Gap Model Adaora Akubilo-Cobb on Her New Normal

When it was my turn to “get back to business” after bearing my baby boy, mommy guilt, challenges expressing milk, and insecurities about my baby weight threatened to disrupt my groove before it even began.

I remember the first casting that I received a mere three weeks after having my scheduled C-section. I was still in immense physical pain from the surgery. Areas of my body were still filled out in ways that contradicted the measurements on my comp card, and the prospect of leaving my new infant even for 20 minutes (let alone five-plus hours) filled me with dread. I live in Connecticut; the casting was in New York. Embarking on this multi-mode commute would be in total violation of the activity instructions handed to me at the time of my hospital discharge. However, the money was too good to ignore.

I tried to rationalize it further. If I booked the job I wouldn’t be financially burdened for at least five months while adjusting to motherhood. Convenient right? I assessed the milk supply that I pumped arduously over the past couple of days. It wasn’t impressive, but I believed it would be adequate. I reassured myself that this would be the perfect opportunity for him to assimilate to the bottle, because as one of my girlfriends adamantly advised, “introduce the bottle early or he’ll reject it entirely and be attached to your breast all of the time!” I also considered the fact that he would be in the loving care of my husband.

I finally made the decision to go. My husband did his best to show his support, even though I sensed that he was concerned. Before I started second-guessing myself I was in my car and evading every bump on the road to the train station.

As much as I missed my baby, I tried not to check in every hour because it was just easier for me to cope. During one call my husband informed me that they were getting through the last bottle. I was heading back to the train station and wouldn’t be getting home for at least another two hours, but I did my best not to panic or characterize myself as the world’s worst mom.

When I got home I rocked and nursed him and did not want to stop until he had the words to say, “No more mommy!” I didn’t end up booking the job, which doubled my guilt of leaving him as well as putting his nutritional wellbeing and my recovery at risk. Nonetheless, it was a defining experience that strengthened my resolve. I would need to pump more frequently no matter how insufficient the amount was, or I would have to keep my baby with me at all times.

I was really put to the test about three months later when I had my first booking. In spite of my efforts—meeting with a lactation nurse, avoiding stress, drinking lots of water, and experimenting with lactation tea, etc—I still wasn’t producing enough milk to express and store.

Fortunately, my clients were totally understanding and allowed me to bring him along. I nursed him openly on set and in that moment I felt like I ran the world.

Adaora Akubilo-CobbThe Gap casting was like any other casting. My best friend (aka the chief of my proverbial village) supervised the little one, now a toddler, while I was called in to have my pictures taken. The casting director took notice of him, which didn’t seem unusual. I was used to the attention that he got from casting directors, models, and clients. A few days later my agent asked me to send over pictures of us together. We were both being considered for the Gap Love campaign, and I was over the moon.

When I found out that we booked it I felt victorious. For months I had unconventionally toted my baby along with me to my castings, slightly self-conscience and anxious of the potential backlash. On the surface most people embraced us, but I shared some of the apprehensions that friends had.

Would I be discriminated against? Would my age be called into question? Did I suddenly not fit the image of the brands that I was being presented to? Did I just look plain crazy?

I also struggled with a new guilt. I wondered if I was depriving my son of a structured stable environment that all the experts advocated for. Was I being selfish bringing him to work with me? He was no longer exclusively breastfeeding so having me or my milk all the time wasn’t crucial.

However, with motherhood I have learned to trust my maternal instincts and to absorb the significance of defining my own standards. Going to work with mommy and working with her occasionally is what he knows. When strangers compliment me on what a good and calm baby he is on the train, how secure he is around others, or when mothers around the world are inspired by the image of me nursing him in the Gap campaign, I am reassured that our “new normal” is healthy.

Adaora Akubilo-Cobb

Adaora Akubilo-Cobb is a working mom and wife. She has been a model for over 10 years and recently got the remarkable opportunity to merge work and motherhood in a shoot for Gap where she is captured breastfeeding her son. Adaora is also a freelancer who enjoys serving up real stories about parenting, health, faith, and fashion/beauty.