Chicago, IL – Normalize Breastfeeding Tour
The week leading up to this tour location was insane. My children switched schools because of changes in the district so spent my last couple of days at home cleaning and getting things in order. I also started a new workout regimen and my metabolism has shot way up so I wake up everyday at 5 am without an alarm clock! So needless to say, I was exhausted coming into Chicago, yet no less excited than all of my previous wonderful tour stops.
I flew into Midway and hopped on a shuttle to the Chicago Grand Sheraton to catch the LEAC Global Forum at the ILCA Conference. It was pretty amazing to see breastfeeding images that I have captured over the past two years right there on the screen as part of such an extensive and significant presentation. I felt very proud and took a moment to thank all of the IBCLCs who were present for their dedication to the profession. If it wasn’t for my (now retired) IBCLC, Ann Russell in San Diego County, I never would have come this far as a breastfeeding mom and become such an inspired photographer.
“Caleb is my sixth. He started off strong. Around 2 to 3 weeks old he stopped latching on my right side. Now at 3 months old, Caleb, with lots of patience and persistence, started back latching on my right!” -Shlonda
I met up with Shlonda, a Georgia State WIC Representative and co-host of Mocha Milkies Cafe. We walked the length of the Navy Pier and circled back to Giordano’s near the Children’s Museum for some Chicago deep-dish pizza. It was delicious! All of a sudden a storm came in and we were rushed inside before 2 inches of rain fell in a matter of 45 minutes!! It was crazy! Instead of walking back to the hotel in the storm, we were rescued by the one and only Chicago-based, Badass Breastfeeder! We made it back to the hotel, dropped off Shlonda, I collected my bags and rode to Abby’s house!
I must admit I was geekin out over it, especially since Abby came to pick me up in her pajamas! She’s a very sweet, and humble person and is only truly “badass” when she needs to be. We sat down and enjoyed some wine and talked until her baby woke up around 1 a.m. – about social justice, persistent racism and privilege in the US, and the need for all moms to take a stand and support for Black Breastfeeding Week in an effort to increase breastfeeding rates among the women with the lowest rates in the country. I was truly honored to be in her presence and my respect for her as a person has only multiplied as I conversed with her about the recent traumatic events that have occurred recently in the United States.
On Friday, shortly after I woke up, I joined Abby and her boys for breakfast. Her youngest spiked a fever. It was unexpected and without any other symptoms for about 2 hours. Then he began to vomit. Abby was unsure about what to do. She reminded me that her whole family had recently gotten over a bad flu only a few weeks ago. I suggested lots of skin to skin for the high temperature. She wore him around the house in her carrier. Then I decided to just give them some space so that she could focus on him getting better. When her husband arrived home from work her son had “perked up” a bit so her husband fed the baby, but due to heir son’s huge appetite after hardly eating or nursing all day he vomited again! We had planned a dinner date into my “on-the-ground” itinerary and didn’t want to cancel since it was right around the corner. We took about an hour and a half to have a nice outdoor, relaxing dinner. It was AWESOME. We had so much to talk about outside of breastfeeding. At the same time, Abby expressed her want to focus more time on the personal aspects of her blog, in order to reach her goal of wanting to simply have more time with her boys. I shared with her my recent distractions with WHO Code Compliance and how we are in such a bad place in the US regarding transparency from formula companies who attempt to enhance their brand by playing on mothers emotions claiming to support breastfeeding and breast cancer research. It is an unfortunate situation for mothers who want to reach their breastfeeding goals, for mothers who don’t have access to compliant products, and for initiatives that are seeking financial assistance to keep their projects going. When we returned home with wine from the corner store, we knew it was going to be a rough night ahead especially since we had an 8 a.m. call time for the #NBFtour event the following day.
I technically woke up at 430 a.m. on Saturday morning; traveling from the west coast is rough! When I was ready to go Abby suggested that she drop me off on time and then return home to get ready. She decided it would be best to bring her oldest son to the group session since he was feeling fine, and still nursing. She dropped me off at 7:55 a.m. at Millennium Park. Abby returned with her oldest right on time for us to snap a quick photo in front the Bean!
The weather forecast was unfortunate. It was in the high 90s by 9 a.m. The heat reflected off of the bean and we were all in need of cooling off. The well-known Crown Fountain was right around the corner. This beautiful aqua-artistic architecture was absolute perfection in the humidity that we were suffering from that morning. We took a moment to gather as a group and then split off for individual shots since it was just too hot to capture any of them near the bean. The babies were refreshed by the mist coming off of the tall waterfall-like buildings. The older kids splashed around in the water for a bit.
“When we had our triplets prematurely in 2009 I felt helpless to care for them. But the one thing I could do that no nurse or doctor could was to provide them with their mother’s breast milk. So on the night they were born I began a 15 1/2 month journey of pumping for them around the clock. While I did nurse each of them occasionally, as a rule I gave them bottles of breast milk because it was measurable and the NICU had programmed me to be able to account for every drop they consumed. By the time I had our son in October 2013 I knew I wanted to simply nurse and not also pump. I successfully nursed him on demand trusting my body and his needs. He is a very happy and healthy boy who continues to nurse now at 2 1/2 along side his baby sister who was born in September 2015. Providing my milk for all of our babies has been one of my greatest joys and accomplishments as a Mother.” -Kate
“I have been nursing Frances for ten months now. I struggled a lot in the beginning. I didn’t have very much support or know anyone close that could help me out. I wanted to give up many times, but tried to do what I thought was best for my baby. And here we are with no end in sight. People are constantly asking me if I’m still nursing. I find this very bizarre. It’s like people are just waiting for it to be over or something! I’ve never felt a stronger bond with anyone [else] in my life.” -Brittany
Next, we headed to the Chicago Cultural Center. On the way there, we experienced a very mild variation of the “wind tunnels” that occur between the buildings in downtown. It was so interesting to hear that some of these moms had actually been blown to the ground during the winter seasons to only confirm that Chicago is properly nicknamed, “the windy city.” Once inside we were immediately relieved by the air conditioning! We made our way up to the Tiffany Dome for a another group photograph. This location was absolutely stunning!
“I have been nursing my daughter for 3 years 4 months and my son for 15 months. Breastfeeding my children has provided bonding and closeness but it has also helped with healing. I am a survivor of 18 years of childhood sexual abuse and using a part of my body which was once the subject of abuse has been very healing and empowering for me.” -Nikki
“My daughter is 33 months old and has been nursing since day one. The first few months were difficult, as we struggled with a poor latch. At 8 months postpartum I had to return to work full time and began pumping much more often. This was a challenge as well, but I was actually able to pump enough extra [milk] to donate to three other babies in need. Our breastfeeding goal was two years and we are nearly to three years. Nursing a toddler is interesting and sometimes challenging, but I am so happy to have this tool to comfort her when she is sick or hurt. And now as a postpartum doula, I am also able to help others as they begin their journey.” -Ashley
“I’m currently tandem breastfeeding 5 month old twins and so proud of myself and my body! I breastfed my first child until she self-wealned at around 1 year old. Everyday was a battle for us to make it work, but I was determined. My production was low; I was nervous, I had bleeding, cracking, blistering, and an infection. It was not easy and if I’m being honest, I was happy when she weaned. When I found out I was having twins, I initially assumed I wouldn’t be able to nurse them. After some inner work, I chose that I was going to nurse my twins and it has been amazing! I’m much more comfortable and now advocate for public nursing in all aspects of my life. I’m so excited to be able to participate in this experience and celebrate my nursing relationship with my babies!” -Cortney
“I was told I would never have children and after years of tests to figure out why, I ended up pregnant. True to myself, I researched everything. I knew I wanted to breastfeed, I wasn’t breastfed, in fact I didn’t know anyone who was or did breastfeed. I never set goals to reach, just to try. We had a natural and fast birth, Helen came into the world in 3 pushes and latched on well from the start. She was a champ at nursing and I knew I was lucky. I started pumping for my return to work and she refused every bottle out there. I had hundreds of ounces and since my daughter didn’t want it, I donated to another little boy. I kept pumping for him and helped his mama get to over 1 year of breastfeeding (he still nurses!). I even helped start out his little brother too! Helen is two years old now and nursing like a champ. I set a goal for us, to make it until she wants to stop. Whenever that is, it will be wonderful for us both. I feel blessed to have made it so long and to continue to have this amazing bond with her.” -Regina
“Breastfeeding became a passion for me while I was pregnant with my first son in 2012. I researched everything I could to ensure that our journey would be successful, and I excitedly anticipated what our relationship would be like. Despite all of my preparation, I was still overcome with how incredible breastfeeding was for my son and I. Our bond was indescribable, and knowing that everything he ever needed was here within me gave me such pride and confidence as a mother. There were times that I felt self-conscious in public and in social situations, but I was encouraged by fellow mothers that strived to normalize this most natural act of motherhood. I join them in living out the message that breastfeeding is natural, normal, and beautiful. Fast-forward four years, I have been breastfeeding for nearly 43 months straight. My older son has since weaned, but my second baby boy still snuggles in close countless times a day, as well as all night long. I don’t want to rush this. I remember how naturally he latched just minutes after being born, and the ease with which we began our “dance” together. We will continue this dance until he decides he doesn’t need it any more, but until then, I will cherish what this privilege has meant to me.” -Ashley
“When I got pregnant with my first son, I wasn’t even sure I would breastfeed at all. Now I’ve nursed 5 kids over a period of 9 years straight and for 10 years total. Breastfeeding is such a huge part of our lives. My two youngest are nursing at one and two years old. I have no idea when that day [they wean] will come, but when it does, I will know that I have done my best. My oldest daughter has medical issues that meant having a ‘home base’ in nursing was extremely important to her well-being. She nursed until she was 5 years old when we mutually decided it was time to wean. It was the best decision to ‘try’ and breastfeed.” – Vicki
“I had a rough start with both of my girls. Lip ties, improper latch, nipple shields, mastitis, postpartum depression and anxiety, biting and night weaning were all hurdles we overcame. Breastfeeding wasn’t always easy, but worth every bit of the struggle. I received so much support and education from Breastfeed Chicago and Abby (The Badass Breastfeeder). Now I strive to help others on their journey as a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor and Doula through The Chicago Doulas.”
“Whilst pregnant I didn’t know if I could nurse and hoped to for at least 6 months; so I read, learned, and prepared. As I educated myself and then nursed my first son, Callum, I learned about self weaning and decided this was best for both of us. It isn’t always easy, but it is beautiful and often amusing. I nursed throughout my pregnancy with my second son, Bowen, which is no easy thing, and I am tandem nursing now. I have a beautiful relationship with my boys and I feel they are nourished both physically and emotionally by this natural act (and I benefit biologically and emotionally as well). I have also happily and proudly donated to other mothers with low supply (about 50 gallons last year)! Five years later, I have learned and experienced so very much. I am a ‘Lactivist’ and an ‘Intactivist’, and I share information with others through teaching pre and postnatal yoga, and more. Namaste.” -Sonia
The next morning something really amazing happened!! The mama behind Free Soul Designs actually missed the group session on Saturday due to lack of sleep (I know nothing about that lol), so she met me at Abby’s and we took a walk around the neighborhood to find a good place to shoot. Abby suggested a church down the street, when we go there we were invited inside. This mama instantly became emotional and began to cry. We shot there for bit then went outside for some pretty shots in the street. Ironically, when she returned home, she told her mother about the beautiful church and her mother confirmed that this was the same church where this mama’s great grandparents were married!! What a very special memory to have as part of her story to normalize breastfeeding.
The day didn’t end there. Abby’s youngest was feeling better and ready to be photographed so we took another walk around this lovely Chicago neighborhood to capture some images of them breastfeeding. And it was pretty badass! The Badass Breastfeeder graciously sponsored two other mothers to participate in this Chicago event. Abby is now 40 years old nursing her two boys who are full of energy, incredibly well spoken, and a joy to be around.
“I struggled to breastfeed with my first son. I struggled with the entire transition to motherhood! Once we hit our stride I couldn’t picture weaning him. At five years old it remains such an important part of our relationship. I breastfed through the pregnancy of my second son and currently tandem nurse. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.” -Abby, The Badass Breastfeeder
After packing up, I was taken downtown to Lurie Children’s Hospital where my last, but definitely not least mama was awaiting my arrival. She’s a mother of four who’s twins have been in the NICU for two whole months. She is a on the pathway to becoming an IBCLC and I simply couldn’t be more proud of the joy that she exudes in the presence of her children, simply breathtaking. Her mother, a now retired RN, offers her a large amount of support caring for the older children when she is available and offering breastfeeding help when necessary.
“My twins are my 3rd and 4th children, but the 4th and 5th children I have breastfed, if you include the times while babysitting I would nurse my beautiful niece Bella. Breastfeeding these boys have been a total different experience than breastfeeding the others. My boys were born on May 24th when I was only 31 weeks and five days and because of their prematurity have some serious health issues so serious that Cameron, my twin A, wasn’t expected to make it through the first night. They were carted off to another hospital on the opposite end of the city less than 3 hours after being born. I never got to hold them, I only heard the cry of Codey, twin B, for a second. I got a glimpse of them on the way out to the other hospital that lasted 2 minutes but I knew I still had to get them my milk.
I requested a pump as soon as I got to the recovery room. I knew better than to expect a downpour of milk but I knew that colostrum, whatever I got, was very important in their condition. I sent word to the hospital with the boys if anything is fed to my boys before my milk got there I only was allowing human milk and no bottle. I was at the other hospital for 24 hours before I got to where the boys were but during that time they didn’t eat at all. They couldn’t. They had PIC lines. I wasn’t able to skin to skin my boys or even hold them because of the respiratory support they were on, but I kept doing what I could, pumping every 2-3 hours around the clock. Even when I was at my follow up appointment 48 hours after birth I was hand expressing because I forgot my hand pump. My milk came in day 3-ish and I continued to pump. After about a week or so they started to feed the boys my milk, fortified to up the calories, via NG tubes. Well, one of them, Codey, was fed first. Cameron was still too sick to have milk just the “lemonade bag” as I called it and the fat via the PIC line. I think I asked every day when the doctors did rounds, “When can I nurse them?” Codey got to 34 weeks gestation they started to allow me to try. He latched well to a dry breast and would suckle great so we moved to a partially pumped breast, that’s where it got scary. He would get a little milk but because I had such an abundant supply and a forceful let down he would choke, stop breathing and/or his heart would slow down sometimes, it would even pause for a few seconds. It scared the crap out of me. I didn’t feed him for like a week after it happened two days in a row. I was being pressured into giving him a bottle because the ultra preemie nipple was supposed to be better for him but I didn’t want to let him grow lazy or learn how to eat the wrong way. I researched, reached out to support groups and asked all others what I could do because I didn’t want to compromise our breastfeeding dyad by bottle feeding too soon. I was given the advice to try laid back breastfeeding to let gravity slow my flow and help the milk from pooling in the back of his throat. IT WORKED!
He started eating. Like really eating! So much he would fall asleep for hours afterwards. Fastforward to today, Codey is taking 45-75% of his feeding by mouth. He does get a bottle when I can’t be there but that was AFTER we established breastfeeding. He is gaining weight and this weekend I plan to do a 24 hour stay to see if he can gain weight at the breast being fed on demand. Yesterday we did 9am-6pm and he ate all day every 1 ½ to 2 hours, just like a normal newborn and gained!! Cameron is still on the NG tube and hasn’t had any feedings by mouth due to still needing some heavy respiratory support and sustaining some severe brain damage due to lack of oxygen his first 24 hours but this weekend he should be going to a cannula and the oxygen flow should be low enough to practice at the dry breast (which Codey will ensure is as empty as possible LOL). They keep saying to me they don’t know if he will be able to eat by mouth and may have a tube long term but I’m not losing hope. They said he wouldn’t see 24 hours so my faith still won’t be compromised. I believe that he will be as great as great gets and Mommy’s milk will help him get there. It’s overwhelming having 2 boys at home( 7 and 22 months) and twins in the NICU and finding time to pump being back at work part time and doing it mostly on my own (husband and I separated during the pregnancy).
They keep saying to me they don’t know if he will be able to eat by mouth and may have a tube long term but I’m not losing hope. They said he wouldn’t see 24 hours so my faith still won’t be compromised. I believe that he will be as great as great gets and Mommy’s milk will help him get there. It’s overwhelming having 2 boys at home( 7 and 22 months) and twins in the NICU and finding time to pump being back at work part time and doing it mostly on my own (husband and I separated during the pregnancy).
I have found every way to make it work. I got the Freemie Equality to pump on the walk to work, a car adapter to pump on the way to the hospital in the morning in the car (with my Freemie cups). My friends and family say “it’s too much girl you better just give them formula” or “you’re choosing to be stressed you can just stop pumping and get some more rest” but they don’t get my commitment. My babies would need my milk if they were healthy full term babies they definitely need it with all the other health issues they have going on. I believe breastmilk is the biologically normal way to feed a human child and I will ensure no matter how unconventionally they started out that they get exactly what they need, Mama’s milk. I breastfed my others past their first birthday and I plan to do the same with the twins, probably longer because they will be my last babies. It’s been hard but it’s worth the reward: Healthier babies.” – Raquita
Thank you Chicago mamas for nursing in public and helping to normalize breastfeeding!
Special thanks to all of the #NBFtour collaborators for helping to make this tour great!
Sarah Carp, 1st grade Teacher (3)
Kristyna Cleek, Studying for IBLCE (1)
Greater New Orleans Breastfeeding Awareness Coalition (1)
Nurse Nikki, LLC (1)