Native Breastfeeding Week – Elizabeth’s Story
Elizabeth Montez – My Lactation Journey
Nursing my babies has been inextricably linked to my experience navigating life as an Anishinaabe/Latinx person in a colonized America. With my first baby, I was still trying to compartmentalize myself and identity. Every part of me belonged in separate boxes: my motherhood, my heritage, my professional career, my personhood. And it was all so hard. My baby didn’t latch well, and I knew nothing about breastfeeding or mothering. I felt alone and scared and like I was always failing. I didn’t realize I was BEING failed by so many systems that contribute to the outrageous infant and maternal mortality rates and low lactation rates among Native American birthing people.
It took 3 months for my first baby and I to find a rhythm with each other. It took 3 months for my body to make the milk she needed and for her to be able to drink it effectively. It took an entire village, medical professionals and supportive friends, to help us learn our way and feel confident in this part of our relationship. I will never forget the first day I ever nursed my baby without a tube, or a bottle or having to use donor milk or formula. Even then it was not a linear journey.
On the days we used donor milk, I found grace for my body and gratefulness for my community and their generous gifts. On the days we used formula I found humility in surrendering to my physical and emotional boundaries and gratefulness for the advances of nutritional science for making a safe and nutritious milk I could access when I needed.
My lactation journey has been wide and deep, full of triumph and despair, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Every parent loving and caring and feeding their baby in ANY way is doing AMAZING. I recognize that sometimes nursing/chestfeeding/pumping is not the path for every family and I am never interested in convincing folks to do anything that doesn’t work for them – emotionally, physically, or otherwise. I want to be there to support families on whatever journey they choose. Those who choose to receive lactation support, deserve excellent, compassionate, trauma-informed, culturally fluent support on their journey and I am grateful to be able to provide that through Open Arms Perinatal Services Lactation Support Program.
I will never forget listening to Camie Jae Goldhammer giving a presentation about epigenetic trauma, lactation and the presence of her ancestors as she nursed her baby the first time. I broke down weeping at a table of other lactation professionals because that was the part I was missing. I needed my ancestors and the reclamation of tradition, I needed the strength of generations before and after me to connect me to my body, to root me in this giant web of land and bodies and spirits and stars that we all belong to.
And so when my second baby was born, and I felt him being handed to me in the stars by my ancestors, I knew I had found the healing I needed. And when I latched him for the first time, I could hear the songs of my ancestors and my descendants, our circle was again united.
And even with everything that I learned and experienced, I STILL needed some good old fashioned logistical help during our nursing experience!
I wouldn’t be the person or mother I am today without so many people who walked with me along the way. This why I do the work I do, and celebrate and cheer on everyone on their baby feeding journeys, and all the different paths it takes us on. These traditions, community connections, history, and ancestral resilience deserve protection and celebration all year long. Supporting other indigenous folks in their lactation is the way I feel most connected to my people and heritage, I can feel the medicine in the time we spend together, and I consider it a gift to share that special time together.