Tip: Can’t nobody take your voice. It’s yours.
I mean, people always have the choice of ignoring you.
But that doesn’t mean shut up.
It just means, maybe you wasn’t supposed to yell.
You was supposed to whisper.
At least that’s what I did.
And I think it might be working.
Peep this email I sent over to the folks that told me I couldn’t breastfeed my Zuri.
I went full paragraphs on they ass!
Hello [Grievance Officer of the institution that made me feel some type of way]!
I am writing to express my concern for the treatment that I and other parents have received when mentioning the desire to breastfeed our children. This email will serve to speak only from my perspective and experience.
I have received services from [the institution that made me feel some type of way] almost just as long as I have been back in Philadelphia. Traumatic move; care was the last thing on my mind – but the first thing I knew I needed to get together. I don’t know how I got there but it was definitely a safe haven. I got case management services, labs, and medical in all one building. AND tokens? What a Godsend! Dental – eh. But it’s cool because y’all referred me to [another facility]. Thank you. I say all of this to say, I love [your institution that made me feel some type of way] even if I haven’t always felt loved back.
At this point, I am only down to mental health services from you all. I had to leave medical last year when I found out that I was pregnant and expressed my desire to breastfeed. I was strongly encouraged to explore different methods of feeding. I was strongly discouraged to breastfeed with the mention of possible DHS involvement if I chose to do so. I was informed that I would not be able to find a provider who would support my desires. So, in the first trimester of pregnancy, I was left with no choice but to switch providers and meds. Can you imagine the emotion? I was hurt. I cried. I beat myself up for HIV again all because I was pregnant and reminded of my toxicity to other human life.
I have found that there are actually providers within the city of Philadelphia (and across the country) who engage in shared, informed decision-making with their patients, which I think is an awesome way to receive care. It’s more about the autonomy of making our own decisions, not having them forced upon us.
With the support of other providers, I have remained undetectable and in care and my daughter, born HIV-, has fed from my body and remained HIV-. I could have never done this without support. I could not have done this in hiding.
Already working in the capacity of an advocate for those who are living with HIV, I am also employed by The Well Project as Program Manager and we have been working diligently in this area.
There are some resources that I would like to share with you all:
Recommendations for the Use of Antiretroviral Drugs During Pregnancy and Interventions to Reduce Perinatal HIV Transmission in the United States
Experience and Outcomes of Breastfed Infants of Women Living With HIV in the United States: Findings From a Single-Center Breastfeeding Support Initiative
The Big Picture: Health Implications and Bioethical Considerations of Breastfeeding and HIV
Breastfeeding and HIV: Viewpoints from an Adult and Pediatric Provider
The Well Project is also partnering with the University of California, San Francisco in May for the HIV Perinatal Roundtable – an environment of people who also serve people living with HIV. I think this would be a great opportunity for sharing and learning.
I will end this email by simply asking, is there any way that I can support [the institution that made me feel some type of way] to engage in more shared, informed decision-making practices when it comes to HIV and breastfeeding? I would love the opportunity to help train, brainstorm some ways to help ensure that folks leaving your offices are not doing so feeling like criminals because of how they choose to feed their children as this has been my experience.
What not to do: Don’t think your voice doesn’t matter.
Nah, this isn’t going to make a difference for me.
I’m done having kids.
Ain’t nothing else coming out of here.
So that means no more hard, necessary thoughts of how imma feed a baby.
But it will help someone else.
I’m sure of it.
I mean, at the time I write this, they say that they have big plans to do a huge training for their facility this year on breastfeeding and HIV or whatever.
It’s supposed to be a big thing.
From a reputable source.
Someone who has experience and practice supporting parent’s desires to feed their children the best way they see fit.
Whether they are living with HIV or not.
I don’t know about you.
But I think that’s pretty darn amazing!
They are actually doing something about it.
It’s crazy what a few little paragraphs can do.
Change can, simply, begin with that.