Updated: Mar 6
That’s what I keep hearing when I tell my colleagues about this project. There’s got to be a reason why you’ve never heard of a breastfeeding breadwinner. Is it uncommon? Impossible? Systemically prohibited?
I’m finding the odds are stacked against me as I myself do the hard boundary work of keeping my beloved business going, and not compromising about how I’m entering motherhood. I am a new mother to an 8-month old. I’m enthusiastic about my job (always have been), and I have the luxury of working from home so I can be largely present for this big moment in our family life. I have a hard-working, full-time coparenting partner who I love. And this is still really hard to pull off.
Throughout this body of work, I am exploring the social position of being a breastfeeding breadwinner. It’s not quite the same as formula-feeding, being a parent to a third-grader, being a stay-at-home parent, or working part-time on the side. It’s being responsible for the majority of your household income while a tiny, vulnerable being depends on your body around the clock for some portion (if not all) of their nutrition.
It’s having made the choice to continue these efforts, while there are other, less-desirable or less-advantageous choices. For example, to ask one’s husband to return to a toxic or unfulfilling 9-5 job, to formula feed because it would be more convenient, to give up a beloved career just because you’re the mom. Those choices are available, but breastfeeding breadwinners seem to persevere toward the way they want things, even if it means greater logistical and emotional hardship.
I noticed I was sticking to my choice to continue being our household earner and breastfeed, as long as it kept working out, and I found myself in a position I’d never seen represented in popular culture or in my organic relationships. I wanted to find out what other labor arrangements are sustainable for people, where their supports are adequate or falling short, and what interpersonal structures make it possible.
Part of this work is interrogating whether the improvement of living conditions for working parents would increase their likelihood to maintain their career throughout early parenthood, if they so choose. Part of this work is finding out what personal attributes and histories make up someone who ends up breastfeeding and breadwinning. And part of this work is dreaming up the kind of world where it isn’t unheard of, or so incredibly difficult, to share these two positions at once. What kind of supports and practices does it take for everyone, adults and babies, to be as healthy and fulfilled as possible?
So who is a breastfeeding breadwinner, for the purposes of this exploration?
-A person who has given birth,
-who is doing some amount of breastfeeding of their child, no matter how much.
-who earns 50% or more of their household income, OR
-whose income the household depends upon and could not do without, OR
-who works by choice despite pressure or ability to stay home instead,
-in the present, or at any point in the past.
I’d like to highlight here in this series of articles, that there are unsung heroes among us, birthing people who earn the income for their household after having created and fed the children in it. I’ve been inviting breastfeeding breadwinners into conversation over the past few months, and learning the ins, outs, ups, and downs of pulling off the round-the-clock feat of breastfeeding while maintaining career goals, or managing to work under necessity.
One of my first observations is that passion for their work is a key feature of a breastfeeding breadwinner.
Types of jobs held by breastfeeding breadwinners:
Sexual health educator
Therapy group practice owner
Upper management in tech
The next few articles will cover the following topics: Time “off,” interactions with corporate entities, and accommodations. Beyond those, I plan to explore personality characteristics and value systems that breastfeeding breadwinners display, according to interviews I’ve conducted, as well as ways in which they demonstrate great diversity.
Please be on the lookout for a survey! I’m circling back through those I’ve already interviewed, in hopes that you will complete a confidential survey with follow-up questions about some technical details.
Also, if you would like to book more time to discuss additional details about your breastfeeding breadwinner journey, reach out! I am always willing to continue capturing accurate anecdotal information and in particular, your visions for what future we can envision together.