I am writing this on the heels of my May 27, 2020 post titled, “Exhausted.” Lots of changes have taken place in communities across the nation since my previous post. Several posts remain in “draft” status as my intention is to remain on task by discussing all that has taken place during the month of June. Our nation is currently in the midst of a movement. In the words of National Radio Hall of Fame Inductee, Joe Madison, “the difference between a moment and a movement is sacrifice.” Salute to the foot soldiers on the frontline of the movement while the nation is in the middle of an active pandemic. You are indeed making a huge sacrifice as COVID-19 did not magically disappear. Your activism is needed. I see you. I hear you. I support you.
“The difference between a moment and a movement is sacrifice.”Joe Madison
Many of us are still exhausted; yet we are only half way through the current year. This month two memorial services for Brother George Floyd were televised. We also witnessed the killing of Brother Rayshard Brooks at the hands of police. He was laid to rest yesterday. The month of June presented the notion that Black men are suddenly hanging themselves from trees in an attempt to complete suicide. I refuse to believe that these lynchings are the result of suicide. Dr. Stacey Patton discusses this eloquently in her article written for the The Washington Post. Throughout June I have continued to provide mental health support to clients in a virtual format and have discussed all of the above events almost daily. The weight of the last few months is readily apparent with pain and powerlessness serving as the overarching theme.
During the first week of June I stumbled across a photo of an unknown nursing parent on social media. The photo was shared by a number of people but details about the parent and origin of the photo were unknown. I shared the photo but initially hesitated to do so as I had no way of giving credit to the owner of the photo. Within a few days the parent, Autumnn Gaines, was discovered thanks to social media. The photo was taken by Autumnn’s wife, Jania Gaines, and is being used here with Autumnn’s permission.
The photo and caption sends a much needed message, however, I cannot turn a blind eye to the racial disparities that exist for Black breast / chestfeeding mothers (parents) that impede our ability to provide our offspring with human milk. Breast / chestfeeding isn’t always an option for us. Studies show that Black women (parents) breast / chestfeed at lower rates when compared to other ethnic groups. It is imperative that we unpack the following: 1) structural racism in healthcare settings where access to quality healthcare isn’t always guaranteed; 2) medical settings that discourage Black women (parents) from breast / chestfeeding by solely offering supplemental feeding products; 3) working in environments where one does not have the option of maternity leave; 4) inadequate support; and 5) a complicated history where our enslaved African ancestors served as wet nurses to the slave owner’s children leaving our children to go without the nourishment of our milk. For some, a sense of pain and powerlessness is a theme starting the moment that our children are birthed into the world. I will explore this further in August as we celebrate World Breastfeeding Month and Black Breastfeeding Week.
“At the root of what’s happening to black women and their birth outcomes, as well as their disparities with breastfeeding, is an issue about racism and bias.”Kimberly Seals Allers
This month I am grateful for Autumnn’s photo. It was a breath of fresh air to stumble across it while aimlessly scrolling through social media. Breast / chestfeeding is life-sustaining and the photo speaks volumes with very few words. Timing is of the essence and the photo was posted at a time where many Black people feel powerless. When I look at the photo I see a mother that has made a powerful choice in determining how to nourish her son in a world where some parents are robbed of this choice. Autumnn represents another mother that debunks the myth that Black women (parents) do not breast / chestfeed. I see a mother that is unbothered and unashamed to feed her son in a public setting. Note that some parents have experienced ridicule for choosing to nurse openly in public. Lastly, this photo represents a mother that has made a healthy choice for herself, her son and her family. June is Pride Month and I celebrate Autumnn and her family.
“I’ll feed him, but you have to let him Grow.”Autumnn Gaines
Black lives matter and making the choice to breast / chestfeed is a good start to closing the racial nursing gap. It serves as an example of finding empowerment through positively reframing an experience that was once deemed to be negative. Shifting from pain to purpose is a very necessary step. It is also necessary to exist in a world that provides support so that our people can breathe, thrive and grow.
Until Next Time,
Peace, Love & Breastmilk™
Jones, K., Power, M., Queenan, J., & Schulkin, J. (2015, May). Racial and ethnic disparities in breastfeeding. Retrieved June 24, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4410446/
(n.d.). Retrieved June 24, 2020, from https://www.slaveryfacts.org/classroom/breastfeeding-master-s-babies-the-wet-nurse-slave
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