Ghosts of Mother’s Past
My mother was the ultimate realist; she told us everything and told it like it was. Although I was only 12 when she died, I knew my mother’s scars, the wounds of her past that stuck with her. I can recall things about my mother that she never would’ve thought I noticed at such a young age. I can recount her insecurities, the things that made her embarrassed, and also the things that made her sad. I now recognize at my current age how much I learned from my mom’s experiences.
I had no idea that these pieces of my mother’s history would stick with me during my own motherhood journey. When I was three years old, my mother gave birth to my baby brother. His life for me is such a short blur, since he wasn’t with us long at all. But I do remember the hospital visits, and my mother’s tears as she laid my baby brother to rest about a year after his birth.
Giving birth to a child with health complications takes a huge toll on a mother’s mental state. When I gave birth to my first son I was devastated because, like my mother, my own boy had to be taken to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). To us, he seemed fine. His eyes were just a little yellow, and his skin also had a weird undertone color that I had never seen. The doctors learned not long after delivery that he was jaundiced because of a genetic blood disorder that I was (unknowingly) a carrier for. I had immediately decided that this condition was all my fault, and I was determined to do everything in my power to protect the health of my baby. It was then that I knew I had no choice but to breastfeed. The doctors insisted that I did because of this “lifelong, incurable condition.”
I’ve always loved my boobs. I mean, they weren’t always the biggest or the perkiest, but they were mine. Once upon a time, at least. That all became a distant memory the moment I became a breastfeeding working mom. For myself, like most women, I was not able to take any form of maternity leave. My personal employment situation at the time of my pregnancy was dependent on being enrolled at the university— I was a 21-year-old junior taking classes while employed in a work-study position. I couldn’t stay enrolled in classes, therefore I was unable to keep my job at that time. When I got back to classes the work-study was no longer an option. About two months after giving birth, I picked up a job in a nearby fast-food restaurant to help make ends meet.
Before I knew it, I was right back in the swing of things and the real hustle began. My schedule was packed with working, nursing and pump breaks. On top of that, I also had school and classwork, all while trying to maintain my social life and the fire between my newlywed husband and I.
Luckily my job was less than .5 miles away from home because there was nowhere private to nurse nor anywhere to store my milk on-site. I would drive back and forth home to feed and pump on my breaks. It wasn’t long before everything in my life began to feel more like work than for enjoyment or fulfillment. Some days were better than others, but more often than not I walked around (as my mother would say) like a chicken with my head cut off. But I did it, nonetheless, because I had decided for me there was no other choice.
Society’s fear of the glorified nipple— The Present
My career as a model has allowed me to use my body as a tool for financial gain. Being chosen based on appearance and physique in a casting call out of a sea of other hopefuls is very empowering. I felt even more empowered as a breastfeeding mom. My body had transformed and I was officially a living breathing magical creature. This beautiful bonding interaction between mother and child is sacred and should be highly respected and regarded in society. I soon learned that it is not.
The disgusted stares I would get from bystanders in the mall or while out eating at a restaurant were very disheartening. Most of all, as a new mom this behavior was certainly unexpected. The worst part was that 95% of the time, the nastiest looks of disapproval would come from other women. Whether I was covered and as reserved as could be in public, or feeling free in the comfort of family and friends, the ignorance would always arise. “Don’t you want to go to another room with that? There are kids in here,” I heard once while the explicit version of French Montana’s “Pop That” record blared through the speakers during a family social gathering. I was beyond conflicted as to whether this request was regarding censorship for the children present, seeing as how my breasts were not completely exposed, and the music being chanted in their ears were much more vulgar than the image of a mother feeding her child. But, I digress.
Rather than turning to the women in my immediate circle, I sought advice outwardly in Facebook groups, by reading books and scholarly articles, as well as from moms I met in various parenting settings. My mother always talked about how she breastfed my sisters and me, so not having her around for this type of guidance when I needed it most took a bit of a toll on me.
The void was filled by taking advantage of the lactation support offered by my local WIC office, tons of research about dieting and supply, combined with the sweet serendipity of connecting with another amazing black mom. It’s mind boggling how a random woman I met while eating at Chipotle one afternoon was even more passionate about normalizing breastfeeding than I was— she became my big sister and personal “lactation consultant”. She even helped me to gain my own title: my family started to call me the “breastfeeding guru,”claiming that I loved it so much. They were half way right. Some days I loved it, but most days I felt so exhausted and I hated it. I just kept at it one day at a time because like I said, for me there was no other choice.
The Bitter-Sweet…but mostly SWEET end!
With some digging I found that my journey and sentiments were not a rarity. I wasn’t alone; instead, I was a part of a movement. Black women do breastfeed (#BWDBF), and together we can #normalizebreastfeeding by continuing to allow mothers to make their own choices. It wasn’t until three jobs later, after college, and my third child that I had a location to pump and store milk while working. I am happy to report that since the birth of my first son, there are now more malls and other establishments that have designated family nursing rooms. Although this is great, in general society the workforce still has a long way to go.
Moms should always be supported and encouraged, especially when they’re doing the best they can to simply nourish their young. Whether nipple or bottle, formula or breast milk, no mother should ever feel any shame for feeding her child. The choice of doing so in public or private should be her own; wherever, whenever, however she wants.
In closing thought, I have one final request. If you ever see a mother simply feeding her child in public, allow her to do what naturally makes her and her baby feel most comfortable and just mind your own business…as if you have no other choice.