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IT WAS HER RIGHT TO EAT by guest blogger Paola

My name is Paola and I’m 26. I’m a single mother to my two year old,  Daenerys. We have been nursing since she was three days old and when I saw your post today on Instagram about nursing in public, I felt really excited about that. I do have a blog on Tumblr but I thought I’d write something new about it rather than send you a link to something old. My feelings about it are different now that we’ve done this so long.

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Before I begin about our journey to nursing in public, I think it’s important to note how we started. Daenerys was born with the cord round her neck and they swiftly pried her away to the NICU. A nurse wrongfully recorded she had gone five minutes without breathing and I met my baby two hours after she was born. She had tubes everywhere and I couldn’t hold her. 

A lactation consultant came to encourage me to pump but I was so hurt, I pushed it off. I felt like a failure and didn’t want to fail at feeding her too.

The following day, I held her for the first time (it was sad and wonderful since it was limited contact) but when she began to look for my breast- they took her from me. She wasn’t allowed to eat until further tests were done. She was being given sugar water. I returned to my room and began to pump, determined to make sure she drank my milk on her first “meal”. 

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From Wednesday morning until Thursday afternoon, I pumped every two hours. I woke myself up at night to pump. I sent the milk down to NICU, no matter how much came down.Thursday evening I was finally allowed to nurse her, it was perfect. I continued to pump after that, every two hours when I wasn’t allowed down in the NICU.

When we went home, it wasn’t so perfect. No more cheerleaders, no more help with the baby. I developed MRSA in my under arm (bad razor) and mastitis in both breasts. The antibiotics for both caused cysts in my breasts after completing their cycles.

Daenerys ripped my right nipple in half and tore the skin off the left ; she had a shallow latch and I had inverted nipples but I wouldn’t know that until much after. Pumping was so stressful and I avoided nursing her over giving her a bottle of pumped milk when I could.

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I spent a lot of time in and out of the doctor’s office and laboratories. I would panic when she became hungry in public. I would make her a bottle of formula when my pumped milk ran out. She hated formula as did her tummy.  I felt embarrassed and lost, and oddly,  alone.

The first attempts at nursing in public, I covered up. I felt ashamed because I had once been that person judging moms who did not cover. How dare I not cover? Did my new awareness absolve me of my past ignorance?

Well, Daenerys hated being covered and in Florida summer heat, I had to stop covering. I hid in a bathroom once, never again, but I did (there was air-conditioning). I would find the most secluded areas I could, wasting precious time in the process. I got engorged a lot in those days. Leaked through many, many shirts.

I tried the two shirt thing to hide my belly when I lifted the top shirt. I used the stroller as a barrier for me to feel hidden away. I even sat on a sidewalk, away from strangers on a bench.

Why was it such a big deal?

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I went to the mall when Dany was a few months old and she was hungry. I found a sitting area outside of Macy’s and we nursed there. My child was hungry, it was her right to eat. I was nervous and worried, but to my surprise NO ONE CARED. When I realized this, I sat up straight and struck up conversation with my friends. I pushed the stroller away and it was as if it finally all made sense. This was normal.

So I finally had my excuse to nurse her anywhere and everywhere; my child is hungry so deal with it.  Family gatherings, shopping trips, park trips, in the Ergo while shopping at Walmart. It was just so casual that I noticed my family growing to accept it. It created openings to discuss breastfeeding and the natural purpose of the breast. It created a small group of people who supported me and encouraged me. I found community online through the mommies on Tumblr who also nursed passed infancy. It was amazing.

Dany was close to a year old when we nursed at the beach, in the water on a low tide. It was the most serene moment besides the first time that I still hold that memory to heart. I felt like a goddess nursing a little god in our natural environment. I felt so close to my child and to nature, I still can’t explain it. But I realized then how nursing, especially in public, gave me agency over my body. To reclaim the way I showed myself to the world.  That no matter my weight and what I wore, I was free. I could feed my baby, yes that was most important, but I was choosing to do so.

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I’ve been used and abused and had control taken from me long before I ever thought about having a child. Being a mother made me see myself again as a person. Nursing, especially in public, strengthened me and to this day, I’m so proud of how far we’ve come. How far I have come.

Nursing is tiring business but boy would I never change the choice to do this. It took a long time to acheive, we still have our struggles now but none of them are when nursing in public. She seems rather amused by that, actually.

Nursing in public has been everything from the greatest of worries to becoming something I look forward to. It’s grounding and calm, it’s like a moment for us two away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It doesn’t happen as much as it used to but it’s still just as important and special.

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