My children owe a huge debt of gratitude to a woman they’ve never met. In fact, I’ve never met her myself. I don’t even know if she’s still living. All I know is that she was from New Zealand, her name was Hazel, and more than forty years ago she opened my mother’s world to the normality of breastfeeding.
My mom was born in the 1940’s, during the era when formula was touted as superior to breastmilk. Formula feeding was the norm, and it’s what my mom knew. I’m not sure if she ever even gave it much thought.
Then, while living overseas in her 20s, my mom met a woman named Hazel. From mom’s descriptions of her, Hazel was a bit of a hippie mama. She had a sheepskin she’d lay her baby on, which my mom thought was awesome. And she breastfed her baby in front of my mom without any hesitation or embarrassment or shyness.
Up to this point, my mom had never really been exposed to breastfeeding. Due to the pervasive culture at the time, she found it a bit shocking at first. But that shock quickly turned to admiration and a general feeling of “rightness.” My mom was struck by how normal and natural the whole thing was. Hazel opened up a whole new paradigm for my mom, purely by breastfeeding in public without any qualms or fanfare. She just did it. No big deal.
Thanks to Hazel, my mom breastfed my older brother for nine months (at which point she got comments like “Are you going to breastfeed him when he goes to college?”). Then she breastfed me for 2 1/2 years, and my little brother longer than that. She became a La Leche League leader. Then she became a Labor and Delivery nurse, and helped new moms with lactation. Last year, she became an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) and now works solely as a lactation consultant and breastfeeding educator. Hazel started my mom on a life path that has brought her great satisfaction and helped who-knows-how-many moms get started breastfeeding.
Thanks to Hazel, the question of whether or not to breastfeed my own babies never even popped into my mind. Breastfeeding was such a normal part of my upbringing that it was just a given. [On a side note: Thanks to that upbringing, I was also keenly aware of how the formula marketing machine operated, and found it fascinating to witness firsthand. The free samples in the hospital bag. The free can of formula sent to my door two weeks after my first baby’s birth, during the vulnerable sleep-deprived stage when you’ll try anything to get a little shut-eye and breastfeeding hasn’t become second-nature yet. Brilliant.]
Thanks to Hazel, my kids have all gotten the full benefits of breastfeeding from birth through their toddler years. Thanks to Hazel, I’ve never had any hang-ups with nursing in public. Thanks to Hazel, I had a mom who knew what to do when my babies weren’t latching properly, or when I had a clogged milk duct, or when I was looking for a good nursing bra. Thanks to Hazel, I was able to pump milk to help feed my newborn adopted nephew his first year while also nursing my own baby.
Thanks to Hazel, my grandkids most likely will be breastfed, too.
You never know what influence you’ll have on the people around you. I’m sure Hazel didn’t set out to change my mom’s life, or mine, or my kids and grandkids. But I am so grateful to this woman for the simple act of nursing her baby in front of my mom. I wonder if nursing my babies in public over the years has helped normalize breastfeeding for someone else. I hope so. That seems like the perfect way to pay forward the gift that Hazel the New Zealander gave my family.