I walked into my first La Leche League meeting reluctantly. When pregnant, I felt I didn’t have the time. My husband and I were a bit overwhelmed prepping for our first baby. And when she came, I was too tired, anxious and often depressed to face the public. While my husband was at work, we dashed out for the quick necessities a few times a week – a run to the grocery store or walk in the park when I could manage it.
My hesitations and the questions that swirled through my head then seem so frivolous now: “What if I truly am crazy?”, “What if my child has a crying fit and interrupts the meeting?”, “What if I have a breakdown and start crying in front of a room full of strangers?,” “What if no one looks like me?”
I don’t remember much about that meeting, who was there or even what was talked about. What I do remember vividly is sitting across from a Leader describing the overwhelming fear I felt every time I left the house. Balancing my then three -month old daughter on my lap, I fought back tears as she said to me gently, “That’s perfectly normal.” She took the time to explain the connection between anxiety, post-partum depression and breastfeeding. I wasn’t a flawed human being. I wasn’t failing, but that day, I desperately needed someone to tell me that.
I am a black woman and I breastfed. WE EXIST!!!
Statistics show that breastfeeding initiation rates are increasing, but the numbers for black women still fall behind when it comes to breastfeeding up to and past benchmarks of 6 and 12 months. The Center for Disease Control reported that environmental, social and financial reasons all played a part in lower numbers.
I would attribute my difficulties in the beginning to a lot of things, but ultimately, I lacked support. None of my black friends were nursing mothers. Early on, I felt burdened by the stigma of “not covering up” and found myself unnecessarily panicked any time I needed to nurse in a public space. I rarely saw other nursing mothers outside of breastfeeding support meetings.
The older my daughter became, the more I found myself floundering in uncharted territory. I began to feel more and more judged as my daughter approached and surpassed 12 months old and was buried by the opinions of older women of color who insisted, “Isn’t she too old for that?” or “When are you planning to stop?”
Today I volunteer as a La Leche League Leader hoping that when an anxious mama comes into a room, I can provide her with a sense of ease and “I see you” comfort. I believe that by telling my story, I can encourage someone to keep going, just a little bit longer. If I can encourage a mother of color, I know I am helping not only her but generations to come.
We can’t do it alone.
“To breastfeed successfully, I feel I need a community. With breastfeeding being so uncommon in my culture, it would be nice to have a tangible group of women I can lean on for support and needed knowledge!” – Sara, mother of 3, University City, MO
“My first attempt to breastfeed wasn’t as smooth as I expected it to be. My son didn’t have a good latch. My nipples were bruised, swollen and bloody. I had to reach out to a La Leche League Leader for assistance. She came to my house, brought a nipple shield and some ointment to ease the pain. She showed me how to hold the baby and helped him latch properly. That really helped and within few days, my breast was back to normal.” – Blessing, mother of 3, St. Louis
“Although breastfeeding is exhausting, it’s literally draining … the rewards outweigh the fatigue. Emotional support is important. While breastfeeding, hormones fluctuate so much it’s common to feel down, depressed or unaccomplished. Accountability for things like meals is also important. It’s easy to not eat or even forget about yourself in some respects when you’re constantly responsible for [your baby’s] on demand food supply.” – Krisden, mother of 3, Indianapolis