Motherhood seen through different eyes During my seven years at HHI, I have often left shelters in awe of the strength of the families we serve, especially the mothers, who amidst stress and chaos continue to nurture and promote their children’s health and development.

It wasn’t until I became a mother that I appreciated just how challenging this can be. The birth of my daughter, Téa Linda Johnson, changed my life. While bonding with her during maternity leave, I often thought of our moms in shelter as I breastfed every 90 minutes every day and paced the floor, rocking her while she screamed at 11 p.m. every night for the first three months. How do moms in shelter do it? Could I do it if I lived in shelter? Loving, nurturing and feeding your baby is important to any mother, but how much more challenging is it for a mother living in shelter with a newborn?

Téa has taught me so much and helped me to appreciate and respect even more the resilience of mothers who will not let anything get in the way of raising their children to be happy and healthy. My new experience as a mom has encouraged within me a greater sense of advocacy to help mothers with newborns in shelter, especially around breastfeeding. Toward this end, the HHI Annual Day of Dialogue, held Nov. 10, 2014, tackled the topic of breastfeeding in shelter: A Healthy Start: Breastfeeding in Emergency Housing – Implications for Policy & Practice.

— Melissa Johnson, M.S.W.