These photos are more than just those of a mother breastfeeding and pumping and providing for her child. These photos show us what motherhood in the military looks like. These photos show us a mother who wears her uniform with honor and professionalism while giving her children the very best start in life. These photos are of Mary Fessner-Tarjani, TSGT in the United States Air Force Reserve, and mother to 3 breastfed children.
BFinCB: Tell me a little bit about yourself and why you joined the military.
Mary: I’m a classically-trained musician, having bachelors and masters degrees in music. I auditioned for the Air Force Bands program as a clarinetist and was thrilled to win the audition. After that, I enlisted in the US Air Force and went to basic training at the age of 29. After 8 years of Active Duty, I decided to transition to the Reserves and cross-trained to Education & Training, where I currently serve as a Unit Training Manager. This has been a good change for our family.
BFinCB: Why did you decide to breastfeed?
Mary: My mother breastfed my sisters and me, and my sister breastfed her children, so it seemed like the normal thing to do. I also served with some fantastic Airmen whom I had seen pumping milk for their little ones, so I realized it was possible to continue breastfeeding after returning to work. I’ve nursed all three of my children while serving, and the younger two are currently tandem nursing.
BFinCB: What has your experience of breastfeeding in the military been like?
Mary: It has been extremely challenging balancing work and motherhood, but I have been fortunate to have the support of my commanders and direct supervisors, both on Active Duty and as a Reservist. When my first two children were infants, the CDC was directly across the street from the building where I worked. I nursed them at lunch time, and often I was able to directly nurse them other times, too, which cut down on how much pumping I needed to do. I went TDY frequently, and oftentimes my family was able to come along, which made it so much easier! (I would encourage mothers to explore the possibility of bringing baby with them when going to training or school. There may be a way to make it work!) For the times we were separated, I pumped to keep up my supply, and once I even sent milk home via FedEx.
Our longest separation was when I cross-trained and went to tech school for 7 weeks. At this time I had a nursing toddler, and I was trying to keep up my supply. I talked to the instructor immediately about finding a place to pump at lunch time, and as it turned out, there were two other moms in my class also pumping (for infants). We were able to support each other and advocate for a space, and in their case, adequate breaks, to pump.
BFinCB: How did you come to establish a support group for your base?
Mary: I realized after my second child was born that we needed a support group for the military community. We face some unique challenges that those not in the military do not always understand. Another SSgt on base and I founded an independent breastfeeding support group in 2012 targeted to our Airmen and their spouses. Soon after this, I discovered Breastfeeding USA, a mother-to-mother support organization. I applied to take their comprehensive training course, and became an accredited Breastfeeding Counselor after completing it in 2013. We then converted our group to a chapter of Breastfeeding USA. It has been very successful. We have monthly meetings and an active Facebook group. Many moms have benefited from having this kind of support and have been able to reach their breastfeeding goals. I would suggest all mothers seek out a support group, such as Breastfeeding USA or La Leche League. (For more info about Breastfeeding USA, see https://breastfeedingusa.org/ or to find a Breastfeeding USA Counselor, see https://breastfeedingusa.org/content/article/find-breastfeeding-counselor )
BFinCB: What are your thoughts on breastfeeding in uniform?
Mary: I think the military tries to promote strong families, and what better way is there to strengthen the mother-child relationship than through breastfeeding? Parenting and the uniform are intertwined—you can’t separate the two, so I see no conflict. It’s a matter of educating people that this is the normal way for babies to eat. Hopefully with time, people will get used to seeing babies nurse, whether in uniform or not.
Thank you Mary for sharing your thoughts on breastfeeding, motherhood and the military and for letting us know about your efforts to start a support group for active moms on your base. Above all, thank you for Giving the Breast for Baby and Country!
This is the third in a series of posts highlighting mothers in the military who are breastfeeding in combat boots. If you would like to be a part of this series, please send an email to BFinCB@icloud.com with your story and photo(s). Did you like this post? Leave a comment below.