“Right here?” I stuttered.
“Yeah. Why not?”
To my left, my father-in-law was enjoying a plate of scrambled eggs. To my right, my husband was cutting up a waffle for my daughter. I looked down at my 4-day old baby boy. I smoothed my thumb over his tiny fisted hand and took a deep breath. In front of me, my mother glared at me.
The pressure. So much pressure.
Between my throbbing uterus, sore nipples and onslaught of postpartum emotions, I was finding that eating out with the family just days after I had given birth just wasn’t a good idea.
“I’m going to go to the car.”
“You sure?” my husband asked through sips of coffee.
“Yeah.” I said. “I’ll be fine.”
I grabbed the baby bag, gently plopped my baby in the carrier and made my way out of the restaurant. Tears flooded my eyes and I angry texted my best friend as I made my way through the car in the crisp November air.
I was failing at breastfeeding in public and I was mad about it.
I was 4 days postpartum and breastfeeding was already consuming every bit of my soul. That’s the thing about nursing a baby. I don’t care what these books say. Lactation consultants are great but really no one and nothing can prepare you for the struggles and joys, the beauty and horror, the up’s and down’s that is putting your boob in a baby’s mouth over and over again.
This was my second baby. You’d think I would have this down, right? Pfft, nope. With my oldest, after an unsuccessful nursing relationship, I found myself exclusively pumping. That breast pump saw more of my boobs than my husband did. I pumped in airports, conference rooms, hotels, cars, lobbies and offices. I did it for a good year and some change and when I was pregnant with my son, I wanted nothing more than to be able to nurse him.
That 7 lb little guy was born at home and with a supportive midwife and her assistant, he suckled like a champ. To ease my nerves, the day after he was born, I made my way to a lactation consultant. And not just any lactation consultant. A Black one. You see, this part was important. Having met with several LCs before, I wanted a different experience. I wanted to speak to someone who looked like me.
Layla came highly recommended from my midwife and her staff and she felt like a sister friend when she invited me, my husband and newborn back into her office.
“My boobs are really big,” I tell her.
“And my nipples are weird, too. They’re flat.”
She laughs again and directs me to get in a comfortable position with my sleeping baby.
“I don’t even know if I can do this. I couldn’t with my daughter.”
“Girl stop. None of those negative vibes up in here.”
We chatted. She gently coached me. She snuggled my baby. She dropped hints. When my husband left the room to get the diaper bag, she showed me her breasts. They looked just like mine. The same breasts that nursed her 4 babies. They looked JUST like mine. And okay, so it sound strange that looking at another woman’s breasts gave me hope, but it did. She told me that if she was able to nurse, I would be able to nurse.
Here we are 9 months later and I’ve been nursing this baby, pumping when I’m away from him and juggling his demands, a preschooler’s craziness and working while sleep deprived. I flashback to when I first tried to nurse him in a restaurant and laugh at that memory because now I can nurse him almost effortlessly in public and at home.
Representation matters. Sometimes you really have to see it to believe it and as a Black mama breastfeeding, seeing a lactation consultant who looked like me, changed the game.
My hope is that when mamas like me, Black mamas, mamas with big boobs, mamas with imperfect nipples and apprehension express frustration, that they find support.
And if I ever personally know a mama in that exact situation, I will not hesitate to whip off my shirt and show her my rack in hopes of encouraging her and letting her know that if my breasts were able to provide nourishment for my babies, her breasts can do the same.