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When Nursing Wasn’t Enough: This is My Past

My milk was starting to come in, and I went to the salon.

I had to have my hair done. People were coming to the house, coming to see the new babies, twins, and I wanted to at least look better than what I felt. My hair was a matted mess from days of being uncombed. I’d skipped more than a couple showers, more than a couple hours of sleep. So, couldn’t I get a few of those hours back and get my hair done? But the babies were hungry, and my milk was just starting to come in. I nursed them, but then went on to my appointment.

My stylist turned the chair to face the mirror where I could see myself. Where I could see the flat iron smoothing the coils and the kinks to a mahogany flow. I felt a sense of relief—a moment for myself.

“Look at you, already out the house. Who’s watching them babies?”

“My mom.” I pulled out my phone, showed her the pics. The boy, the girl, swaddled and peeking back at the camera.

She bent down for a closer look. “Oooh,” she fawned then rose, taking the comb to part and tug taut the next section of hair. I felt another tug too, my breasts, swollen and pulling the bra straps.

But when that relief finally came, four hours later, it was not enough. Not for my babies. Weeks trickled by and my nursing sessions never felt like enough.  I’d tried Mother’s Tea, advice from friends, what seemed like hours upon hours of incessant nursing, walking around the house topless. But to no avail—my milk was low, and we supplemented with formula.

Still, I was determined. I wanted my babies to have the best. It seemed like it worked for everybody else, so why wasn’t it working for me? When we left the hospital, they were latching on fine but latching on wasn’t the issue. I called the lactation nurse. It was the only thing I hadn’t done. The call had replaced an in-person appointment, and for reasons I can’t recall now, we were unable to make that appointment, so they only spoke with me over the phone. I was in my car in the garage, talking to her through the car’s Bluetooth. She was explaining why it could be that I wasn’t producing enough milk. “You have to wake to feed… from the beginning…every hour or so…build up supply.” I remember sitting there staring at the steering wheel as she spoke and thinking of the two hours I spent at the salon and the fifty-minute drive to and from. Because, yes, I live in the suburbs way south of the city where my stylist at the time was located. I remember thinking, too, of the naps we took throughout the days. No one told me I needed to wake them every two to three hours, did they? That, I couldn’t remember. What I could remember was being told to sleep when they slept.

This is my past.

More weeks went by till the night I was sitting “criss-cross apple sauce” in the middle of my bed. It was sometime after five in the morning. My babies were wailing and I was too. It was cold and dark, and early December. Three months. It had been three months of trying. I went down the hall, down the stairs and into the kitchen. I grabbed two bottles from the six-pack of formula. The pack I sought out at the store. The pack I picked up then put down, my head dropping in self-checkout as I swiped the blue and white cans of altered cow’s milk across the scanner. That early December morning, I shook those cans, tears streaking my face, then took two Avent bottles and accompanying nipples from the bottle rack. Bottles that were supposed to be for preserved breastmilk, for my husband to get to feed the babies, for my Mama too, when she came over to help.

That was the day I let it go, the desperation to nurse. My two babies were steadily hungry, tired, and losing pounds. Steadily crying. My breasts were swollen, but it was never enough. This was no longer a healthy feat. That early December morning, when I finally opened the formula—not to supplement, but for a full feeding—I was done. I’d tried and I was done. I wiped my face, fed my babies, and left my shame right there, bunched up in sheets damp with all of our tears.

I bought another case of formula and told myself I’d leave it all behind.

I thought I left it all behind.

But there’s a quote from the late writer, Katherine Anne Porter: “The past is never where you think you left it.”

Just last year, we were visiting friends, my husband and I. They’d had a baby girl. I was holding her upright on their breakfast table, cooing and making faces while her mama prepared to feed her. When she came to take the baby upstairs to nurse, she turned to me. “Thanks, girl,” she said. I smiled, watching, as they left the room, feeling the slight sting I often do when I see women nursing or hear conversations surrounding the act. Because I failed at it, and as pitiful as it may sound, I still have regrets…nine years later.

Yes, I know I have to let this go. And though I don’t harp on it like I did for those first two years—I still ruminate any time a friend brings the topic up. “Girl, I can’t wait till I can wean her off.” Or, “I can’t stay long, gotta get back home and feed.” Or I’d associate any slight delay (my son took a little longer to raise his own head) or symptom (once their pediatrician informed me they had a vitamin-D deficiency) with this failure to breastfeed—to say it never bothers me would be a lie. The moments are seldom these days. They come and go, but they still come.

“The past is never where you think you left it.”

Maybe it would’ve changed everything if I’d understood to wake the babies more often to feed, or if the lactation nurse had actually come by my house, or if some other trick had been applied than those I tried—and I’d of been this zombie warrior with a badass ’fro and milk singing from my breast. Maybe. I’ll never know. What I did know was that my babies needed adequate nourishment and sleep, and I needed sanity and whatever sleep I could grab.

“The past is never where you think you left it.”

“The colostrum’s what really matters,” I was once assured, referring to the first day’s sustenance the twins had received at my breast, like a consolation prize. For a while, this tidbit carried me. It carried me through days then weeks. Then came the well-baby appointment. The one where I told our pediatrician I’d transitioned fully to formula, watching for any shade to pass through her eyes. None did. She only smiled, nodding her head and nothing more. So was this even an issue? I sat, trying to read more into her expression. She simply moved on, providing guidance for formula feedings.

I’ll find myself in a gathering of moms – new and seasoned—and that inevitable moment comes when a seasoned mom will reminisce about breastfeeding, swapping notes with the others on its benefits and how long she did it. She’s proud, valiant, because whether you succeed or not, who can argue the beauty of such a demanding and selfless act? Even those that harp on what they claim to be public indecency usually won’t argue against the act itself. Guilt and shame link arms with me like I never left their side.

I thought I left you.

“Twins? Oh, how did it go for you?” or “Did you breastfeed?” or some variation along those lines forcing me to answer.

My response vacillates between a resolved no and blubbering explanations of why:

“In the beginning.”

“For the first three months.”

“A little but, well, I have twins and so…”

“I tried, but I couldn’t get my milk supply up—make sure you’re waking that baby.” 

Then I’ll see articles with titles like The Benefits of Breastfeeding, and I grow heavier still. My two have a nut allergy so what if…is there any correlation? The worries compound.

But then there’s the truth.

What I know and see every day. I have a little boy who plays baseball and basketball with a smile that seldom leaves his face, who talks a little too loud at times and loves to read in bed at night. I have a little girl who loves making animals from empty towel rolls, who’s as silly as she is bossy – “shushing” her brother in her determination to be the lead and thriving in her school’s gifted program.

“You turned out fine.” Mama once said. I did, and my mom didn’t breastfeed me. She couldn’t; I was adopted.

I’ve seen the articles, heard the data. I don’t doubt the merits, but they’re not God-send. My children are. This is what I know.

What we don’t always know is where our past really is. We think we left it, but maybe we went and picked it up telling ourselves it’s something else. Maybe we thought we left it, but it’s only following us, hiding when we turn to look. Maybe we did leave it but only for a time. Or maybe…we left it, and we have to remind ourselves to leave it again and again.


This essay first appeared in Mutha Magazine. Image courtesy of author.

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LaToya Jordan | Mama’s Writing

Mama’s Writing is Raising Mothers’ monthly interview series, curated by Deesha Philyaw.


How has motherhood shaped your priorities?

Motherhood reshaped my priorities professionally. I have a good day job as a writer. Before becoming a mother, I thought I’d keep climbing the career ladder. Now, it’s not important for me to have a leadership role or a fancy title. There are other things I want more in life than to become a director, manage a team, and be constantly available for work. The only team I have interest in managing is my family. My greatest aspirations deal with my passions outside of my job: nurturing my creative writing by making the time to write, to learn, and work towards a book or books and learning how to be the best mother for my children so I can raise two decent humans.

Another thing motherhood reshaped for me was timeline obsession. Yes, I want to publish a book. But I’m no longer focused on a book by 40, 45. Telling stories has been something I loved since I was a child. Having a toddler and a pre-teen means the time I get now to sit down and write is more precious, and I needed to get back to appreciating the act of writing.

What’s the worst motherhood advice you’ve ever gotten?

I’m sure I’ve been given bad motherhood advice, especially when my daughter was a baby, but I probably blocked it out because it didn’t serve me. I’ve been lucky to be part of multiple mothering communities, friends who became mothers, the mother friends I’ve made through my children, and a tight-knit online community I’ve been part of since I was pregnant, and they’ve all helped in the moments I’ve needed support. 

How does engaging with your children creatively influence your own creative process?

I’d been working on a story set in the future and was having a hard time imagining future tech and language. When my daughter and I take walks, she likes to ask imaginative questions like, “What would you do if?” or “Would you rather?” One day, one of those questions led her to talk about this idea of this sort of sci-fi future and things she’d do or have as an adult and some of her ideas I couldn’t wrap my mind around. Like, how the heck did she come up with that? I kept thinking, “That’s pretty cool, but is it possible?” And my son, he’s too little right now for deep conversations, but his imaginative play, how he can look at a couple of blocks and see a flying robot with a jetpack – they both help me see possibility.

Also, outside of writing, I’m a maker. I love crafting. My daughter and I began doing art recreations of paintings in NYC museums together. She’d pick out the paintings, be the model, and I’d help with staging the photo. I’d been feeling guilty (guilt comes up a lot for me) about not being able to write during the first half of the pandemic but working with my daughter on that project got me out of my own way. Activating another part of my creativity with her over the summer lit a fire under me again and got me out of the writing funk I’d been in. 

Knowing that your children will read your work at some point, how does that impact your candor when writing?

I hold nothing back in my writing but I’m also not a parenting writer, so I won’t write about them too much in non-fiction. I much prefer to write fictional forms of my children in stories, and I’d love for my kids to read them and see how inspired I am by them. I want them to read my work, but my work can be dark and often deals with heavy subject matter, so maybe when they’re older. Though my nine-year-old read part of a novella I’m working on because I had paper copies on the table for editing, and she asked a lot of questions that felt like critique from a beta reader.

What three words describe you as a mother?

creative, empathetic, supportive

What three words describe you as a writer?

honest, dark, beauty-seeker 

Who are your writer-mama heroes?
How I would love to sit down and have a discussion with Lucille Clifton and Toni Morrison about writing and motherhood. Lucille had six children and wrote beautiful poetry with all of those children running around. And the amazing Toni Morrison, I’d ask her so many things, but first how she could coach me into waking up at 4 a.m. to write. I’ve tried and sleep always wins.

I have many living, contemporary writer mama heroes. Deesha, you’re one of them. It’s your determination and how you stay true to the stories you write. I think that’s what I’m most drawn to, writer mamas who are truth tellers in their writing, in their sharing of self, in their sharing about parenting. Tyrese Coleman shows me the importance of making time for your writing without guilt. Kate Maruyama is the biggest cheerleader, mentor, and support to so many writers, including myself. I don’t know how she has time in the day to teach, write, parent, and mentor writers. Jenn Givhan is a poet/fiction writer who writes magical stories; I’m inspired by how prolific she is and how she shares her passion for writing with her daughter. There are many more I could name. Again, I’m lucky to have many writer mama heroes in my life who push me, who teach me, who have writing dates with me, who are constantly in conversation about how to return to the page while changing diapers or remote schooling or helping their children navigate young adulthood.


LaToya Jordan is a fiction writer, poet, and occasional essayist and journalist. Her writing has appeared in Anomaly, Literary Mama, Mom Egg Review, Poets & Writers, The Rumpus, and more. She is the author of a poetry chapbook Thick-Skinned Sugar (Finishing Line Press). Her essay “The Zig Zag Mother,” appears in My Caesarean: Twenty-One Mothers on the C-Section Experience and After (The Experiment) and another essay, “After Striking a Fixed Object,” published by The Manifest-Station, was listed as “notable” in Best American Essays 2016. Her flash fiction piece was chosen as a spotlight story in Best Small Fictions 2021. LaToya received an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her two amazing kids and her English teacher husband. Follow her on Twitter @latoyadjordan.

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MisCarry Me

Content warning: This essay contains graphic depictions of miscarriage and blood loss.


October 13, 2015, will forever be etched in my mind.  

I thought it would be a day like any other, but it became a whirlwind that shook me to my very core. On the surface, it was one of the most chaotic days that I have ever experienced. Yet, in hindsight, it was orderly and divinely purposeful.  

I was about seven weeks pregnant with our third child. I woke up around 5:30 a.m. to the usual nausea that had lingered well into the sixth month of my previous pregnancies. Here we go again, I thought. But soon I experienced sharp pain in my belly. As the pain grew more and more intense, I knew something was wrong. But seeing my doctor meant that I would have to face the reality of his diagnosis. I was not ready for that. 

Before long, I began to feel lightheaded. Concerned that I was going to faint, I whispered a prayer to God, asking Him to help me get my son to daycare so I could come back home and elevate my feet. I believed I just needed a little rest. 

At the daycare, his teacher sensed something was wrong and asked if I was okay.  I told her that I was not feeling well.  She asked me to have a seat; I declined and told her that I just wanted to go home. Instead, she put both of her hands on my arms and led me to a chair. Still feeling lightheaded, I did not have the strength to resist, so I grudgingly complied. She had someone call my husband, then she rubbed my back as I sat in the lobby of the daycare weeping. 

When my husband arrived, my son’s teacher followed us to his car.  Once I was seated, she stood inside of the open door so that it could not be closed.  She looked me directly in my eyes and said, “I know you want to go home, but I really think you need to go to the hospital.” I’d been running from reality all morning, but there in the passenger seat, I came face-to-face with what I knew to be true, this was the end. I called the doctor’s office and scheduled an immediate appointment. Once there, a doctor examined me. He was pretty sure the pregnancy was ectopic and the fallopian tube had ruptured, but he could not say with certainty because there was so much blood on the ultrasound. The pregnancy that I longed for was over, and I was immediately taken to the hospital for emergency surgery.  

***

October 13, 2015, was supposed to be a day like any other, but by noon I was in the operating room.  

When my doctor did his rounds later that day, what he told me still takes my breath away — and it’s been six years. My blood pressure dropped significantly. When the doctor made the incision, blood spewed from my belly so much that I almost needed a transfusion. The doctor said I had been bleeding internally for over six hours. If I had gone home and gotten into bed like I wanted to, I would have hemorrhaged to death and died. Knowing how close I came to my husband and sons coming home to find my corpse stirred up emotions that I am not even able to communicate to this day.  

The road to recovery went beyond needing physical healing. I silently cried out to God, pleading with Him to help me get through the anguish and the unanswered questions. Not only was I carrying sorrow, but also this facade and fear of admitting that I was not okay. 

While my husband went to work and the boys went to daycare, I stayed at home and allowed the silence and the grief to take me to very unhealthy places.  I wondered why this happened, why I had scar tissue that disrupted the baby’s path to my uterus, and why the extent of the baby’s life was reduced to being thrown out with the medical waste. When my family came home at the end of the day, I acted as though the only pain I was experiencing was physical. I had no idea that I was fighting against the help that I had been praying for.

In 2016, I became pregnant for the fourth time.  And although all was well for about eight weeks, I miscarried again.   

At this point, I gave up; I officially threw in the towel. I told my doctor I wanted to be on birth control because I didn’t think I could bear another loss. I took it and, thankfully, it did not do its job. In 2017, I gave birth to our third child, my fifth pregnancy, my sweet baby girl.  

I’ve heard it said that we live life forward but understand it backwards. October 13th spun out of control right before my eyes. But now, looking back on that day, I see the hand of God in the midst of the turmoil. I see how He carried me. I see my steps being ordered, placing me in front of the right person to hear words of wisdom that I desperately needed. I see how I was able to make it to the hospital before an emergency situation became a fatal one. I see, indeed, that He carried me.

One day I will tell my children about the siblings they never met. I will tell them about a teacher that God used to save my life. I will tell them how I limped through the pain and encourage them not to cover it up the way I did. I will tell them that life always has purpose, no matter how short.

To the women who have experienced this loss, this heartache and this heaviness: I know you hoped that things would have turned out differently, but take comfort in knowing that your unborn child never had to experience hurt or disappointment or judgment or injustice. They are forever in a state of peace. Your grief is your own and it’s real. It’s okay to let the process take as long as it takes. You are not alone and there is always hope. Blessing upon blessings to you.


Promises for You is a column that gives voice and space to those who have experienced infertility, miscarriage, and child loss at any age. We need open conversations on a continuous basis to dispel shame, give room to grief, and nurture understanding.

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Swati Khurana | Mama’s Writing

Mama’s Writing is Raising Mothers’ monthly interview series, curated by Deesha Philyaw.


What fictional mother gets on your nerves? 

In Vikram Seth’s novel A Suitable Boy, Mrs. Rupa Mehra is an insufferable mother. She is a widow, the mother of Arun, Savita, Varun, and the dear young, romantic, yet single college girl Lata. Rupa Mehra is consumed with Lata’s marriage, an all-encompassing obsession (spoiler…) that encourages her daughter to choose suitability over a sweeping love. Rupa Mehra shows us that gender has nothing to do with who is an agent of the patriarchy and how matrimony may be the thing that actually kills love. 

What real-life mother do you admire in your community? What attributes do they have that inspire you?

My dear friend Racheal is such an inspiration to me. She has been a professor of and thinker on social psychology. She’s so generous! She mentored me as a new parent in my daughter’s school community and always has an ear to help me problem-solve and talk through social situations. She is really justice-oriented, as she engages in tough conversations, does anti-racism solidarity work, and talks openly about sexism. She recently was diagnosed with glioblastoma, and she has been sharing the most detailed and brutally honest writing with her friends and supporters — a memoir she is writing. Through her grace, she has created a community of care with us. She inspires me to be braver as a parent, to be more engaged in conversations, and she’s also really fun to hang out with, and has an incredible sense of style and great musical taste! She truly encourages me to find joy and beauty everyday in a world that is broken, but also beautiful.

What are three words your kid(s) would use to describe you?

I asked her, and she said: intelligent, funny, “mom-like.”

What’s the best motherhood advice you’ve ever gotten?

My daughter was born a month before Mother’s Day, and my dear friend Chaumtoli Huq (mother of two) sent me a card to remind me to celebrate myself.  Pumping and struggling with breastfeeding, I was feeling myself slowly disappear, and this letter was a profound gift. As hard as it is, I try to create an opportunity on my birthday and sometime near Mother’s Day (I work on Sundays!) to celebrate myself. 

Knowing that your child will read your work at some point, how does that impact your candor when writing?

A piece I published on my 12-year journey with vaginismus was published online under my “married name” — a name I don’t officially use as I kept my birth name (BTW, Can we retire “maiden name?”) Another very intimate piece where I talked about mental illness was published only in print. My goal is to have revealing conversations with my child that set the stage before she finds out things from Googling. Most of my writing is online, but I hold a few pieces on some topics closer to the chest. 

How does engaging with your child creatively influence your own creative process?

There are moments when I see a through-line when I feel myself becoming more playful. Even at the age of two, my daughter was the most prolific writer I know. She asks me: “Can we walk and walk, and I can tell you about my game?” That “game” is an elaborate story, a novel outline, character traits, a few scenes, with dialogue. Even during the pandemic, during her few Facetime playdates, she has writers’ rooms with her friends, one where they started a novel through a character spreadsheet; another is a TV series. When I see her play, I am reminded how fun writing can be. 

Was there a noticeable shift in your writing before and after parenthood? If yes, how so?

Before I was a parent, I hardly wrote. I was a visual artist in a shared studio, and when I discovered I was pregnant, I had to leave the studio because of the chemicals used by my studiomates. I also had an ethical crisis with the art market and the collector model which propelled my departure from the art world. I began writing during my pregnancy and kept on writing after, slowly taking it more seriously.

I was exhausted, back to work after 2 months of maternity leave with a family of four to support, and I felt like I was making all the wrong choices. Why couldn’t I wait until my kid was in kindergarten to have a creative life again? I remember this one moment, when my kid was just a toddler, I was managing the last few exhibitions and some writing deadlines, and I wished I could be “normal” by not having the appetite to create like an art monster. I fantasized about a “normal” working mom who goes to things like happy hours, maybe even a leisure book club, not a book to read for homework or an author interview or book review. Someone who goes on girls’ trips, and isn’t trying to finagle everything she can to go to a writers’ conference for 36 hours. What would it be like to be a mom like that, to be a mom with mom friends who were not art monsters? Would it be really fun and relaxing? 

And then I reacquainted myself with a painter-mom who has a teen son and saw how curious, motivated, self-possessed, and confident he was. We talked about his childhood and he watched his mom work and talk to artists. I realized that artist moms who are also working moms, raise wonderful children. I thought I was doing a disservice to my child to be consumed by creating. Instead, I am a better mom when I am happy, purpose-filled, and curious. 

Now, after over a year during the global pandemic, being well into middle age, with a stronger writing practice that I incorporated into parenting and my other responsibilities, I am trying to figure out how to take real breaks, even from our art monstering. Time became more seamless with the pandemic, and for a while I mustered intensely and relentlessly using the time I wasn’t commuting — until I realized that I needed breaks and to breathe, to really enjoy the wonder that my child is, and that there actually is so much time to create, that there needs to be time to just be.


Swati Khurana is a New York-based writer, artist, arts organizer, and Tarot reader. She is AAWW The Margins’ flash fiction editor, and is currently writing a scripted audio series set in 1990s NYC and 1940s Lahore, and developing her podcast “Tarot For Us” which uses Tarot readings to have conversations, centering BIPOC women and non-binary artists, writers, and activists. Swati’s writing has been featured in The New York Times, Guernica, Apogee, Chicago Quarterly Review, The Offing, The Rumpus, the anthology Good Girls Marry Doctors, the Asian American Literary Review’s Book of Curses, and as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2019.  You can follow Swati on Instagram at @tarotbooksradio or at  www.swatikhurana.com

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2021 Best of the Net nominations!

After 6 years it’s our first time entering competitions and I wish the best for each nominee. It feels exceptional because how many literary spaces focus only on Black and brown parent writers talking about that subject? I hope they all place and it was extremely difficult to choose coming off this past year.

It was incredibly difficult to choose—but we’re pleased to finally announce our nominees for Best of the Net 2021!

Poetry

Fiction

Nonfiction

Help us congratulate them all!