Written by Rachel Pierre, new mom and founder of Mommifaceted, a lifestyle brand that addresses the unique challenges that Black moms face.
A village is a necessity for any mom, but for Connie Cleland, it’s essential. As we celebrate Memorial Day, we always pay special honor to the men and women who fight for us, just like our village does. Connie’s reliance on her parenting village is what she’s most thankful for when reflecting on this Memorial Day, and really every day— as the mom to a toddler and baby!
As a former service member Connie knows well the value of having support around you and being a part of a team. “As someone who was in the military and being a mom, you are so thankful for your family because they are the ones that are there for you through all life’s events,” Connie explains.
Connie’s best friend, Mindy Singh, is an example of a bestie we’d all love to have. This support is unmatched when dealing with the ups and downs of motherhood and our internal battles with health.
Last November we met Connie— a wife, Army veteran, mom of two (Isla, 2 and Declan, 5 months) and cancer fighter. It was hard for many to fathom how a pregnant mother could also be fighting cancer and her story triggered all of us to find ways to support her. Catching up with Connie revealed exciting news, after 10 long months, 5 different drugs, an induced labor, and other life ups and downs, Connie is officially past a major milestone in her cancer treatment.
In 2020, Connie was diagnosed with triple negative stage two ductal carcinoma after finding a lump in her breast. She completed four rounds of chemo before having her first mastectomy in October 2020, all while being pregnant with her second child.
She was induced into labor at 34 weeks pregnant to deliver her son, and to continue with cancer treatments, preparing her to have a second mastectomy.
For mastectomy moms, there is almost no support from lawmakers and insurance companies. Women who can’t naturally breastfeed are left to fend for themselves as the majority of support is for breast pump coverage and breastfeeding support. Coverage for formula is not the standard level of care across the country.
At first, Connie fell victim to mommy guilt when thinking about how she would not be able to breastfeed her second child, as she did with her first. “It makes me mad, why did I even feel guilty? Formula is just as good.” Connie recalled feeling guilty for the first few days after delivering her son, but changed position when she realized she should not feel any guilt. “People asked if I was breastfeeding. I don’t understand why it is such a big deal. We already have enough guilt as it is, why add this on?” said Connie.
The pressure to breastfeed is at times unintentional, especially for mothers who are literally unable to do so. Thanks to the ease of formula, Connie was able to share the experience of feeding her son with her husband. “He [Matthew] had a bond with Declan because he could feed him as well. The packaging of formula also makes things easier. You can just package it for the babysitter, too,” said Connie.
Two months after having her son, Connie’s husband had to return to work and Connie was home with her two children, while balancing additional chemo treatments for 5 more months and facing a second mastectomy after the chemo. Because Declan was a preemie with a stay in the NICU and had a bout of colic, the Cleland’s did their best to split their time between the two children so that each child felt connected to the family.
As if becoming a mother of two was not stressful enough, Connie’s postpartum journey was impacted by additional challenges as a result of her cancer diagnosis and treatment like body dysmorphia, losing her hair, and feelings of not being as “complete” as she was before.
Connie felt a sense of relief that her son was no longer being impacted by the treatments once he was born, but admits she is looking forward to crossing the finish line. “Once I have the reconstruction surgery [to repair her breasts], I will be fully complete again. Then I will feel completely done.”
The worry that your children will remember constant medical appointments, thoughts of how this disease may impact your baby, and pressure for major life changes would be unimaginable for any mother, but one can’t help but be in awe of how Connie has managed and stayed positive through it all.
She credits the support of her family and friends who constantly check on her throughout the week, especially her dad and best friend, who she met while serving in the military. “My dad calls me every day to check on me. My best friend watches my kids, treats them like they are her children, comes over after work to check on me. If she sees me struggling she’ll stay so I can nap. I don’t know what I’d do without her,” says Connie.
Anyone who follows Connie’s journey will see that she does not take reaching the end of chemo lightly, but does take pleasure in what she can. As a self professed coffee lover, Connie finds happiness in visiting her favorite local coffee shops. To help keep her mind busy, she’s started a kitchen renovation that she is doing herself. “Renovating and painting has sometimes made me forget that I have cancer,” Connie said of getting lost in what she was doing. Accomplishing work with her hands has helped keep her mind focused on one thing at a time. We also love that she celebrated her last day of chemo with ice cream!
Through it all, Connie mostly credits the support and quiet strength of her husband for constantly making her feel better when she may have felt down and uplifting her when she needed it.
Somehow, it’s Connie and her story that is uplifting us. In November, Bobbie gifted Connie with a year’s supply of formula after being nominated by her dad and sister. Friends and fans of Connie who saw the gift noted how inspiring she is, recalling how deserving the Cleland’s are. “[Connie] is honestly one of the best and most kind people I know. I’m sitting over here crying that @bobbie is doing this for her and her family. Thank you for helping my friends in this difficult time,” commented one friend.