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‘Free To Breastfeed: Voices of Black Mothers’. Praeclarus Press, 2014.

I remember the call for papers for ‘Free to Breastfeed,’  — when the editors Jeanie and Anayah first began compiling it a couple of years back — this anthology of Black women who breastfeed. I also had the pleasure of meeting Anayah at a breastfeeding summit last summer here in Seattle, and asked how it was coming along. Now, after placing my order and it showing up in my mailbox not too long ago it was nice to see this progression.

If I have to be completely honest with you, then I will have to tell you that even though I was excited about this book because I think it is great and necessary to have the ‘voices of Black mothers’ that highlights their breastfeeding traditions and brings these to a larger audience, I wasn’t really sure I would be able to really relate to them. I know this probably sounds super weird coming from me, but it is true. One reason this is is that I have not been one who has been involved in many practical aspects or have really highlighted these types of narratives. I’ve heard them a ton before, of course, but when it came to mechanics I have tended to steer clear. One of the reasons for this is because I have never breastfed a child myself, and so that has made the way I view breastfeeding and even the way I have participated and related to it quite a bit different from someone else who can discuss their own experiences when it comes to their emotional aspects, feelings of connecting with their child and how they view things, issues they’ve had and such, mastitis, using cabbage leaves and such (notice my blog is more about critical Black breastfeeding). Another reason is that when I first started out on my ‘lactation journey’ I wanted to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, because I thought that would be the way I would contribute to helping challenge the gaping inequity and health issues. But later I realized that that wasn’t necessary. And after I took CLE training that is what really solidified for me that working in practical breastfeeding is not my passion — or, the area where I feel I could make my most significant impact. I really hope this makes sense. Even though I firmly believe that radical social transformation for Black people can happen at the breast, I have been much more involved in understanding the culture of breastfeeding through a theoretical and political lens — to see how the wider social structure makes up the breastfeeding culture and why this tradition is so fraught. Now, I really hope this makes sense. It’s the social scientist in me. And this is why I need more public health in my life.

Having said all of this — I could not put this book down. AT ALL. I’m a full-time doctoral student, so engaging in texts and reading all the time everywhere I go is not out of the ordinary. The difference with ‘Free to Breastfeed,’ though, is that I didn’t have a timeframe for this one. It wasn’t a requirement or assignment for a course that I needed to read and discuss in class the next day, or with my students, or write a paper about, so I had all the time in the world but I could not get enough. I took this one with me everywhere I went. I read it at the bus stop, while on the bus, waiting for the ferry, on the ferry, standing in line at the grocery store, in bed, at the Thai restaurant when I took myself out, I snuck it into class and got a couple of pages in during lecture hoping that the students didn’t recognize that I wasn’t paying attention to their prof (ha ha), and I even think I brought it with me when I drove my little sister on some errands the other day. I was so deeply entrenched in the stories of all of these mothers who share their experiences, and I like how the book is organized. It starts out with both editors and their entrance to breastfeeding, and then during the following sections each highlight a particular topic, and has various chapters discussing myths and barriers, the legacy of Black breastfeeding, facing and/or overcoming difficulties, or non-difficulties when it came to being breastfeeding ‘warriors’ with extended nursing, their experiences in the hospital, interactions with their families, nursing in public, and more.

I’m not sure if I have a ‘favorite’ section or chapter, per se, because I enjoyed all of them so much and they are each unique in their own way, but I really found myself crying especially during the last chapter. I can’t figure out exactly if it was because I knew this book was coming to an end and my emotions were entangled with these stories, or if it was because the last chapter is on weaning. From those that shared their weaning story did so in such a way that showed that it was indeed a sad but necessary transition away from this safe space that this particular pair who had been coupled together for their particular amount of time. Oh, that just got me — it was so bittersweet.

It would liked to have seen just a couple of the stories expanded on (this is the line I give my students with their papers, LOL– and is the same type of feedback I have also received and still receive on some of my  own writings). I would have loved to see some of them go a bit longer — extended the conversation — because in my opinion more context would give more practical detail and add to the richness. I honestly could have read another one hundred pages, at least. Easy.

I am so thankful for all of these Black mothers. And so happy to see this text — the first of its kind.

P.S. When I got to the very back of the book it was so super groovy to see my blog listed as a resource for Black breastfeeding. I totally was not expecting that. J