Rachael Lorenzo is a mother of two and a member of Laguna Pueblo and Mescalero Apache tribes who currently lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She was interviewed by the USBC’s Deputy Director, Amelia Psmythe.
This interview has been edited and condensed.The full interview is available here.
What did you hear or experience before birth that influenced your decision to breastfeed?
I went to the place where I enrolled for [WIC] benefits; it’s called First Nations, and they put a lot of emphasis on breastfeeding but they didn’t incorporate why it was important. Yes, breastfeeding is important for the baby because it’s helping develop their immune system and things like that, but on a cultural level, it didn’t make any sense. My first pregnancy, I was really missing that cultural aspect.
And it was important to me because my fiancé and I grew up together and he is very traditional. Our clan system is hierarchal and so he’s part of the top clan. For us, that aspect of our life is so important. Why wouldn’t we incorporate breastfeeding and pregnancy and birth?
Those things have been lost or they’re not talked about as much, because our generation is just coming out of the boarding school generation. They were the generation that was coming out of boarding school, where they weren’t allowed to speak their language or practice their traditions. So a lot of [cultural tradition] was lost and our generation’s just starting to pick it back up.
Please describe your birth experience, especially how it influenced your early breastfeeding.
With my first, my daughter, I had a C-section because I have oligohydramnios, where the fluid is really low. With breastfeeding, it looked easy enough in the videos that the WIC people showed me, but it was a lot harder than that and I wasn’t expecting that. So, I’m already straight out of a C-section, I’m sore, I can’t go to the bathroom because it hurts, I’m scared to death that my insides are going to fall out and I can’t feed my baby. And, I ended up having to give her formula. But, with a little bit of help from the pediatrician and one of the nurses, they showed me how to breastfeed and that really helped. It was still difficult.
With my second baby, I was a little more prepared. This time around we could afford a doula. That’s what I wanted the first time around, but those services are pricey and being a poor college kid, I couldn’t afford to have a doula, even though that’s what I really wanted. But this time around, we had a doula, found a midwife, we planned on a home birth, and so I had a lot more support. It also took a lot of research.
And in our state [New Mexico], Medicaid reimburses midwives and homebirths. I had a lot more flexibility; I didn’t have to see a midwife at the hospital, and have all these special interests in the way.
What was your experience like with health care providers? What did you find helpful and/or what would you have found helpful?
The midwives were like: “Let’s try something natural before we consult a doctor,” which was really helpful because they knew what they were doing. I did have to have a C-section with my son, because they noticed the signs of having low fluid again. And they said, “We need to get you to a doctor right away, we need to have you evaluated. But after you have the baby, we’ll still help you breastfeed and make sure everything goes to plan.” They got me a special tea and they had asked me if there was a medicine man or someone that I could talk to, so I sought one out.
They were bringing up questions I hadn’t thought of before, like, why didn’t I seek out a tribal leader or medicine man and ask them what’s important to our ancestors about birth and breastfeeding. And this time around, I found out that it’s important that we breastfeed, but it’s also important that we understand that feeding in general is sacred, for every single aspect of life, even the most mundane things. In both of my Native cultures, eating is such a prominent thing, even while you’re in labor, making sure you have a little something to eat then. All of the moms and the grandmas and the aunties and the sisters are going to eat. The dads are going to get together and eat. It was really put upon me that eating is sacred. Even if you bottle-feed your baby, it’s still a sacred and intimate thing between mother or parent and baby.
Keep in mind that there are other Native women who live on the reservation, and these are my cousins and my aunties, who are not as fortunate as I am to have that kind of care. They may be seeking care at an Indian Health Services facility on the reservation. They’ll have somewhat culturally competent care.
What was your experience like after you got home?
With my daughter, it was just her dad and I. It was lonely, and I had post-partum depression, and a lot of it had to do with having no support. I didn’t know what I was doing. I had some help when she would have her well-baby visits. My mom would come to help, but she had fed me and my siblings breastmilk and formula. I was in my last semester of my undergrad, so I was home a lot. Thankfully, the university let me take my classes from home, so I was home all the time, and I had that time to practice breastfeeding, but I didn’t have that support that I needed.
With my son, considering that we were planning on a home birth, these midwives were licensed for home births. Even though I had had a C-section, they still came out to my home after. They will come whenever you need them up to six weeks after the baby’s born. That was really helpful that they could make house calls because I didn’t have to pack up. My baby could be tired and hungry and grumpy, and I hadn’t showered, and they would come to me.
Some of the really helpful things were they would look at the environment, and they gave me resources to call people (or family) who would volunteer to clean my house or watch the baby for an hour while I took a nap and help me cook dinner.
I’m so sorry that my daughter and I didn’t get to have that kind of help, but with my son and I, that really helped and I didn’t have post-partum depression at all. I feel the experience of having that support with breastfeeding—it was night and day.
What was your experience like with your family? What did you find helpful and/or what would you have found helpful?
My mom and I, we’re pretty similar, so sometimes we don’t always see eye to eye. This was one of the things where, she didn’t really agree with my decision to want a home birth, even though I didn’t get it, and she didn’t really agree with having a doula, but she saw that it was something that I wanted, and how much it helped me, and she took a step back and helped me learn on my own, which was really good. She always made it known that if I needed her she would be there, and that really helped.
Developing that relationship with [my partner’s] family and then him developing a relationship with my family, really brought us closer. My family and his family would come together at the same time that I needed them and they would help clean my house or watch my daughter.
The birth experience and feeding—it all goes back to that theme of how feeding your family is sacred, and they’re really caught on to that this is family now and we’re going to see more of each other. It really brought to light how important feeding is, not just to the baby, but eating with your family and being able to breastfeed while feeding yourself.
What was your experience like in the community? What did you find helpful and/or what would you have found helpful?
With Apaches, we’re more blunt, like the phrase: “It is what it is and that’s what it’s going to be.” Whereas, on the Pueblo side, we’re more—conservative, but I hate to say conservative. It’s more intimate than anything. Coming from both cultures, and my husband being Pueblo—it’s not so much like “Rachael, cover up.” It’s just not talked about as much as it should be, and that’s a generational thing. On the Apache side, it was: “You’re doing good; you’re feeding your baby; don’t worry, if you see a nipple, you see a nipple.” And on the Laguna side, it’s not that they’re shocked or anything, it’s just not something they see all the time.
It may be because the boarding school generation were forced to assimilate to white ways, and the elder generation may still be hanging on to that. It’s crazy how something so far removed as that the Apaches were the last tribe to surrender to the United States, that part of our history alone says so much about our culture and who we are today, versus the Pueblos, who have incorporated European government styles and lifestyles since the 1500s, since the Spaniards got to New Mexico. On the Pueblo side, there’s been European exposure for such a long time, whereas Apaches, we migrated everywhere and didn’t settle in one place. And, so, we held on to a lot of that spirit of wandering and not always having to fit in where we didn’t want to.
What was your experience like returning to work? What did you find helpful and/or what would you have found helpful?
By the time I started working [for my tribe’s corporation], my son was 8 weeks old. I’m very thankful to have an office, because if somebody was out at the casino or at another one of our facilities, I could easily use their office and someone could watch my post while I’m pumping for 20 or 30 minutes. That’s easy to do. Then, my corporation set aside and converted a very private bathroom into a nursing room and removed the toilet. Even hourly employees who work odd hours, they just come to the Human Resources office, where the room is, we give them access on their employee badge, and they can go to the pumping room whenever they get a quick break or they tell their boss, “I need to go pump now.” Their boss has to give them a reasonable amount of time to pump.
I’m really lucky that I even get that experience because I’ve waited on tables, I’ve cleaned bathrooms, I’ve cleaned floors. I’ve worked until 3 in the morning and gone back at 9 in the morning. I know what a lot of those employees are going through, they don’t have that kind of access or even that kind of time to go pump. Being in the position I’m in [working in Human Resources], it really helps me get with managers to help them be not only culturally competent but just gender competent or parent competent.
What was your experience like with child care? What did you find helpful and/or what would you have found helpful?
I work Monday through Friday, and my husband has Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays off, so our children stay with him Mondays and Tuesdays. Then, Wednesday through Friday, his mother watches them at her home. I’m grateful that she can work out things with her boss, so she can be home Wednesday through Friday and watch my children and I know that they’re safe. My daughter is getting to her Pre-K age, so we’re looking for a school where one of us can pick her up or her grandma can pick her up, and my son is always with either my husband or his grandma. Sometimes the cousins, or my sister or my mom will offer to babysit.
That’s the nice thing about being Native, you always have someone to help. Even though I live in Albuquerque, I’m really thankful that I’m not too far away from the reservation, because my parents can help. They can easily come into town when they’re getting groceries and watch the baby for a few hours or something. I always have help and my cousins always have help. If I’m free on the weekends, I’ll watch their kids, so my house is always full and it’s always messy.
We always try to help each other out because we don’t know any other way. I know this sounds strange. Laguna and Acoma [reservations] have their own day cares and elementary school, but here in the city, it’s kind of hard for Native parents to find those kinds of resources, because then their children are going to school with white children, which is fine, but their instructors and their peers might not be as familiar with their customs.