Breastfeeding and a Woman Named Hazel

Photography: Brandi Johnson

By Annie Reneau

My children owe a huge debt of gratitude to a woman they’ve never met. In fact, I’ve never met her myself. I don’t even know if she’s still living. All I know is that she was from New Zealand, her name was Hazel, and more than forty years ago she opened my mother’s world to the normality of breastfeeding.

My mom was born in the 1940s, during the era when formula was touted as superior to breastmilk. Formula feeding was the norm, and it’s what my mom knew. I’m not sure if she ever even gave it much thought.

Then, while living overseas in her 20s, my mom met a woman named Hazel. From mom’s descriptions of her, Hazel was a bit of a hippie mama. She had a sheepskin she’d lay her baby on, which my mom thought was awesome. And she breastfed her baby in front of my mom without any hesitation or embarrassment or shyness.

Up to this point, my mom had never really been exposed to breastfeeding. Due to the pervasive culture at the time, she found it a bit shocking at first. But that shock quickly turned to admiration and a general feeling of “rightness”. My mom was struck by how normal and natural the whole thing was. Hazel opened up a whole new paradigm for my mom, purely by breastfeeding in public without any qualms or fanfare. She just did it. No big deal.

Thanks to Hazel, my mom breastfed my older brother for nine months (at which point she got comments like “Are you going to breastfeed him when he goes to college?”). Then she breastfed me for 2 1/2 years, and my little brother longer than that. She became a La Leche League leader. Then she became a Labor and Delivery nurse, and helped new moms with lactation. Last year, she became an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) and now works solely as a lactation consultant and breastfeeding educator. Hazel started my mom on a life path that has brought her great satisfaction and helped who-knows-how-many moms get started breastfeeding.

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