The Blackish Mom, Victoria Graham, Talks Parenting, Breastfeeding & Pumping
African-American mothers are the least likely to breast feed their children, compared to mothers of other races and ethnicities in the U.S. When Victoria Graham, creator of The Blackish Mom blog, discovered this disparity she set out to be the change she wanted to see in the community.
However, as life would have it, when she became a new mother she quickly found her desires to breastfeed her daughter would not be possible. Find out how Victoria learned to cope with this reality and so much more in our in-depth conversation with her.
What experiences growing up shaped the woman you are today?
Growing up I had a very close relationship with my maternal grandparents. Each one of them provided the necessary life lessons I needed to be successful. In particular, my grandfather allowed me the freedom to be me without judgment.
He taught me how to play basketball, raced me in the den, and even built me a putting green in his backyard when I said I wanted to be Tiger Woods. We would spend hours watching sports on TV, especially football, and I would read the paper with him, gaining each section only after he finished. He would tell me stories about his time in the Army, how he met my grandmother, and why he loved Houston so much. He would also talk to me politics, between beers, and get me to think critically about why the world is how it is.
Notice, the items listed above aren't exactly tea parties and tiaras (not that I am against them). My grandfather provided the space I needed to explore my interests and shape my worldview, void of gender bias or subconscious consequences. Deep down I think he just enjoyed that I shared his interests in a world full of women. I was one of three girls, and my only maternal aunt had just one son - who was much older than us. Regardless of the why, the effect is a confident Black woman who follows the news and politics, cares deeply about her family, and can talk football with the best of them. I won my fantasy football league this year – as the only girl in the league.
When he passed away, a flood of sadness came over me as I realized my daughter would not get the chance to know him. Then I thought about his impact on my life and realized she would know him through me. Whenever she asked for her "putting green" she will be thankful for the one he built me all those years ago.
As a child, we all face insecurities. What insecurity do you look back on and wish that you never even entertained? What made you get over that insecurity?
I have been a nerd my entire life. I always wanted to go to school. I became sad when breaks came and even tried to go to summer school as an honor student. I took pride in learning and studying to master new skills. I used to walk to the library to read books about world wars, past presidents, and African American historical figures.
My nerd antics, talking politics as a ten-year-old, or reading about the rise of Nazi Germany isn't exactly a recipe for being cool in school. That, along with my tomboy looks and short stature, made for being voted most popular hard to come by. Sometimes, if I am being honest with myself, this bothered me more than it should. Not being cool can stink when you want to be asked to a dance, or have your crush reciprocate your feelings.
Once I entered high school and started to learn more about the perks of being a nerd, it became apparent that cool didn't equal post-secondary success. I also learned that true friendship goes beyond the “cool” factor and looks at a person’s qualities. Are you loyal? Are you a good listener? Can you help me solve problems? Yet, it took many years of self-doubt to understand my wholeness and uniqueness was enough, and I needed to work on developing authentic friendships.
Tell us more about your blog "Blackish Mom." Why did you start it?
My platform Blackish Mom started as a blog called Writing While Pumping. Even before I became pregnant one of my non-negotiables was that I would breastfeed for at least a year. I heard a piece on NPR about the rates of breastfeeding in America, and how Black women make up the lowest percentages of breastfeeding moms in this country. I started to research all the benefits of breastmilk for the baby and breastfeeding for the mom and I was determined to provide for my unborn child in this way.
Fast forward to August 27, 2015. After 40 weeks and one day of pregnancy, our daughter, Vivian, was born and she didn't latch. She was beautiful, perfect in every way, yet she wouldn't latch on to gain what I so desperately wanted to provide for her. After a few more days and no success with latching, I was a HOT mess! Many crying spells and feelings of extreme self-doubt later - I decided to pump. And so I pumped for an entire year and provided the best possible food and nutrients for my daughter.
My initial blog was created to share my story of providing breastmilk for my daughter with the hopes that Black women would choose breastmilk, if given the chance. It evolved as a place to express my experiences as a Black millennial working mother; a group that is often not included in the Black mom narrative. I explore the intersection of race and gender in parenting and workplace settings. Some of my proudest posts were about accepting my postpartum body and about the high costs of having a middle-class child. Both of which are issues that are not being discussed at length in the Black community, or with new families in general.
What advice do you have for other black millennial moms?
Be your absolute truest self, and think critically about the life you want your child to have. When I was pregnant I thought deeply about the hopes and dreams I had for my daughter. It went beyond getting a "good" education and being financially successfully. I wanted to her to rock her fro, travel the world, and be an independent intellectual who doesn't have to apologize for her greatness.
There will be many times when what you want for your child will be counter to tradition, or norms, or what your mom/grandma/big momma/mother-in-law think. In those moments, you have to decide that your voice is the first one your child hears. Also, don’t be afraid to go back to those same gatekeepers for advice or help. There is only so much a Google search can do, trust me I do a lot of them. Sometimes you have to ask a live human who has lived through it.
Of course, if any new moms are expecting, I would strongly encourage them to breastfeed, and to seek out support to reach this goal. If you are currently breastfeeding and/or pumping, I commend your dedication to the process, and for providing the best possible food for your baby. Their future digestive system and metabolism greatly appreciate the boost!
What are you most looking forward to in 2017?
I am most looking forward to 2017 being the year I fully commit to my true passion of writing and storytelling. I just completed my soft launch of my new blog, www.theblackishmom.com. I look forward to adding to the site and creating a dialogue in the process. I also want to collaborate with other new or seasoned moms, who could add value and perspective to the site.
One of my other passions is travel, and I am looking forward to exploring new and intriguing places in 2017. So far, I have an exciting trip to Cuba booked for March, and hopefully several more trips before the year ends. I think when it is all said and done, 2017 will be my year of affirmation.
Want more of Victoria? Visit her blog, The Blackish Mom.