Ohhhh love. It can lead you to some unimaginable life choices you never saw coming. Here is my story. The year is 2005, I met my soon-to-be husband two doors down from where I was living. I was 20 and still figuring out my life. This big talker, Puerto Rican honey that worked part-time at Papa John’s and attended the same community college as me, was just on the verge of going before the Coast Guard CSPI Board. The week he found out he was accepted, our sentences were already including words like “we" and "us.” So began my life as an active duty military girlfriend--and two years later, an active duty Coast Guard military spouse. I had no idea what military life entailed. I had no idea what moving my 23 year old self from the only place I had ever lived felt like, even though I was 3 hours away from home it was still 3 hours away from my community. Fast forward….Summer of 2008, I found out the best news. I was pregnant!
What-the-What? Your whole being changes the moment you find out you have a human being growing inside you. Your hormones come out in full force. This was not easy at the same time my husband was just beginning his cutter-life journey! As 2009 begins, I am learning about the whole Naval Medical system in Portsmouth, VA. My OBGYN was a midwife. I went to my monthly appointments, just another number in the Tricare system. The appointments were short and I learned to come prepared with questions beforehand. At 7 months, I was to attend New Parents Support group at the hospital. Ahhhh but of course, my husband is underway (on a Coast Guard mission) and so I find the next best thing, a close friend. Then comes another appointment for the hospital tour. This time my husband is home and accompanies me. We go into a big stadium conference room, where a nurse starts talking about the birthing process. This was my first orientation about breastfeeding, "It's ok to breastfeed, or not." I look around and see a lot of couples either looking scared, unsure, excited, and some just not interested. I look at my husband and we smile the “we got this” smirk, but deep down I didn’t like the unknown about birthing. The nurse tells us that our delivery doctor would be whoever is working that day. We start walking around the hospital with everyone else to tour the labor and delivery rooms, and we almost made it when I had the urge to cry and run. I didn’t want to be just another mom giving birth, I told myself. We left the tour without giving it a second thought. That evening my husband and I Netflix and chilled to The Business of Being Born.
Time is running out: Holy Moly. What did we just watch?? Wait--this hospital birth isn’t as normal as they make it to be? Epidurals aren’t good? C-section rates are super high? Home birth is an option? The birth of your baby could affect your breastfeeding? Breastfeeding is better than formula? …All of this was running through my mind at 7 months pregnant while watching the documentary. It hits me--I don't know sh*t. What to do now? I researched local midwives, and read about Ina May Gaskin and thought, how do I get to her Farm! Obviously, that couldn’t happen. I did the next best thing. My husband and I scheduled an interview with two local midwives from the Virginia Beach area. They wanted to interview us, which I thought was a little weird. Can’t you just accept my money? But no, they needed to see not only that I was not a high-risk pregnancy but also to see if we were compatible. One evening, we met them and we talked for what seemed like forever. All my questions and uncertainties started to fade. That evening, my husband and I were at ease as we had decided on a new way for birthing our firstborn.
Midwife vs. Naval Staff: Once I had decided on a home birth, I went back to the midwife at the Naval Medical clinic to let her know my plans. She was not on board at all. She told me I was making a terrible and very dangerous decision. I remember feeling so belittled by what she said. I remembered telling her before my last visit with her, that after all this time she had not even asked me what my birth plan was or educated me on the benefits of breastfeeding. I had expressed to her how nervous I was as a first time soon-to-be mother, not even into my second year of marriage as a military spouse. Since she was my first encounter to both of these life changes that the least she could do for me was educate me and be a little more compassionate.
60-Hour Labor: That’s right, I labored forever. And no, my water did not rupture only until the last few hours before delivery. I called upon my most important resources: my sister and mother. They drove down the moment I told them I was in labor. I called my midwives, and soon my small little village came together to help in any way they could! My husband just made it in time; he was in Colombia and made a crazy flight plan to make sure to be there for the birth. He made it! To this day, that was the best birthing experience ever!
Breastfeeding and the point of this blog post: Let’s just say my midwives were the most valuable resource I had within the first 12 hours postpartum. As much as I would love to go into details about my birthing experience, that’s not what this is about! My midwives immediately helped position my newborn son onto my breast. "Just like that?" I asked. Just like that! I got lucky with him, but still I had a lot to learn about breastfeeding, pumping or not pumping and why I had an oversupply of milk. It was hard, but I was determined I would breastfeed. My son and I struggled through so many obstacles: jaundice, being told to combo feed, not knowing I didn’t have to pump. Eventually I figured it out, through many trials and lots of errors! I looked for support around my community, and found nothing. I wasn’t sure where to get that support. I searched online for Latina mom communities specific to breastfeeding, and nothing came up. I couldn’t find anything that I could relate to or caught my attention. Eventually, I found an online community of Latina moms that kept me sane.
Baby #2: We transferred to the beautiful enchanted island of Puerto Rico. What a difference! I saw mothers
constantly breastfeeding, everywhere I went, and especially at the OBGYN office. Breastfeeding is the norm here and that excited me. I had a hospital birth with my daughter, my husband was underway again and missed her birth by 11 hours. I won't get into the details of my hospital birth experience, let’s just say that it was very different. My daughter was successful in latching on. Breastfeeding the second time around was a breeze but again my determination made it so.
Becoming a CLEC: I moved to California when I decided to get certified. The best decision ever, I thought it would be great to be a postpartum doula and have a CLEC certification to better educate moms. But little did I know, how hard it was to find work. I found very few clients, but in my certification I was able to educate and inform close friends and relatives. Maybe that’s what was supposed to happen.
After a while, I found a job with a WIC clinic that caters to the Native American population in Oakland, CA. This was truly the most humbling experience I ever had. I was able to talk to moms from all sorts of backgrounds, Indigenous moms, Latina moms, African American moms, and Asian moms. I had a great network of coworkers who were just as enthusiastic as I was.
What I learned as a Peer Counselor? You need to be able to relate to this community. They will listen if you understand where they are coming from. A lot of the moms I was assigned to were immigrants. Many would go back to work in just 1-2 weeks postpartum. Combo feeding was a norm, but every drop of breastmilk matters. They just needed a safe space to come to, but they also needed to see other moms breastfeeding. My co-workers would hold support groups and our turnout was great! We made it safe and fun. The one thing we had in common was being a mother and that in of itself was fulfilling.
Mom2Mom Global: Type in “military breastfeeding” on Google and see what comes up! That is how I came across M2MG. There is a “Volunteer” tab option, and in that some volunteer positions. So began my journey with M2MG. Now, I am the Outreach Director for both Mom2Mom Global and Breastfeeding in Combat Boots. I am amazed at the type of work we do. It is not easy, nothing ever is. But one word rings true in this work: empowerment. These ladies work hard to provide and support two things we are most entrenched in: breastfeeding and the military. I continue to learn more and more each day from the work we do. My advice is always: Remember knowledge is power, where there is a will there is a way. Don’t give up, even when the odds might seem completely against you. Breastfeeding is not always easy, but meeting your goals and being part of the military breastfeeding community will empower you in ways you can't even imagine!