By Isreal Jean Holland
I never imagined being an 18 year old mother. I never imagined parenting for me would mean poverty, anxiety and depression. My breastfeeding story isn’t the common one you always hear. I did not immediately fall in love with my son. I did not plan to breastfeed. I really never gave it much thought, because it isn’t visible within my culture. Breastfeeding was not seen as an option for black moms. Everyone just formula fed. But breastfeeding was more of a necessity for me than a choice. I could not afford formula, and I breastfed to fulfill my son’s needs. It literally was either breastfeed or my son would not eat!
My first time nursing, the pain was excruciating. I was not given the support that I needed to have a wonderful start to my breastfeeding journey. My son had a lip tie and nobody informed me. I lacked education and support. So guess what, I nursed through a lip tie. I nursed through the pain. I eventually learned how to position my son better. I also learned more about the pros of breastfeeding, but working part time and making only $8.75 an hour at the nearest Best Buy made it literally impossible for me to fully enjoy being a parent.
You hear all of these success stories about being a mother. You hear all these success stories about breastfeeding, how amazing, natural and convenient it is, but this is not the case for some. Like me, there are many women who breastfeed out of necessity and not because of the closeness that many other mothers may feel. Four years later I gave birth to a beautiful girl. My life was different at this point than it was as a teen mom; I was in a successful relationship, I was financially stable, and I had family support. I was fully prepared to breastfeed her.
It started off perfectly. Nurse on demand. Don’t watch the clock; watch your baby. No artificial nipples, etc. but then came work. I was working full time and had no time to fully dedicate to pumping. I tried to reach out for help, but the help I was offered to me was not accessible due to timing. Lactation consultants were only available from 9am-4pm, when I needed to be at work. So again, I was forced to do it on my own. I started to do research on breastfeeding. I found Facebook groups specifically for People of Color, and the help and support I gained was more than I ever had. Now my daughter is 33 months old and still breastfeeding.
Everything that I have endured as a single Black mother in Washington, DC made me who I am today. I faced poverty, anxiety and so much more. My experiences and challenges as a breastfeeding mom of color inspired me to found an organization called BreastfeedingInColor. My mission is to help educate, motivate and support Black moms in the DC metro area with breastfeeding and other natural parenting topics. Through BreastfeedingInColor, I give free parenting and breastfeeding supplies to parents in need, and I also organize local Mommy Meet-Ups in Washington, DC. I hope to become a certified non-profit organization to continue providing these much needed supports.
Bio: Isreal Jean Holland is a Black American Jewish woman from a bad neighborhood in Southeast DC who is part of the first generation of Black American women in her family to nurse and she wants to empower black women to take back their bodies and nurse their young regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances. You can learn more about Isreal at www.breastfeedingincolor.com