You want to know about me? Sure. Here are a few things that I can say.
Once I realized I was a woman who could produce milk, I knew that I was going to breastfeed/chestfeed. My earliest memory was walking down my high school hall with a few friends saying that I was definitely going to breastfeed/chestfeed. No rhyme or reason. Just a casual conversation.
Fast forward to adulthood and not wanting kids at all. So imagine my shock when there was not one, but two broods that decided that we needed each other about 9 years later, if my calculations are correct, maybe 6 years. I don’t know. Math is not my strong suit, babies are.
Being a first generation college graduate and a second generation breast feeder (my mom said she tried to breastfeed me, her eldest, for like 3 days and stopped). I struggled with getting my people on board with what I was trying to do. My husband at the time was supportive, but not quite in the way you would think. He was like, “this what she wants to do, so we are going to stay out of her way.” But when it came time to feed, he was more scared to nurse in public than I was. Figure that. But with my grandmother and my mother and lack of information and resources, I struggled. I had post-partum, my marriage was in shambles, I was stressed, I was going to school full time and working a full time job. It was a lot. I was a first-time mom. It was so bad, my grandmother who kept my baby for me while I was in school, told me that if I did not bring my baby enough milk, I would not have a babysitter. She fed the boy 3 8-oz PUMPED bottles in 5 hours, because he “seemed” hungry still. I then had to tell everyone in my post-partum rage that if they fed my baby formula, they would never see him again.
There was one particular person at the Shelby County Health Department on Macon Road; a breastfeeding counselor. She was appalled that my grandmother has blown through that much milk and I was in tears and mad as hell, too. She saved my life. And she was Black and what I didn’t know then was that her being Black helped me reach my goals because of that representation I didn’t know I needed.
But she helped me feed my first baby breastmilk for a year. I had reached my goal. It was also a revelation to me about what I should be doing for my own people.
To make this long story short, she gave me the motivation to learn about how breastfeeding effects our communities.
Fast forward to baby number 2. Marriage was worst, still in school, still working. Still going to breastfeed. My mother told me, “maybe you’ll calm down with this baby” (as it referred to feeding). I said, “No, I meant what I said” (as far as them seeing him if they tried to introduce formula).
I got involved in some Facebook groups that specifically deals with moms and breastfeeding. One day, one of the members was like, and I am paraphrasing, “hey, Baptist is hosting a new mom and baby expo and I would like to know if anyone would be willing to breastfeed in public while we man the table”. At the health fair, I met a worker for the Shelby County Health Department who was Black. And she asked me some things about myself and why I was there. And I was so grateful to meet her.
To make that long story short, I became a part of an organization here in Memphis-Memphis BSTARS (Black Sisters That Are Receiving Support). I went on to get my CLC through the health department and started my community work then. This was about 2015.
Fast forward to like, the now. I wanted more. I saw how I was treated in the hospital, how my wishes were ignored, how I couldn’t move like I wanted, how I was given Pitocin even though it just seemed to slow my labor down.
I thought about all the things that could have gone differently if I had had someone there with me who had known. I wanted a lotus birth. I wanted no meds. I wanted to move. Hell, I wanted a water birth. The lactation support was iffy. After years of conferences and home visits and meetings and roundtables, I saw that this work goes beyond just how you feed a baby.
This is literally the difference between life and death for Black women and children.
I could have been a doula, I just thought I had to go back to school and go back for a long time. Apparently, that is midwifery. Once I found out it does not take that long, I have been mustering up the courage to plow forward. Within my Birth worker Tribe, I heard that Bebo Mia has the best training program available. I saw that they offer scholarships and being in-between Blessings as far as financially I applied. But isn’t that how it goes when you are doing great things, seems like the money is always SHAWT? So I thought let’s do this. And so I am. And here we are. And I can’t wait.
Denise A. Ransom
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