A very dear Leche League Leader and friend asked me to share something. Typically, I would decline such invitations, however, I thought this would be a great opportunity to share something that I have been thinking about a lot recently. As is customary, I will share who I am, where I come from, in order to position myself in relation to this breastfeeding story. My name is Ashley Day, and I have both Dene and English ancestries. I was born and raised in southern Ontario, however, my Traditional lands are located in the Sahtu Region of Northwest Territories, where I am a member of the Sahtu Dene and Métis. My grandfather was born in Deline NWT, his mother a local Dene who married a Welsh Trader.
Much of my upbringing was marked with the sense of always knowing we were Indigenous, but never speaking about the fact that we were Indigenous. I learned from an early age that we did not speak of our Indigeneity. Partly because there remained a sincere sense of unknowing, and partly because speaking of the known was simply too painful.
It wasn’t until my 20s that I really began doing the work of reclaiming my Indigenous identity and histories. This is a lifetime commitment in which my spirit heals with every uncovered story, teaching, and relation. For those of you on this journey, I am with you, and do not give up. Knowing who you are can free you of the pain and trauma of unknowing. You are a survivor, your ancestors are guiding you, and you are loved.
A decade into my healing journey, I was blessed to conceive, carry, and birth a beautiful baby girl. I have learned that children are among our wisest, having been with our ancestors in spirit before joining us in the physical world. I was also taught our little ones choose us as their caregiver. Children teach us to be better humans as we move through the stages of life.
Our breastfeeding journey began rather acrimoniously, marked by infant weight loss, round the clock feedings, poor latch, various lactation consultants, misdiagnosed tongue tie, trips to pediatric dentists, milk fevers, lactation supplements, all while battling severe sleep deprivation. In the beginning, motherhood left me feeling physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually exhausted.
The first months of our breastfeeding journey were so tumultuous that I felt as though I either had to give up, or continue to exist on the verge of a mental breakdown. It was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. At two months of age, my daughter decided that she would absolutely under no circumstances take any sort of bottle. Granted, she never really enjoyed bottles, but rather tolerated them as she knew that she had to gain weight. Smart Kwe! When she reached the point of healthy weight gain, a bottle was no longer in question.
Many well-meaning relatives and friends insisted she would take a bottle, but after walking, talking, bouncing, singing, swaying, and every method known to exist, the conclusion was that this Kwe was NEVER going to take a bottle, and she never did.
There were times that I would cry from physical pain (milk blisters are no joke), and mental exhaustion (the inability to have a ‘break’) whatever that means, but what I didn’t realize was how my little one was teaching me this whole time. She taught me a level of strength that I didn’t know existed. She taught me the sacredness of the breastfeeding relationship, and the humbleness of knowing that not everyone is blessed with this. She taught me how our bodies hold memories, and that giving and sustaining life nourishes our spirits.
As my little one approaches her second year around the sun, our breastfeeding journey is coming full circle. The mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion that once existed is replaced with the sadness of knowing that soon this will be a memory, although my spirit is full for the experience.
Breastfeeding beyond one year of age has garnered a variety of reactions. The general consensus being that it is unnecessary (even though it is aligned with current health guidelines). My Kwe has taught me that continuing our journey for as long as it is mutually beneficial, isn’t just healthy, but is an act of cultural resurgence.
Nourishing her body with my body is not just for physical health, but it also honours and sustains our connection to generations past. It connects my daughter to her grandmother, and great-grandmother, whose spirits have guided her to me in the physical world. Breastfeeding beyond what some have deemed ‘acceptable’ has allowed the opportunity to reclaim parts of my Indigeneity that I never knew existed. Continuing this journey unapologetically, has been an act of both resilience and resurgence.