I’ve wanted to breastfeed just as long as I’ve dreamed of being a mama. In a box somewhere there is a photo of little girl me: I’m wearing my denim overalls, flap down, smiling big as I held my favorite doll up to a flat little girl chest. As the last born, I never got to see Ma breastfeed my older siblings; in fact I don’t know that she did. I’m not sure where my desire to breastfeed came from. I certainly didn’t see it modeled responsibly in the media— if it all. I didn’t know any breastfeeding families, let alone any Black families taking part in a larger conversation regarding breastfeeding.
My firstborn son, Ransom was the worst nursling. Laziest latch ever. After a week, I was very discouraged. Wait, record scratch. Let’s go back to the hospital. When Ransom was just a few hours old, I was already very discouraged with breastfeeding. Prior to giving birth, I had done a great deal of reading about pregnancy, labor & childbirth as well as breastfeeding, pumping, infant sleep training and the challenges of returning to work in 8 weeks. I was prepared damnit! Being as prepared as I was, nothing could go wrong. Obviously. So when after a few hours I noticed a pattern between excessive cramping and putting the baby to my breast I asked the nurse why. She explained that the breastfeeding triggers the uterus to begin shrinking, which results in period-like cramping. Somehow in my nearly obsessive thirst for information to welcome my first child into the world I missed that detail. Like most things that catch me off guard, I was frustrated, overly sad & throwing pity parties of epic proportions. I wasn’t emotionally ready for for something I hadn’t thought through. So I considered giving up breastfeeding. After about 5 hours.
Within 8-10 hours it became very obvious that our little guy simply could not stay awake long enough to get anything down. The nurse unhelpfully recommended we supplement with formula so that his weight could be maintained at best, less drastic weight loss at worst. It was fear based advice for an issue that would have likely resolved itself. Shoving a bottle in his mouth did nothing but cast doubt as to my ability to nurture my son. Just as soon as he began drinking that first 2 ounce bottle I immediately felt that me and my breasts were no longer needed. I began to wonder if I was enough for my little guy?
About a week out, we continued to have issues. He was still a sleepy boob napper. Eating every hour on the hour before drifting off. He still had his horrible latch & my nipples were cracked, bleeding and lifeless. I routinely visited the lactation consultants. Constantly reading library offerings on the subject. And I continued to cry my way through nursing sessions. Both the actual physical pain of nursing but the Baby Blues had taken hold of my heart and I felt the sadness creeping always around the corner. Always waiting for me to fail.
I read a book that strongly encouraged nursing moms not to give up before 40 days postpartum. She argued that 40 days was almost a magical number when many babies start to “get it,” if they hadn’t yet. I’d read this before he was born & had previously scoffed at the idea that I might give up for that time. Pride cometh before the fall. So even though day 20, day 25, day 30 & day 35 moderately sucked, I pushed through because I wanted to honor the wishes of the author and I needed to believe I could pull it off for both of our sakes.
Day 40 came and went with not much difference except that I had kept my goal and made a new goal to make it to 80 days. The rest is history. We kept going until he hit almost a year old when he let me know in no uncertain terms that he was completely done, thank you very much. His desire for his beloved sippy cup ruled the day and just like that my breasts were banished to normal bras & tank tops without hooks on the front.
My story with Ransom mimics many women’s stories: the discouragement to give up, the need for resources, the need for lactation consultants, the necessity of breastfeeding paraphernalia like lanolin cream, breast pumps, gel soothes, nipple guards, nursing pillows and a safe environment to nurture and nurse. I’m grateful for the awareness Black Breastfeeding Week creates to encourage Black women to breastfeed when considering many of the aforementioned breastfeeding needs go largely unmet particularly in low income demographics.
With my second son, I made the same promise to myself to keep going until at least 40 days. I sought help and we enjoyed nearly a solid year of nursing before he, too, began pushing me away when offered. Now I sit here -at this very moment- nursing my 3rd child, a beautiful little girl who refuses to open her mouth very wide and enjoys a nursing session as often as I might enjoy Oreos & milk, which is to say all the time.
This third time around I suppose I feel like an old pro. There are issues of course, but she’s very likely my last and I’m breathing in every warm moment. I’m appreciative of every coo, sigh & suckle. I’m watching her more. I’m not wishing away this stage of exhausted delirium and I’m making the time more meaningful. Not all the time, but most of the time. Breastfeeding is an incredible gift to us women, and there’s tremendous gratitude from the bottom of my soul that I’ve been able to do this three times.
May my precious little diva outlast her brothers and give me a solid 18 months. The odds are ever in her favor.
Grace Sandra is a writer and mother of three living in Michigan. She writes regularly at Grace Sandra.