Healthcare worker mom shares powerful breastfeeding photo to empower others

GMA TEAM
·5 min read

Dr. Michelle Wan is an emergency medicine physician in the metro Atlanta area who has been fighting on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic since it hit the U.S.

The 38-year-old is also the mother of an 8-month-old daughter, Amel Wan-McIntosh. Like so many parents during the pandemic, Wan and her husband have seen their home lives upended as they struggle to balance their careers with being the sole caregivers for Amel.

After one particularly hard day at work earlier this month, Wan penned a letter to herself and to other moms about all that they are doing during this crisis. She shared the letter alongside a photo of herself breastfeeding her daughter on Facebook, where it quickly struck a chord with so many other moms.

I posted this photo to share what it is like to be a front line worker, physician and a mom at this moment in time.

I took the photo in February, weeks before any documented cases of coronavirus were in the United States. I wanted to document my breastfeeding journey and take part in a special project featuring working mothers, shot by a local photographer, Karen Bagley.

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When the picture was taken, I had just returned to work from maternity leave and was starting to get comfortable with my new identity as a working mom. My husband and I were blessed to have in-home childcare support from both of our amazing mothers.

Just a few weeks after I took that photo, life as we knew it had changed.

Once coronavirus cases appeared in our local hospitals, it became clear that my home and my family were then at imminent risk of exposure. With my high-risk workplace and both of our mothers in the at-risk population, our moms had to isolate from us and we therefore lost our childcare.

Fast forward two more months to April. My husband and I were now well into the routine of our current new normal.

When I come home from work, I immediately get completely undressed in the garage. Then begins my meticulous and admittedly somewhat neurotic process of decontaminating anything that may have come in contact with me and as a result, the coronavirus.

This new normal is laborious and anxiety provoking with all the, "Oh no, did I touch that surface? Did I wipe that down enough?” thoughts constantly parading through my head. However, it has become somewhat of a coping mechanism in dealing with my greatest fear, bringing the virus inside my home and infecting my family.

PHOTO: Dr. Michelle Wan is an emergency medicine physician and the mother of 8-month-old Amel Wan-McIntosh. (Courtesy Karen Bagley of Significant Moments Photography)
PHOTO: Dr. Michelle Wan is an emergency medicine physician and the mother of 8-month-old Amel Wan-McIntosh. (Courtesy Karen Bagley of Significant Moments Photography)

When my husband hears the garage open, he now knows to hide away with our daughter so that she doesn’t see me, since I can’t hug or kiss them. I sprint upstairs, put my clothes directly into the washing machine and then myself directly into the shower. By this point, I am usually uncomfortable and engorged and have to pump before trying to nurse my daughter, which is even more frustrating because all I want to do is hold her and allow myself to be comforted by our cuddles.

My thoughts had now become, “Did I remember to wipe down the steering wheel and the garage doorknob? Did I accidentally touch my face when I was at work? [My husband] said he doesn’t feel well. Is he just tired, or is it coronavirus?”

Fast forward to current time.

After a particularly stressful shift, I pulled into the garage and was getting ready to do my usual decontamination routine and sprint to the shower. Instead, I just sat there.

I felt such a confusing combination of emotions and they all kind of piled on to each other. I was still processing the sadness I had just left in the ER, yet I wanted to go inside and be comforted by my family.

I also knew that I couldn’t touch them yet, so I couldn’t do that, while at the same time not wanting to go inside because I would have to be a mom and a wife and yet I was still trying to process what I had just left in the ER and then feelings of guilt for even having the feeling of not wanting to go inside yet.

MORE: 'I’ve never been away from them this long': Moms on the front lines of COVID-19

So instead, I stayed still for a moment, and I let myself have a meltdown. I decided that I was going to give myself some grace, because that was the only way I would be able to make it through this pandemic.

My new mantra is “I am doing the best I can with the tools I have to deal with this situation, and that is enough.”

Now when I look at the picture, while I still see the original intended purpose, I see and feel so much more.

I see my white coat, and I feel respect and admiration for my colleagues and all front liners risking it all every day. I see a scared, new mom determined to keep her baby safe. I see my daughter, and I feel hope for the future.

PHOTO: Dr. Michelle Wan with 8-month-old Amel Wan-McIntosh. (Courtesy Karen Bagley of Significant Moments Photography)
PHOTO: Dr. Michelle Wan with 8-month-old Amel Wan-McIntosh. (Courtesy Karen Bagley of Significant Moments Photography)

Although I was initially reluctant to share publicly, I thought it was important.

I thought maybe there is someone else out there who, like I was that night in my garage, struggling with feeling afraid and helpless against a formidable foe.

To say that I am overwhelmed and shocked by the reaction to the post is an understatement. This tells me that there are so many others with whom my post resonated and that makes me so happy.

MORE: Meet mom and daughter working together as nurses: ‘I have someone that really gets it’

I have received so many messages of support and love telling me that my post made them feel strong. Health care workers have told me how much my words impacted them and that is amazing.

This widespread reaction tells me so much about this moment in time. The fact that it has been shared internationally tells me that we are all in this together, in one way or another.

PHOTO: Dr. Michelle Wan is an emergency medicine physician and the mother of 8-month-old Amel Wan-McIntosh. (Courtesy Karen Bagley of Significant Moments Photography)
PHOTO: Dr. Michelle Wan is an emergency medicine physician and the mother of 8-month-old Amel Wan-McIntosh. (Courtesy Karen Bagley of Significant Moments Photography)

I am a new mom. I am a front liner. I refuse to give up.

I am not giving up on you. Please don’t give up on us. We can get through this, and we can do it together.

Healthcare worker mom shares powerful breastfeeding photo to empower others originally appeared on goodmorningamerica.com