a political and business consultant.

“Bringing a baby to work is not the right choice for every mom or dad, nor do many have that option,” she said.

Three months ago, Rebecca Slaughter, who goes by Becca, was working as the top lawyer for Schumer. After a decade working in his office, she was asked to consider filling an empty Democratic slot at the trade commission.

Pippa was born April 2. Ideally, Slaughter would have had a longer maternity leave, like she did with her two older children when working for Schumer. Each day since her nomination in April has felt like a “confluence of high-intensity events” that she approaches day by day, she said.

As part of her nomination, she testified before senators nine days after giving birth to Pippa. She made sure to feed the baby minutes before the hearing in case it ran extra long. Her husband held Pippa in the carrier during the hearing.

“I kept telling myself the only way out is through. I have to get through it if I want to be on the other side of this,” Slaughter said of the two-hour hearing. “If I want to have this amazing baby and job then I need to put my head down and get through it.”

Before her first day, she informed the four other FTC commissioners about her plan to bring Pippa to the office and received their unanimous support. She organizes her days accordingly, only accepting meetings and speaking engagements where she can take the baby. Two weeks ago, she appeared onstage at a privacy conference hosted by the Future of Privacy Forum for a question-and-answer session. Pippa shared the stage, asleep in her carrier.

“Both Becca and Pippa are wonderful additions to the FTC family,” the agency’s chairman, Joe Simons, a Republican, said in an email. “I’m delighted that Becca made the decision to begin her tenure as a commissioner so soon after the birth of her daughter.” The work itself is right in her sweet spot. Slaughter spent much of her time in Schumer’s office working on consumer protection and antitrust issues, and is now on the FTC amid an uproar of the practices of Silicon Valley giants. The agency is investigating Facebook’s privacy practices and Equifax’s huge data breach. Consumer groups and smaller tech rivals have called on the agency to break up Facebook, Google and Amazon amid growing antitrust concerns.

It is unclear whether Slaughter’s decision to bring Pippa to the FTC will pave the way for other high-level government officials to combine work and motherhood. Some — but not all — agencies have day care on-site, and government employees are not guaranteed spots for their children.

Slaughter’s male colleagues say her decision helps all working parents. Noah Phillips, a Republican commissioner and parent of young children, said it was important for the agency’s staff to know that Pippa would be a daily fixture.

“It sends good signals in a lot of different ways,” he said.

Three weeks into the job at the trade commission, some of the adrenaline has begun to wear off. Sleep deprivation was setting in.

Slaughter is trying to spend more time with her older children as they adjust to her job change and their new younger sibling. She’s determined to attend a baby-and-me yoga class at least once a week during the lunch hour. For now, she is not planning to attend out-of-town speeches and conferences or the dinners and cocktail parties that typically attract government officials. “It doesn’t help anyone when you try to make it look easy,” said Stephanie Martz, a former chief counsel for Schumer who is also a mother of three children and a close confidant of Slaughter’s. “You don’t have to go on that trip to Europe. And you need to conquer your doubts.”

On the recent Monday morning, Slaughter walked with Pippa in the carrier to a nearby restaurant for a business lunch. Then mother and baby were back in the office for several meetings and a block of time to go over papers on cases pending before the FTC. She kept her promise to leave the office by 5 p.m. to have dinner with family at home. But she was online again after the two older children were asleep around 8 p.m.

By 10 p.m., she was in bed.

“It’s like a marathon,” she said of her day. The race would begin again in about four hours.