99 Problems

Published on May 18th, 2016 | by Sherisa de Groot


HE CAN WALK ON HIS OWN by Sherisa de Groot

I’ve been the subject of openly shared opinions, as I walk down the streets of Brooklyn, ever since coming back to my hometown for holiday. There’s a perception of spoiling children by doing fairly normal, regular things. Especially in the community I belong to; the Caribbean community. My decision to continue to nurse my son beyond 1 year has left some curious and others appalled. I’ve remained even-keeled in my tone and response to every inquiry from my community. I nurse him anytime, anywhere and without shame.

I have nothing to be ashamed of.

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I’ve been told some ridiculous things. Some women tell me stories of 10 year olds that continue to nurse. Others admonish me, saying, “I would never let my daughter nurse past one!” (this is coming from a new grandmother). I say, to each their own. None of you are us. This is a decision made between my son and myself.

This isn’t to say that everyone spoke only negatives. But the yays were definitely lacking. Which got me thinking A LOT. These are opinions I expect from an older generation; I wasn’t prepared for so many of my own peers to cling to identical beliefs. I sympathize for my circle of black female friends and their elders that look down on extended nursing. Or look down on nursing. Or baby wearing.

I can’t tell you how many non-black women smiled with approval when I nursed in the train station. Every single one that passed by made eye contact. All ages. That was both touching and heartbreaking. I wish my own ladies could see how precious and special it is. Or simply respect that it’s our choice.

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I want to have a talk with my sisters. I hope that by watching me nurse in your face, even after being told crazy things and not flinching or showing any doubt that maybe when it’s your turn, you might choose the same. And if you don’t, so what? Who cares? It’s your breasts and your baby. Just like it’s mine. Do what you’re comfortable with but do what makes your child happiest, too.

I want to tell my sisters—openly support each other. Support is such a vital partner in motherhood. We need support from our extended community. Something as simple as a smile and head nod can do wonders for our confidence in the beginning. I don’t need anyone’s approval now, but in the start when you’re a fledgling mama, approval counts. You’re a sponge in the start. So when you’re told crazy things, it’s easy to absorb some of the bullshit.

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Photo by Tarona Leonor

So I nurse my big-for-his-age long-legged baby at 15 months. I’ve made it to 3 years. He eats like a horse and still loves his milk. While it’s easy to say “later for you” to the stranger declaring he’s far too old to still be at the breast, I’d much rather be a happy example of a well-adjusted mama and baby extended nursing duo. Then maybe the other newer mother, when she hears she’s doing it all wrong, will remember seeing me, proud, and keep going too.

The other major affront I experienced back home, exclusively from strangers, mostly looking like me, was when we were about town in our carrier. So here’s the thing: babies don’t want to walk all day. I’ve already determined that New York is not a stroller-, hence, mama-friendly city. Why would I lug around a stroller on the bus and train to use it for a minimal amount of time? It’s really not that handy. Even when they come with carry straps. What’s the point of hollering over to me in Macys, “You are going to spoil him! He’ll never want to walk?” Is it to make you, the person who doesn’t count at all in our day-to-day reality, feel better? Is it because we’re supposed to show love that makes you comfortable? Is it because it’s “spoiling” a child by wearing them?

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Child, please. You know what’s worse than baby wearing? A whole lot of other things. It all leads me to this same thought, especially in the West Indian community: a lot of my decisions are perceived as white decisions. These things are a luxury somehow. I’m spoiling my child and he’ll never be an independent adult because at 15 months, he still breastfeeds. I should struggle on the street like everyone else with a sleeping child hanging off of my shoulder while I lug tons of bags instead of having him properly supported in a baby carrier and having my hands free. There’s a true aversion to change.

As a new mother, the only thing I longed for nearly as much as my own mother, was the community I hold with such high regard. I spent 7 weeks home to soak up the culture, my friends and family. I was only on holiday in Brooklyn because I moved to Amsterdam before my child was born. It was hard, I missed my community. I always thought I’d raise my child in the environment where I grew up. But, I honestly think had I become a mother in the only place I ever imagined becoming one, I would be much more stressed by constant micro-aggressions from relatively unimportant people. I wouldn’t have breastfed for as long as I have. I wouldn’t have carried him everywhere for the first year because I wanted to. The support I fantasize about having while living in Amsterdam wouldn’t be there in the way I dreamed.

I am a nucleus living on a deserted island in Amsterdam. We parent 24/7; there is zero backup, no down time. Being away from my family has proven to be much more difficult that I imagined. It’s not just my family; it’s my friends, food, all of these familiarities. Being able to go to the parks I went to. The museums and health food stores and theaters. My sense of nostalgia for my own childhood as I’ve watched Brooklyn become a foreign land is compounded by this nostalgia for a community I almost feel I dreamed up. Nothing could prepare me to be openly judged by people I love and people I’ve never seen before.

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It wasn’t until after my visit that I appreciated my freedoms here. Living away from my personal and cultural comforts is bittersweet. It has allowed me to find and secure my voice. With each passing day, I am able to objectively evaluate what I was exposed to in my upbringing, and what I want to pass on to my son. I am able to correct the language I learned growing up. I take great consideration in how I verbally approach him and speak in a more positive and direct manner instead of leading with sarcasm.

It has also affirmed my belief in having extended family around for physical and emotional support. As with most other things in life, I’ve learned that everything isn’t for everyone, myself included. I will never deny my culture, because it has helped shape me. It also made me confident enough to speak up unwaveringly and defend my positions with ease.

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About the Author

Sherisa de Groot is a mother and writer specializing in personal narratives. Being a woman and mother of color, first generation American and living in a culture and country alien to her own, she enjoys writing about these social intersections. She is the founding editor of Raising Mothers. Originally from Brooklyn, NY she currently lives in Amsterdam, Netherlands with her husband and toddler son.

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