Our final blog post for Black Breastfeeding Week comes from Emerald Doulas co-owner, Melanie Patrick. Today, Melanie shares her own story of the lack of breastfeeding support she received following birth of her son; and how race continues to contribute to a similar oversight for today's black mothers.
My breastfeeding story is a few decades old, and some things have changed (at least in many hospitals) that would have made a big difference today.
However, there are still people struggling with some of the same challenges I faced so many years ago.
I never doubted that I would breastfeed. I grew up seeing my mother nurse my siblings, I saw women nursing in public, even family members breastfeeding and dry nursing each other’s babies. I never dreamed it would be difficult for me.
It was natural, right?
I didn’t take a class or do any preparation before my son’s birth. I trusted my body.
My son was born in the mid 80’s. The hospitals didn’t have rooming-in, so babies spent most of their time in the nursery and were brought to us, their mothers, every 3 hours when it was time to feed them. Visiting hours happened twice a day, two hours in the morning and two in the evening.
“Husbands” were the only people allowed to visit outside those hours. Babies were not allowed in the rooms during visiting hours. Most rooms were semi-private.
I was young and single when my son was born, and his was a surgical birth under general anesthesia.
Not uncommon after having anesthesia, I ran a low grade fever for two days after his birth. The hospital rule was that I had to be fever-free for 24 hours before I could be with him, so in the event I was actually sick, we wouldn’t risk him bringing an illness back to the nursery and exposing all the other babies. So from his birth on Thursday night until Monday morning I didn’t see him, didn’t touch him, didn’t nurse him.
During that time he was given formula and I was given . . . well, nothing!
No one talked with me about hand expressing colostrum, pumping, or engorgement. When I was finally able to see him, my breasts were so engorged he couldn’t latch on. I pressed the call button for the nurses station and asked someone to come in to help me, but no one came. I called again and was told my nurse would be in when she could.
I remembered overhearing my roommate getting a lesson in breastfeeding from the nurse a few days prior, so I tried to do what I had overheard. I thought it was working, but he wasn’t able to get a good latch due to my engorgement. It was excruciating.
I left the hospital seven days after my son was born and never received any breastfeeding teaching or support. Remember, when my family was allowed to visit, my baby had to be in the nursery, so I couldn’t even get my mother’s help at feeding time for a whole week.
To this day I don’t know what led to the complete lack of support from the hospital staff. I’d like to think it was that I simply fell through the cracks; that by the time I saw my son at the age of four days, they mistakenly thought I had received that breastfeeding teaching. I’d like to think that.
Or was I low priority for them because I was young? Black? Or both?
In hindsight I can see several things that should have/could have been different. Things I could have done, things the hospital staff should have done.
I’m so grateful that we have Black Breastfeeding Week to shine a light on breastfeeding in a way that speaks more directly to people of color and to help provide more information and support.