Shannon Bird is a well-known mom blogger and influencer with more than 100,000 Instagram followers. For years she's been known for her style and for her family's quirky adventures, but in 2020 the mom of five became internet famous for something else.
This mama called 911 in the middle of the night because she ran out of breastmilk and asked the police to bring her formula.
The criticism was swift, but Bird's story isn't just about when it is appropriate to call emergency services—it's about who has the privilege of being able to call 911, the lack of support for mothers in America, gender roles and the erosion of the village. In short, this isn't just a story about Shannon Bird calling 911. It's a story about a society that is failing mothers.
Here's what you need to know about this viral story:
This week Bird appeared on Fox News Channel's Daily Briefing, but the 911 call happened in January.
It's been weeks since certain corners of the internet blew up after literally watching Bird (via Instagram stories) call 911 because she ran out of breastmilk and had no formula. To Bird's followers, this is old news, but it's been making the news in recent days.
On February 17 Bird appeared on Fox News Channels' Daily Briefing with her youngest child to talk about why she called 911 when she ran out of breastmilk (and had no formula in her home). As the Utah mom previously told Fox 6, "I've never not had food for my newborn. It was really scary for me."
How this mom ended up calling 911 for formula
Those watching Bird's Instagram Stories on January 28 saw this unfold in real-time. Bird was recovering from some postpartum complications at the time and a medication she was taking may have been a factor in her declining milk supply.
She found herself home alone (her husband was out of town) with her infant and her four other young children (one of whom had a cast on a broken leg). She thought she had enough pumped breastmilk in the freezer to get her though the night, but eventually realized she didn't. She also didn't have any baby formula.
In her Instagram Stories she detailed how she called friends and family for help around 2 AM but no one picked up the phone. Eventually, she called 911, telling the operator she was scared and had no way to feed her 6-week-old baby.
"I've been calling neighbors and no one will answer," she said on the call. "I've never been in this predicament ever. My milk just literally dried out. This is my fifth kid and this has never happened."
Soon, the police were at her door.
The police brought this mom milk + formula in the middle of the night
After the 911 call, Bird posted video footage of police arriving at her home to her Instagram Stories (as her doorbell cam had captured the footage). It shows Officer Brett Wagstaff of the Lone Peak police department arrive at Bird's door with a gallon of milk.
Bird explained that what she needed wasn't regular milk, but baby formula. "We'll be right back with some formula for your baby — she's adorable," Wagstaff told Bird.
Soon enough he came back with baby formula from Walmart, telling Bird, "That's the same stuff we gave my daughter when she was first born, so hopefully it doesn't upset her stomach."
Officer Wagstaff and his fellow officer Konner Gabbitas have been hailed as heroes in the recent news coverage of this story (and they are) but many critics pointed out that Bird had the privilege of being a wealthy, white mom when she called 911, and wonder if the response would be the same from mothers of color or lesser means.
The backlash over privilege + a need for postpartum support
Twenty-four hours after posting the Instagram Stories showing the police delivering baby formula, Bird announced she was taking a break from social media (she's since returned) which isn't surprising when you look at the comments on her accounts.
People were upset with her for using 911 the way she did, and upset with her husband for leaving her alone with five kids while he went out of town. When Fox News picked up the story the criticism continued.
"This is not what 911 is for... In some places, you'd get a ticket for misuse of emergency services. But, here is everyone enabling some more. Saying how heroic and brave this was. I can't even handle it," one Instagram user commented.
"Flip this narrative and you would get a drastically different response. #whiteprivilege," another noted.
That does need to be part of this conversation. There are many mothers in America who would not feel comfortable calling 911 during a parenting emergency due to institutional bias and racism. And that's not fair, because all mothers should be able to get help when they need it.
Many people have pointed out all the things Bird could have done differently in this situation—maybe she could have gotten her kids up and driven to Walmart herself, maybe she could have used Uber Eats or Instacart to order formula for delivery—but at that moment she couldn't. She was in crisis.
Calling 911 is an act of desperation, and it's a sign that the cultural expectations on women are causing a lot of maternal stress.
It takes time to recover from birth (especially if you have postpartum complications).
Breastfeeding can be very difficult (even if you've breastfed before with ease).
And when your baby is crying and you can't help them, that's terrifying.
Many commenters suggest this is a story about a woman abusing the 911 service, but maybe it's a story about a country where mothers in crisis feel they have no one to call. Maybe it's a story about how when the "village" erodes, mothers suffer the most. Maybe it's a sign that we need more postpartum supports, more education and more empathy for mothers.
[Motherly reached out to Shannon Bird for comment and will update this post if we receive a reply.]