"For my grandmother, breastfeeding would forever be synonymous with survival."
My grandmother grew up on a small farm in New Jersey. She, by no means, was a country girl by choice. She was a young, Black girl living in a rural town still in the shadows of sharecropping. They were poor. Poverty is inherently insidious. It is not merely relegated to physical circumstances, but rather permeates every facet of a person’s life. “Breastfeeding was just nasty. Women would be sitting outside with their breasts flopping around,” she would tell me when I asked her why she didn’t breastfeed my mother. “They were tired and always had a baby hanging from them.” Breastfeeding wasn’t something poor Black folks did because it was considered “best practice” or most advantageous for the baby. It was a choice born of necessity, scarcity, and convenience. For my grandmother, breastfeeding would forever be synonymous with survival. Without access to the necessary information, the trauma of being poor manifested in her own choices as a parent. She wasn’t refusing to breastfeed, but instead was refusing poverty. As a result, my mother, my aunt, and my uncle were all “formula babies”, as she would say.
Formula feeding equated to access to the middle class life she worked hard toward. For her, there was no other option. So when my mother became pregnant with me at nineteen, she, like many of us, listened to her mother. I was formula fed, because as far as mom knew, anything else would be deemed unappealing and quite frankly nasty. Generational trauma can be subtle in that way. Showing up uninvited at crucial moments. Did I turn out ok? I’d like to think so! However, it wasn’t the choice to breast or bottle feed that was in question. Instead the bigger conversation began to circulate in my mind around agency or lack thereof in our choices as mothers. When information is not readily available to make informed decisions, we fall back on what is familiar. For my family, and many like us, much of what was familiar were behaviors based on undesirable circumstances. Later on, my mother was able to make a feeding choice based on research and what was best for her and her growing family. Now two generations removed from my grandmother's experience, I’ve been able to make my own choices void of her experience, but certainly not void of my own cultural identity and the identity which runs parallel to that of my family.