I returned from maternity leave yesterday. Despite being a teary mess on my first day back after having my older son, I didn't cry once the second time around—that is, until my train ride home. That's when I read the headline, "Federal officials took her daughter while she breastfed the child in a detention center."
CNN.com reports that an undocumented Honduran mother was nursing her child in an American detention center when agents tried to remove the girl from her mom's embrace. The mother tried to stop the officials, so they handcuffed her.
The thought of my own 3-month-old being ripped from my arms while I fed him enraged me … and caused my milk to leak through my clothes on my commute. When I posted the CNN story on my personal Facebook page, an acquaintance shared that her own breasts ached thinking of that mother, even though said contact hasn't nursed a child in more than a decade.
I won't pretend to know how to solve complex immigration issues, but denying moms, even those who entered the U.S. illegally, the ability to breastfeed babies is straight-up torture. There's the physical anguish of engorgement when you haven't expressed milk after your breasts have filled up. And it's not like other forms of government-sanctioned bodily harm; even though you might not have personally felt them, you can guess how painful they are. Engorgement is something you need to feel to understand. Then there's the emotional anguish of knowing your child needs to eat and not being able to feed her. You're biologically programmed to do anything you can to soothe your baby when you hear her cries. Imagine what you instinctually feel you need to do if she's pulled off your body, mid-feed.
I shouldn't be surprised. We're a nation that pretends to value families while shrugging its shoulders when moms return to work days after delivering babies, still bleeding, perhaps experiencing debilitating postpartum depression and other postnatal symptoms. Our children are looked after in a broken daycare system. And we risk losing our jobs to care for kids when they're sick.
Still, I thought we were above this degree of inhumanity.
“If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, defending the policy. But would we really prefer that moms nurse their babies in war-torn or gang-ridden countries than ours? I certainly don't.
So this nursing mom has a plea: Let mothers, no matter their immigrant status, feed their kids. Allowing moms to nurse doesn't put Americans in danger.