Breaking the Cycle: Beginning with Bonding
By Deleana OtherBull
I was 30 when I had my son. I thought, given my age and being a Native American woman, that I would be naturally fully prepared and ready to take on this new chapter in my life… yet, I was very much nervous and anxious about the new journey I was about to start.
During my pregnancy, facing single motherhood, I choose to enlist the help of a midwife and a doula. Historically, pregnancy was a sacred time and as a new mom prepared to welcome a new life into the world, the women of the family and community would gather around in support. These women would provide the critical guidance, support and teachings that a new mom would need. Elders would tell stories, and a beautiful traditional name was passed down or given to the baby. To hold a newborn baby is a blessing and honor- and sometimes, like in my family, people fought over who would hold the baby first.
But times are slightly different. Some new Native moms, like me, have chosen to live in urban areas- and sometimes our journeys have taken us far away from our families and our communities. And although our motherhood journeys can look very different than that of our ancestors, they are in no way any less of an experience.
Motherhood is sacred.
When I had my son, I didn’t have a lot of family nearby- or family that could stay with me- but I had created a supportive team around me. I had some family, friends, my midwife, my doula, and my home visitor.
I must admit, that motherhood was not 100% instinctual for me like I had envisioned the beginning of motherhood would be. I didn’t automatically feel connected with my son and feel as nurturing as I thought I should be.
But two years later, I can confidently tell you that there is no such thing as a “right” or “perfect” way of being a mom and that each motherhood experience is a very intimate and personal journey.
The first three months of breastfeeding my son was hard. Leading up to the birth of my son, I had this vision that breastfeeding would be a beautiful, simple and easy experience- but the reality of early breastfeeding meant soreness and struggle.
I worked actively on mother-baby bonding and I had a strong belief that breastfeeding would nourish his mind, body and spirit.
Currently, Native mothers and babies have one of the lowest breastfeeding rates today- which often contribute to future health challenges that may include obesity and diabetes- so choosing to breastfeed was important to me.
I knew I was starting my son off on the right journey.
During the first year, choosing to breastfeed helped me to slow down. It helped me to enjoy all those tiny moments- and be fully present with my son. I also enrolled in infant massage (an amazing 12-week course) and it helped us further our bond through touch. And through all our experiences and classes, my home visitor was always there to provide encouragement and support.
Working full-time and choosing to breastfeed, meant that I was also choosing to pump. I remember going to work meetings with a huge bag and breast pump, and having to take a break every three hours to pump. I carried ice packs, and extra bags for milk. At times, I felt completely overwhelmed. I also had to remind myself constantly to stay hydrated. I am so thankful to the First Nations Community HealthSource for providing me with nutrition support and a breast pump- they often spoke to me about ways I could provide healthy nutritious meals for myself, so that I could be healthy for baby.
The first foods that my son had were homemade- utilizing breastmilk and pureed veggies. It was my amazing home visitor from NAPPR who provided me with my first baby recipe book, and helped me understand how to make baby food.
It’s nearly three years later, and I’ve spoken at conferences and shared my experience about being a busy mom and running an organization. I’ve spoken out about choosing to breastfeed for two years and advocated for family friendly workspaces. I’ve provided my own honest experiences- that it was not easy but the benefits of breastfeeding always outweighed the burden. I’ve also become a huge advocate for home visiting programs and early childhood education programs because they have personally helped me in my own motherhood journey.
To all of my fellow mothers out there- we are the cycle breakers.
We are transforming the beginnings to the lifelong journey’s our little ones will take. If you want support, there are great community resources that we can help connect you to.
Here are some great local community resources-
Native American Professional Parent Resources’ Tribal Home Visiting Program http://www.nappr.org/
First Nations Community HealthSource Women Infant and Children Program http://www.fnch.org/
Changing Woman Initiative http://www.changingwomaninitiative.com/
Tewa Women United Doula Program http://tewawomenunited.org/