On Monday, May 24, 2021, exactly two-months following my two-year wedding anniversary, I gave birth to my second son, Daxton Isaiah Mitchell. Perfectly named with regal timelessness, my beautiful boy latched immediately upon birth as if he were being reacquainted with a longtime friend of old time’s past. It was love at first latch as he suckled his way to my heart and firmly implanted himself as the newest member of our incredibly loud, considerably wild, yet fun-loving four-person family. As if he had something to prove, Daxton, weighing in at 8.47 pounds and spanning 22.5 inches in length (larger than over 90% of newborn boys, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention), arrived showing that he could hold his own even amongst a perpetually exhausted workin’ mama, a picture-perfect photographer papa and an 18-month-old saucy sibling.
Perhaps Daxton knew that he would be sharing time and space with a big brother who’s inching ever so closely to the shall-not-be-named-but-you-know-what-I’m-referring-to twos! Standing just over three-feet tall with a bubbly, infectious personality that’s just as far off the charts as his height, Ceylon III runs circles around us all and, without a doubt, his energy level matches that of a full classroom of toddler-aged, free-range children. Last year, I wrote candidly about my experience breastfeeding him as a first-time mom. As described, I was perfectly capable and wanting to breastfeed but vulnerable and exhausted having just given birth and actively dissuaded by the medical team (nevertheless, I persisted). Given such a daunting past, it’s obvious that Daxton’s immediate latch, strong suckle and amazing diaper output (TMI?) was a gift from God for this Perpetually Exhausted Mama!
Throwing it in a circle (oops, wrong storyline), back to May 24, following a beautifully joyous pregnancy, I entered the birthing room with the same disposition as last time: confident, strong-willed, determined. I had the very same asks: delayed cord-cutting and immediate skin-to-skin. I was with the same doctor-turned-dear-friend who delivered my first son and who kept this engine running throughout my Hot Girl Twenties as a young professional in DC many years prior. The major difference this time around was that I presented as a seasoned mom with well over a year’s experience nursing my firstborn. After all the time spent of putting baby to breasts, I imagined that the only breastfeeding-related help I’d need would be taking selfies of the first suckle, which my doting husband was equally eager to capture with his fancy Canon. So, when I first held my beautiful boy and lifted him to my breast, it was the start of a familiar dance— one that continues from the tap, on demand to this date.
Aligned with this year’s theme for Black Breastfeeding Week, The Big Pause: Collective Rest for Collective Power, I’m intentionally moving away from the widely discussed challenges of breastfeeding to instead focus on, well, the joys experienced, including rest! The more movement work one does, the greater the need for rest. The more one delves into dismantling systemic racism deeply embedded in the American health care system as the single most important driver of Black maternal mortality, the greater the need for rest. When one’s lived experience is both the patient and the policy maven, we require rest. As a self-described Perpetually Exhausted Mama, a sista deeply values rest. In rest, there’s rejuvenation, revelation and power!
Honoring the essentiality of rest, I am reminded of its link to breastfeeding. Studies show that nursing releases oxytocin – the love hormone – and that it naturally relaxes one while engaging in the dynamic, bidirectional, biological dialogue of breastfeeding. I’m no scientist, so I’ll stop there and drift back to the tropical breeze that coated my body while nursing my newborn buried in the gritty sands of Hawaiian beaches. In the 90+ degree heat, as I rested during maternity leave, within hours, it seems, my breast milk changed into a frothy white oversupply reminiscent of the best parts of a morning cappuccino. This was much different that than the opaque, light fare I produced weeks earlier in Alaska where temperatures lingered around the 60s during most of our visit in early July. Because of this intentional rest, I tied the ends of the rainbow! I nursed my newborn into a happy, healthy infant who’s meeting milestones and jumping off the growth charts. Even more, because of this intentional rest, I’ve since parted ways with the Perpetually Exhausted Mama of yesteryear.
The power of rest was made perfect during my midday, extended nap sessions of maternity leave. In the vein of collective power, this shifts my focus towards all the mamas whose well-being could have been optimized had the gusty winds of our nation’s paid family and medical leave crisis not blown away what should have been protected, paid time home with baby. With the crippling effect of interrupted of baby bonding time, new mamas are often made to return to work during the vulnerable, fragile early postpartum period, which doubles as the window of breastfeeding initiation. As studies have shown, access to paid leave helps provide women with the time they need to establish and continue breastfeeding since, ubiquitously, a mother is more than twice as likely to stop breastfeeding in the month she returns to work.
Kimberly Seales Allers, acclaimed author and co-founder of Black Breastfeeding Week asks, “What is possible when we can rest… What can we build in this moment of pause when we reimagine, revision, plan and realign our purpose?” To that, I say we can see our Black mamas, babies and their villages thrive, as NBEC envisions. We can see increased rates of successful breastfeeding. Together, we can tie the ends of the rainbow with the fortitude and resilience gathered once we’ve laid our burdens down from doing it all, all the time. This can be actualized with paid family and medical leave during the early-postpartum period. For this Refreshed, Boundless Lady formally known as the Perpetually Exhausted Mama, love at first latch was a conduit for rest and an underlying current of power breathed to life. While I nursed Daxton, he led me to lush, bountiful lands and hidden, sacred spaces of unspeakable joy— one side-laying-nursing-turned-nap-session at a time!