Nicky Boyte was wearing a flowered sundress when I meet her to talk about her experience breastfeeding her son. The two of us zoom into the restaurant in our power chairs, swapping crip war stories as we settle in. Nicky’s been a disability advocate for years; she’s active with both ADAPT and Not Dead Yet. We complain about our governor who has an SCI and yet basically wants to repeal the ADA in Texas. Nicky tells me about her experiences fighting for disability rights in stage legislative sessions, and I promise to email her the model legislation developed by my DPP co-founder Robyn Powell. Finally, we talk breastfeeding. I explain that August is National Breastfeeding Month and that I haven’t met that many other disabled women who have successfully breastfed. Nicky nods, “breastfeeding is hard for the average woman, and you add disability on top of that…” But what Nicky thinks is the most important predictor of breastfeeding success is support.
Nicky says that when she was pregnant, she used WIC, the special supplemental program for pregnant women, new mothers and young children. WIC offered Nicky the opportunity to meet with lactation consultants during her pregnancy so she could prepare to breastfeed her baby. She jumped at the opportunity, and started working on different positioning techniques and trying various nursing pillows. I asked Nicky what gave her confidence that she’d be able to breastfeed. She tells me, “my body doesn’t always work the way ABs [abled- bodied] do, but I just knew my boobs could do it.” We both laugh.
Nicky explains that she didn’t receive that same support in the hospital when her son Jacob was born. Nicky described how frustrated she was when nurses gave Jacob a bottle, and how she felt discouraged from breastfeeding because of her disability. Hospital staff never even offered her the chance to see a lactation consultant. What Nicky tells me she hated the most was the lack of agency she felt during the childbirth and hospitalization process; she was pressured into having her tubes tied after the birth. She was 25.
Nicky knew baby Jacob wasn’t latching right, and she knew that the longer he used a bottle, the worse her chances of successful breastfeeding became. As soon as she was discharged from the hospital, she went straight back to WIC. Working with the lactation consultants and with support, little Jacob learned to latch and Nicky exclusively breastfed him for the first year of his life.
Jacob was described as a reluctant weaner, and Nicky tells me a funny story about how he would continue to try to nurse whenever he got even a glimpse of her nipple. One morning she was showering and 18 month old Jacob literally busted into the shower with her, attempting to nurse as she washed herself in her shower chair. “He would t even stop when I squirted him,” she laughs. I tell her I can relate; I avoid changing in front of my toddler for this exact reason.
I ask Nicky if she ever had reservations about breastfeeding in public. She says, “being disabled you get stared at anyway, so what’s a little more?” She says she never used a cover — “it was too hard to use a cover when I was already holding the baby and the nursing pillow.” Nicky reflects, “I’ve always cared what other people think; I still do. But not when it comes to Jacob.”
Nicky shares another funny story with me, this time about the blury period in the first couple weeks after baby is born. She knows I know what she means; the sleepless nights, the near delirium. I get it. A close friend of hers was over that afternoon and baked chocolate chip cookies. Later that evening she didn’t even remember she’d had a cookie. Going into the nursery and preparing to feed Jacob, she notices something brown on her breast. She immediately panicked… “Was it from Jacob? Was something wrong with my milk?” She wondered. “It couldn’t be…. Poop?” In a flash of clarity her fogged over brain remembers the cookie. She laughs, the cries, with mixed amusement and relief. I can’t resist a chocolate milk joke.
Our time together nearing its end, I ask what she liked most about breastfeeding and what advice she’d give other crip mommas who want to nurse. Nicky says she just loved breastfeeding her son. She explains that it was “calming, a time just for me and Jacob.” As for advice? “Be an advocate. Don’t let anyone stand in the way. It’s YOUR baby.”