Dear Diary,

When my mother told me that I was starving my week-old daughter by breastfeeding, I threw the book at her. No, really. I threw a book at her, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding which I consider the bible of all things lactation. Of course, it’s all kinds of wrong to throw things at your mother–and for my African-American sistren reading this, you know I was taking my life into my hands by doing this. But between hormones and my own insecurities about new motherhood, it…just happened. But on the real? My mother was kind of asking for it. Thankfully, though, the whole episode not only unleashed my inner Mama Bear, it also helped me to understand my own mother better.

I gave birth to my first child, a baby girl, in December 1998. My then-husband was granted paternity leave, I had some hours of pre- and postpartum doula services at my disposal, and my mother was coming to help out. I was so blessed. But, as it turned out,

Help out meant different things to my mother and me. To me, it meant make some meals, do laundry, and just generally be available to help me as needed.  To my mother, it meant hold the baby, and then sit on the couch and pout and watch the entire boxed set of Roots and Roots the 2nd Generation on VHS, when her eager nursling of a grandchild didn’t want to be held by anyone but me.

My mother didn’t cook, and she didn’t do laundry. She just moped and looked askance at my breastfeeding.  So I took to breastfeeding in my bedroom, away from her judgment.

They say familiarity breeds contempt, but in this case, it was my mother’s ignorance about breastfeeding that made her wary of it. She didn’t know anyone who had breastfed, and I only knew one woman, personally, myself.

She was someone I’d met a few years prior, who had sung the praises of La Leche League (LLL).  And she was Black, like me. So I filed this information away until I was expecting, and I began attending LLL meetings while pregnant. I knew breastfeeding might prove challenging, and I knew that I needed a lot of support to do it. So I chose a midwife and a doula who would help me to have the kind of birth I hoped to have, and who would help lay the groundwork for successful nursing.

As it turned out, my daughter’s birth and subsequent nursing were amazing, and mostly as planned (meconium when my water broke meant I had to leave the birthing center and take my midwife with me to the back-up hospital). My daughter latched on well and frequently.

I was confident about my decision to breastfeed–until the day my mother suggested she was starving. Not Do you think she’s getting enough?, but You’re starving that baby.

Between that comment and my mother’s frowning and lounging around on the couch, I had had enough. I knew my daughter was feeding well because I was counting wet and poopy diapers, and I was checking the skin on the back of her hands for signs of dehydration. I knew my daughter wasn’t starving because I was a damn good mother!

Wasn’t I?

The one person on the planet who could undermine my confidence had done so. And I was livid. I knew that my mother didn’t know a damned thing about breastfeeding. Hadn’t she always talked about how in the hospital when I was born they put some kind of camphor-like substance on her breasts to dry up the milk?

So in a fit of hormonal rage and hurt, I grabbed my copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and threw it at my mother.  It landed on her lap. I will neither confirm nor deny that I was aiming for her head.

And then I took my baby and holed up in my bedroom until my husband came home.

My mother left me alone. And she spent the day reading The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. Later that night, she apologized to me.

She told me again about having the camphor substance put on her nipples in the hospital when I was born. But this time, she also told me how she cried and cried afterward, and how she wasn’t given a choice. She was 18, Black and unmarried in 1971. She had never thought about breastfeeding and no one talked to her about it, but something–we now understand that it was hormones—made her feel a great sense of loss and sadness when her milk dried up.

So my mother felt as she would often feel in the years to come when I had some experience with my daughters that she hadn’t had with me when I was growing up: guilty.  And that guilt compelled her to be defensive, and I bore the brunt of that defensiveness when she criticized my choices to make herself feel better. Heavy stuff. Way too heavy for someone a week postpartum. So I just thanked her for reading the book and accepted her apology. For the rest of her stay, she still didn’t cook or do laundry, but she stopped begrudging the fact that I wouldn’t give my baby a bottle so that she could be more involved in the way she wanted to be involved.

In 2005, my mother died of breast cancer. I miss her everyday.  The difficult parts of our relationship over the course of my life fade as time goes by, and I recognize and appreciate her many sacrifices and her deep, deep love for me, and for my children.  More and more, I remember the good times with my mother, and that she tried her very best.  More and more, I do the same thing as a mother myself: try my very best.

Deesha Phillywaw is the brillant mind behind Co-parenting 101, which helped me (DFTM Creator Heather Hopson) move beyond bitter to better. She proves that ex’s can put their issues aside and focus on their children’s best interests. You can follow Deesha on Twitter for tons of parenting tips.

About The Author

#Chocolate Milk

Throughout August, in celebration of National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, Diary of a First Time Mom will publish a new nursing story each day, written by 31+ black mom bloggers. DFTM Creator Heather Hopson asked each blogger to submit a personal breastfeeding story, and they immediately emailed their experiences—both good and bad. They wrote about everything from allergies and ignorance to pumping and working. Heather curated this collection to educate other African-American women about breastfeeding. That way, they will be armed with information to make a decision. Heather hopes you will join the movement on Twitter. Follow @dearmomdiary and the participants. You can check the #ChocolateMilk blogger ambassador list! Be sure to tweet using #ChocolateMilk. And don’t forget to share your story by clicking on Breastfeeding→ Lactation Nation on the menu bar above. Meanwhile, let us know in the comment box below why you nursed—or didn’t.

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