Before I put Sojourner down for a nap about a half hour ago, I rocked her in my arms like I normally do, and looked into her warm, brown eyes. She smiled at me, like she normally does, and I buried my face in her hair, and I cried.
She is a developing human being who trusts me completely, who depends on us entirely to keep her safe and alive. After I delivered Sojourner in October, I hemorrhaged and had to get a blood transfusion. Something in that process disrupted my ability to produce milk; because I’d fully expected to breastfeed, it took close to two months for me to come to terms emotionally with the fact that I was going to have to formula-feed my child.
Like every other major, baby-related purchase, I researched formulas like a madwoman: Which was closest to breastmilk? Which had the full nutrition she needed to thrive and was produced using the safest methods? I decided on an expensive organic formula. Sure, it was going to hit our pocket, but I was determined to give her the best.
Just mix with water.
And since I’ve accepted that I’m a bottle-feeding mama, I hadn’t thought much about it since.
Until this morning, when I looked at Journey’s smiling, trusting face and I thought, “What must it feel like to be a mother of a young child in Flint right now?”
I’m from Flint, and much of my family still lives there. My 91-year-old grandmother was sickened by the water over a year ago, and my 80-year-old Nana recently expressed fear of taking baths after her skin began peeling from head to toe. Nana has never trusted the water anyway and has been boiling her cooking and drinking water at least as long as I’ve been alive.
But now boiling the water isn’t enough.
We’re in America, and generally speaking, we trust that our infrastructure is intact. We trust that our water is safe to drink (do travelers outside the U.S. check their government websites for warnings about America’s water safety, like we do when traveling to Mexico or Kenya?). We trust that our elected officials will take an interest in our welfare, that our governments won’t take actions that end up poisoning us. We trust that the water coming out of our taps is drinkable, and when we tell our children that we’ll never let anyone hurt them, they trust us.
So how must it feel to stare at the baby in your arms and know that, despite everything you’ve done to protect her — the expensive crib, the vaccines, the prenatal vitamins, barking at family and friends to wash their hands and then spending worrying nights watching her breathe when she catches her first cold — you’ve been bathing her and feeding her with toxic waste?
My heart is breaking. Everyone needs to be paying attention to this.
About the Author: Rae Dunnaville is a labor communicator and mother who loves writing, photography, and progressive issues. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland with her husband and daughter. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter (@RaeMarvelous) or Pinterest.