In a male dominated field, Alameda County Sergeant Misty Carausu is blazing trails for mothers working in law enforcement.
“A lot of women in this workforce always put our own desires on the back burner,” Carausu begins.
Often, those who are not mothers working in the agency, express distaste for their lactating and mothering counterparts. For instance, there’s a sense that lactating employees are an inconvenience when break time is required, Carausu explains.
What’s more, women are often afraid to stand up for themselves and their needs for fear of “causing ripples” and ruining their careers, she goes on to explain.
“I’m at a point in my career where I am comfortable speaking my mind,” Carausu says. “If I don’t support these women, it’s never going to change.”
Advantageously, Alameda County Human Resources Department has a zero tolerance policy for hostile work environments. Carausu uses this to combat blatant discrimination and microaggressions (like sighing and eye rolling) against lactating people.
Reflecting on teen motherhood
Carausu’s breastfeeding advocacy story began in 1997 when she was 15 years old and gave birth to her son by c-section.
Aside from reading What to expect when you’re expecting, Carausu reports that she wasn’t provided with any breastfeeding education or support.
“My mother did the best she could to help me, but she also struggled with breastfeeding so she didn’t know how to help me,” she remembers.
Nonetheless, Carausu continued to breastfeed through engorgement, the pain of her healing c-section, little support from her baby’s father and his family, nipple shield frustrations and undiagnosed postpartum depression.
Although her son was gaining weight well, Carausu says their pediatrician still insisted on supplementing with formula. By the time her baby was three months old, the formula supplementation had affected her milk production and she transitioned him to exclusive formula feeding. Her mother supported this move; she would be taking care of Carausu’s son while she went back to highschool. Formula feeding was “easier”.
Unexpectedly becoming an older mother
Through her entire adult life, Carausu shares that she was told by medical professionals that she could no longer become pregnant because of obstructive uterine syndrome and other reproductive conditions.
Having met her husband in 2014, they’d come to terms with the idea that they would never have children together. Carausu focused on her career working as a detective. She specialized in major crimes involving sexual assaults and took the exam to become a sergeant in 2018.
“I became engulfed in my work,” she comments.
Then, at 38 years old, not long after she and her family celebrated her son’s 21st birthday, Carausu gazed upon a positive pregnancy test.
“I cried,” she shares. “I thought my career was over.”
Once the initial shock wore off, Carausu started pouring herself into research about healthy birth and breastfeeding, joining support groups on social media and taking prenatal classes.
“I was full in on breastfeeding,” she says.
It was a major shift from her feelings about breastfeeding prior to this pregnancy.
Carausu explains: “When I was a detective, my colleague had a baby and she was pumping in the bathroom. I would say, Ew, gross you’re milking. It was weird to me.”
Still, Carausu didn’t think it was appropriate for her colleague to be forced to pump in the bathroom, so she offered her her office instead.
Carausu’s daughter was born by emergency c-section. Their breastfeeding journey was off to a good start. While building a “stash” of milk for her return to work though, Carausu dealt with oversupply, mastitis and raw nipples from a poor flange fit.
“I can’t do this anymore; I’m in so much pain,” Carausu remembers thinking, so she reached out to a local lactation care provider, Stacey, whom she affectionately calls “Fairy Breast Mother”.
“She was my saving grace,” Carausu says. “I get teary-eyed and emotional just thinking about her.”
Carausu breastfed her daughter until she was 16 months old when she became pregnant with her second daughter. Born during the early months of the pandemic, Carausu held her baby skin-to-skin immediately after her c-section and during recovery. Without visitor interruptions, Carausu says she was able to keep her baby on her chest for almost the entirety of their hospital stay.
Transforming lactation space
While on maternity leave, Carausu learned about the jail’s “nightmarish” lactation room.
“A lot of moms were like, No one uses it because it’s disgusting,” she says.
Carausu describes the space: “It was a big closet with a cabinet filled with car flares, hazardous materials and other office supplies. A rod hung from wall to wall with a curtain. Behind the curtain was a poor, dilapidated table on its last leg and an old leather chair. There were photos of random babies on the table. The floor was moldy.”
She goes on, “I told my partners, I am pumping in my office. If you have a problem, you can leave.”
Carausu pumped in her office without conflict, but wasn’t satisfied because there was little privacy.
She approached her captain.
“We need to set the standard for law enforcement and change this,” she remembers proposing.
Carausu was granted an initial three thousand dollar budget to renovate the existing lactation closet.
Conveniently, the jail is equipped with onsite tradespeople, so Carausu worked with each specialty to create a luxury space for pumping employees.
They replaced flooring and baseboards, added a refrigerator and glider, stocked cabinets with snacks and extra milk bags and installed lockers. Carausu added decorative flair with rugs and paintings.
She says that the carpenter exclaimed that he had “the best time” planning this project with her.
Their graphic designer created a sign with a breastfeeding symbol in their county-issued colors to be displayed on the door. The room is equipped with a lock that only lactating employees have access to.
With roughly 2,000 people working at the jail, Carausu recalls about six other mothers using the new space generating demand to create yet another space.
The project became such a success that HR revamped their lactation policy for the whole county. Now, every Alameda county-owned or county-leased agency must have a lactation-specific room with, at the very least, running water and a fridge.
Implementing lactation counseling services
Carausu isn’t stopping here. She recently completed the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC).
“I already gave advice,” Carausu says. “But I wanted to be able to back it up.”
Carausu plans to implement mother-specific counseling services with HR.
“How can we give them a smooth transition? Are they prepared to come back? Are they pumping? What do they need? How can we help?” Carausu brainstorms.
Carausu adds that she hopes to expand her work to provide services to other law enforcement agencies.