My name is Mary and I’m a Lactation Support Peer Counselor at Open Arms Perinatal Services. I’m also a single mother raising three fiercely amazing daughters: 17 year old twins and a 12 year old.
If I could tell my pregnant 22-year-old self anything, it would be to find childbirth education classes and seek out a lactation counselor. In the early 2000’s the internet was in its toddler years and finding resources were not as easy to come by. More often than not your doctor’s office was place to find resources. While the education was informative, I struggled to connect with the resources that I was provided because it spoke to a culture that wasn’t relatable to my lifestyle or people that looked like me. Like all education, it spoke to the dominant culture. And I’d learned early to tune that out.
Sometime between the ultrasound confirmation of my pregnancy and the four pregnancy tests taken prior, I decided I was going to go as natural as I could. No epidural — just intense focus, breathing and pushing. Presumably lots of exorcist-level screaming, because that’s what the movies taught me. (Pro tip: movies lie, but 4 positive pregnancy tests do not.) When I saw those babies swimming around inside me, a switch had flipped. It’s one I didn’t even know existed. It wasn’t just their birth I wanted natural, I planned to feed them naturally as well.
Because I was carrying multiples my pregnancy was considered high risk. This meant the possibility of an unmedicated birth was off the table and no longer an option. However, I could still breastfeed. I still had that under my control. Until I didn’t. After delivering my blood pressure became too high. Many things happened at once and my memory is hazy.
When I saw my babies again they had already gotten formula. Shortly afterwards a lactation consultant visited and we were able to get the girls latched. I will never forget that beautiful moment. The months that followed were a roller coaster to say the least. A WIC lactation consultant visited a couple times and I was left to figure things out on my own. I fed them for a little under a year, supplementing and pumping. It was not nearly as long planned but the experience was something I’ll treasure.
Six years later I had another daughter. By the time my youngest came I had been taking a cocktail of medication for an autoimmune disorder. No one asked me if I planned to breastfeed. Honestly, because of all the medication I took during pregnancy, I didn’t see breastfeeding as an option. However, knowing what I know now as a Lactation Support Peer Counselor, it was possible and I wish I would have been given that option.
This is one of the many reasons that I do what I do. I am blessed to have the opportunity to spend time building relationships with parents during their lactation journey. I am able to provide them with support, education, and resources related to their feeding options in a style that they can relate to, and by a person who looks like them.
Love, hospitality, and community are built into the cultures of the Pacific Islands. Anyone that has attended a Pacific Islander function, can describe the hospitality, love, and sense of community they were shown. Whether you’re family by blood or by choice, we are here for you. This sense of family is one of the things that makes our community so great. We have beautiful and special cultural customs that are still observed, resilient to the attempts to eradicate their existence. Nursing our babies, however, was one of traditions that was lost not just by indigenous cultures but by women for many generations.
Currently the Pacific Islander community in King County has one of the lowest rates for breastfeeding. Language translation, access to care, and culturally relevant resources are barriers we face. If I could tell my 22 year-old self anything, I’d tell her to find providers and a community that doesn’t just listen to you but sees and values you as a person that exists between many cultures.