In honor of our ancestors
the enslaved wet nurses / their life-force liquified
sentenced to sustain white
Now we celebrate
our brown babies suckling / in our arms
against our skin / on our bodies / at our breasts
Liberated lactation is a revelation
a revolution / nourishment
only Black bodies can provide because
it belongs to our children
this elixir of life has always belonged to us
This is the first little poem to come out of me in a while. This came through me as I was meditating on Black Breastfeeding Week. Since I am not African American, I do not know if the colonial legacy in my ancestral lineage included enslaved women being forced to breastfeed their masters’ children. However, on an embodied level I know that similar reproductive atrocities must have been committed if not this very one. Therefore, I am using this year’s Black Breastfeeding Week to acknowledge my ancestors and celebrate in the freedom I have to nourish and care for my own child. In addition to this liberty, there are so many ways I feel I had a blessed breastfeed journey.
Like taking psychiatric medication during pregnancy, breastfeeding while one psyche meds can also be difficult to navigate. I received so many conflicting messages about whether I should or shouldn’t take my medication and the risks that either action could pose to my health or that of my child. Generally, there is a focus on the child to the detriment of the mother. I was not going to make the same mistake I made at the beginning of my pregnancy thinking that I could sacrificially not take my meds for the greater good of my child. Doing so has the opposite effect. The child’s health is dependent of that of the mother.
I was told that taking Lithium was dangerous if I chose to breastfeed. I got this message at the hospital when the lactation counselor came in to warn me again the potentially lethal effects of Lithium for my child. When I went to the WIC office to get my benefits for food to aid my milk production, I was made to wait to speak to a special dietitian they called over the phone for advise me about breastfeeding while taking Lithium. She congratulated me on my choice to breastfeed, but warned me about the signs of Lithium toxicity in my baby like lethargy, shortness of breath, and turning blue!
Despite all of this fear instilling propaganda, I stuck with my choice to breastfeed because I knew the research. During my doula training I learned that pump and dump was not necessary for mothers who consumed an alcoholic beverage while nursing because the alcohol content was so small. Medications were a similar story (but obviously the correct dose needs to be established with a medical provider). My psychiatrist reassured me that the level would be low enough in the milk that it would not impact my daughter’s health.
Once I got through the initial latch issues, nipple soreness, and engorgement, I had a lot of milk and felt very productive while pumping. I pumped so much milk that we had to buy an extra freezer to store it in. I was incredibly blessed that my husband was super supportive about my need to sleep through the night in order to stay stable. While I took my meds and slept, he woke up every few hours to feed our daughter with the milk I pumped.
I was almost three months postpartum when the first case of COVID-19 was detected in New York City. Quarantine was more of the same sequestered postpartum life I had been living. The blessing in disguise is that it created the circumstances for my husband to be home full-time to help out and I got more time breastfeed and bond with my baby undisturbed. Lockdown felt like a truly supported and nourishing postpartum cocoon that allowed me to physically and psychologically heal from my pregnancy and labor.
When my first semester of graduate school started on Zoom, I was able to work and feed my baby with ease and pump from the comfort of my own home. I felt incredibly lucky not to have to pump at school. I feared for my daughter’s health with NYC as one of the epicenters of the virus, but producing life-preserving, antibody-rich elixir for my baby during a global pandemic was one of the most empowering experiences of my postpartum. I also didn’t stress about exclusive breastfeeding. When I was not able to pump enough, I supplemented with formula, but felt content that Aliya had mommy’s milk only for at least the first six months of her life. I only nursed for three months as a baby so reaching that milestone with Aliya was very rewarding. I did not know if I would be capable of nursing beyond 3 months, but here I am 19 months later still at it.
Although I feel my breastfeeding journey may be coming to a close, the lessons will remain. Breastfeeding has made me respect my body and what it is capable of doing. I can give life and sustain it while maintaining my own sanity and wellbeing. And for that I have immense gratitude.
Image Description: An photograph of a Black baby latched onto his mother’s breast.
Image Credit: Canva