Failing at breastfeeding can often turn usually compassionate and courteous family members into bitter, green-eyed saboteurs. When a headstrong member of the group ruptures the status quo by successfully breastfeeding, the rest of the kin can close ranks on her. Her success makes them look bad.
This is the story of Marcia, a South African currently residing with her husband and their two children in France. Thousands of miles away from her native country and her own supportive family, Marcia faced an array breastfeeding hurdles which she overcame under the watchful resentment of her in-laws:
My Wise Mother
Although my mother breastfed all her children, which added up to 8 years of her life in total, it never occurred to me as something I would do. I did not want to end up looking like her with a child stuck to my breast for the rest of my life! It was only when I got pregnant with my son and started researching that I realized breastfeeding was something I was going to do. The line “Breast is best” stuck on me and because I wanted the absolute best for my baby, my mind was made up. I was going to do it and that was it!
Before the birth of my son my mother gave me a crash course in breastfeeding. She said no matter what you are being told, for example: “Your supply is low, your milk is pale, your baby seems sickly/ constantly hungry/ underweight”, NONE of these are true! You just keep on feeding. So I thought of Dori from Finding Nemo and instead of singing “Just keep swimming” I replaced it with “Just keep feeding. Just keep feeding.”
… and so I did
- In NICU (my son spend his first 2 nights there after struggling to regulate his body temperature because he was born prematurely at 35 weeks);
- Whilst recovering from a c-section;
- Through mastitis;
- Through growth spurts (where I was feeding every 2nd hour round the clock);
- In numerous foreign countries;
- On airplanes, in the family bed, in the bath, while studying, while asleep;
- Thousands of miles from home in a country where nobody spoke the same language as me, which meant no medical professionals to turn to;
- With no friends or family close by to take over when I felt tired, down or just wanted a break;
- Alone when my husband would be out of town (he is a professional rugby player and being a rugby widow is nothing new to me).
One particular hurdle has undoubtedly strengthened my resolve in breastfeeding perhaps more than any other: discovering that I have unsupportive, uninformed and jealous in-laws.
My in-laws loved getting into a breastfeeding debate with me. However the more they tried to put me off, the stronger I felt about nursing. I certainly became a breastfeeding advocate with time.
I have researched the excuses they come up with for not breastfeeding but can’t find the answers. One said she had really bad inverted nipples. The nipples shields did not even help so she pumped for the first 6 weeks after the birth of her baby but then eventually gave up because of mastitis. With her second child she said she could not breastfeed even if she wanted to (needless to say she did not even attempt it that time) because the baby had reflux and some twist in her intestines, which meant she could not keep the milk down. She ended up giving her baby thickened formula.
My mother in law is the worst of all. She likes claiming that it’s easier to breastfeed for someone who is small chested than someone with big breasts. This is now her excuse for her 2 daughters giving it up so soon. I keep telling her that all the women in my family (my mother, aunt and grandmother) have huge boobs and they all managed feeding for a long time… and a lot of African black women are big chested as this runs in their genes. She says although the anatomy of breasts are all the same, small boobs ‘handle easier.’ As I type it here I just realize again what I lame excuse it is!
I pushed through despite them and breastfed my two children for 15 months and 12 months respectively. I feel so proud about this. Neither of them have ever had any of the common childhood illnesses like bronchitis, tonsillitis, middle ear infection or gastritis. They are confident and popular. They achieve their milestones before the others and they are part of a happy loving home.
My view on breastfeeding is that it is something flexible and convenient. You can do it even though you have never been pregnant (so even adopting mothers can do it), through times of hardship, war, hunger, sickness etc. You can do it even if you have to go back to work. You can do it with triplets, with implants, being pregnant, small chested, big chested etc. You don’t have to constantly stress about what you are eating or be under the impression you can’t have a glass of wine. These are all old wife tales proven to be untrue. You can breastfeed no matter who you are and you should! The benefits are endless!”
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