The Dark Tale of Slave Wet Nurses
History in its essence is a right of passage, it shows triumphs but most important mistakes. Mistakes that cannot be changed or erased but however can be learned from, we can all agree it is not as simple as that but one has to know.
When you know, you know…
As luck would have it Africa carries one of the most controversial pasts around, speaking of it makes some uneasy but that it cannot and should not stop us from bettering ourselves with its knowledge.
The era of the Slave Trade was a dark time for us Africans; from those left behind to those taken.
It is estimated that almost 12million Africans were forced onto slave ships between the 15th and 18th centuries.
When most talk about slavery it is usually about the economic and political effects, these are important but overshadow the dark social implications faced by the Negro woman in particular.
This article is going to attempt to shed light on the lives of Negro mothers and more specifically how this group was forced to breastfeed white children at the expense of their own offspring in the act known as ‘wet nursing’.
First of all, a wet nurse is defined as;
“a lactating woman who breastfeeds a child that’s not her own.”
This practice has been around since the biblical era, the case of Moses if one remembers, involves the then baby Moses nurtured by a Hebrew wet nurse. It can hardly be called rare or astonishing field but the difference in the situation of these black mothers was that they were forced to breastfeed their master’s children often at the expense of their own children who would even die of hunger.
Breastfeeding during the days of slavery was frowned upon (much as public breastfeeding is demonized today, a slippery slope we tread); it was seen as demeaning and shunned by communities.
Why, as one might ask, was the act of feeding one’s baby is seen so negatively?
From what I could gather it does now as it did then; it just made people uncomfortable.
Doctors in the times of Slavery were paid to give negative reports on breastfeeding for women, an act they were sure to regret when slave babies grew strong and white babies died. This turn of events lead to Negro mothers being forced to feed their owner’s children. White mothers used this practice as a way to avoid breastfeeding in a bid to maintain their figures.
As soon as a Negro woman had a child she was quickly assigned to a white mother. To add to the horror, doctors discovered continuous sucking of a sexually active female breast stimulated lactation. Even the childless maidens were in trouble.
In the documentary, ‘Documenting the American South’ a Negro nurse told her story where she was technically free but poverty subjected her to the wet nurse career. She worked over 12 hours a day, received $10 a month and saw her own children once in two weeks. The experience was described as dehumanizing and left these wet nurses at the mercy of their masters who had their ways with them.
This is just a glimpse into the unimaginable lives of those who came before us, knowledge is power and understanding their past struggles protects us from history repeating itself.