Mom traveling with daughter brought to tears by public support

Jenna Dillulio was overwhelmed by what she saw in an airport mothers' lounge.

Mom traveling with daughter brought to tears by public support
Courtesy Jenna Dillulio
November 1, 2023, 3:34 PM

When Jenna Dillulio was getting ready to fly for the first time with her 14-month-old daughter Ember in October, she said she felt nervous.

The mom of one told "Good Morning America" she'd had anxiety about flying for years, but she, her therapist and her family agreed it would be good for her to try traveling by plane with her daughter to begin working through that fear.

"This trip was such a big step for me," Dillulio told "GMA," adding that it was her first flying trip with her daughter and also her daughter's first time flying overall.

They flew from Richmond, Virginia, to visit Dillulio's family in the Pittsburgh area, but it wasn't until their flight home that Dillulio encountered a special place that brought her to tears -- the mothers' nursing lounge at Pittsburgh International Airport.

PHOTO: Dillulio and her 1-year-old daughter Ember flew together for the first time to visit family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Dillulio and her 1-year-old daughter Ember flew together for the first time to visit family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Courtesy Jenna Dillulio

"Immediately, when I opened up the door, I just was overcome with emotion," Dillulio recalled.

The airport mothers lounge was filled with colorful sticky notes with handwritten messages from fellow traveling mothers. Dillulio said she stopped to read several of them and take in the space with her daughter in tow.

PHOTO: Jenna Dillulio shared her experience with the mother's lounge at Pittsburgh International Airport on TikTok.
Jenna Dillulio shared her experience with the mother's lounge at Pittsburgh International Airport on TikTok.
Courtesy Jenna Dillulio
PHOTO: The mothers' nursing lounge at Pittsburgh International Airport opened in May 2015.
The mothers' nursing lounge at Pittsburgh International Airport opened in May 2015.
Pittsburgh International Airport

"We had a ton of things going on, so to walk in there and then to need the support, and then you get it without expecting it -- it warmed my heart to see all those Post-its, and to read like, 'You're doing a great job. You're a great mom. Go, mama, go!' [while] you're feeding your baby. It was just so beautiful," Dillulio said.

Dillulio, who works as a social media influencer, posted about her experience on TikTok, where other mothers chimed in and celebrated the public display of support.

"Until you become a mom, I feel like you don't understand like how important support is, and then traveling with your baby is just another level of anxiety," Dillulio said. "To know that there's so many other women that have walked into that room and they have had that special bond with their baby and then they also give out love to other mothers to say like, 'You're doing a good job. You're really doing this. You're really traveling with your baby' … I was so overwhelmed."

PHOTO: Dillulio said the mother's lounge at Pittsburgh International Airport, even behind the door, was covered in encouraging and touching notes from fellow mothers.
Dillulio said the mother's lounge at Pittsburgh International Airport, even behind the door, was covered in encouraging and touching notes from fellow mothers.
Pittsburgh International Airport

Christina Cassotis, the chief executive officer of Pittsburgh International Airport and a mom of one herself, told "GMA" the mothers' lounge project was one of the first initiatives she championed as CEO, about three years before Congress passed the Friendly Airports for Mothers Act in 2018, which mandated private spaces for breastfeeding moms in medium to large airports.

"I started in January of 2015. This opened in May of '15. So, this is one of the first things that we did that was very focused on talking to a very specific audience that we didn't feel was being very well served," Cassotis said. "And having been a new mother traveling, I thought that perhaps there was something we could do more than just offer people a bathroom stall that they'd have to jerry-rig to make work for them, especially a busy bathroom."

Both Dillulio and Cassotis said the support for mothers in the form of personal messages is important.

PHOTO: The Post-it notes inside the mothers' nursing lounge at Pittsburgh International Airport feature handwritten messages from mothers to fellow mothers.
The Post-it notes inside the mothers' nursing lounge at Pittsburgh International Airport feature handwritten messages from mothers to fellow mothers.
Pittsburgh International Airport

"It's not like you're physically gaining anything, but you're gaining this love and almost confidence," Dillulio said. "It's a confidence boost that you're getting from mothers that you know have traveled around the world, and they don't know who you are, they have no idea what your story is, but they want to support you in this journey."

"I would say that for any mom, at any point in motherhood, it's really nice to have somebody remind you that nobody's got it all figured out, and what you're doing is fine -- you've got this, you're good," Cassotis added.

For Dillulio, her first trip with Ember turned out better than she imagined.

"I really worried about it for nothing," she said. "[Ember] was an angel … she napped. She played. She was waving to everybody. And yeah, it went great. So I'm so excited for our upcoming trips."

Her message now for other moms is the same as the one she left on a sticky note herself.

"I want them to know that they are amazing, and that we [mothers] are capable of so much," Dillulio said. "It is really special and important to be able to take our babies places, to normalize this type of thing and just be flexible, and know that you have the support of women around the world that have done it so many other times -- and you can do it."