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Milky Cuddles: November 2015

Friday, 27 November 2015

It Takes a Village

I’ve had an easy introduction to life as a mum. Mostly because I haven’t been doing it on my own. I’ve heard people with newborns say they struggle to find time to shower or cook. Yet I haven’t really had that experience. I probably have been spoilt with help.

When our daughter was a little 8 week old we packed up our house and went to stay with my parents. Then three weeks later we moved countries and moved in with my in-laws for two months. So, by the time we move again we will have spent three out of the first five months of our daughter’s life living in community.

Living in community is good for babies I can see. Our daughter always has someone to hold her, to play with her, to give her the attention she needs to learn and develop and grow. And she is growing into the friendliest baby – happy to be held by anyone, full of smiles. And it’s good for us as new parents, because let’s face it, few new parents know what to do, or how to get their child to sleep. Our baby doesn’t cry much, but when she does I find myself thinking ‘what is wrong with you?’, ‘I don’t know how to help you’ or ‘why wont you go to sleep???’. And in those moments it is nice to know I’m not standing (because, as those with babies will know, babies always want you to stand…), singing to my child alone.

This is a special time for our family and it feels like everyone is winning. I’ve had many times where I have thought – this is exactly how things are supposed to be, we were never supposed to raise children on our own. As the African proverb says – it takes a village to raise a child. My brother in law loves playing with Nala, singing to her and teaching her to ‘play the drums’. Often she wont let you put her down. So while he creates new games for her and makes her laugh, he doesn’t realise just how helpful he is being.

And yet in our society we believe so much in the nuclear family – mum, dad and children. It puts a lot of pressure on two people to be everything their children need, to constantly entertain them, to make enough money to pay the bills, to manage a household. Maybe this is one of the factors that makes post natal depression rates so high.

But, while I can see that this time is good, it doesn’t feel like real life to me. It feels like a break, a holiday, a transition. It feels like by raising Nala in community, I haven’t been able to work out who we are as a family of three. And I’ve found myself craving to set ourselves up as our own family, to have a place that feels like our home, to share secret conversations in our lounge room again. And so we’ve chosen to move to our own place, and most of the time I can’t wait.

But then Nala has a particularly unsettled night and Gogo (Granny) ties her to her back and she snuggles in and falls asleep. And I think ‘how are we going to get her to sleep when we are on our own?’.

On Gogo's back

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Silent Night. Liquid Gold.

The world is quiet. It is still and dark. But there is a enough light for me to see my daughter's face, full of contentment as she gulps down milk. I watch her suck. I see movement from her cheeks all the way down her throat to her stomach filling up. Her tiny fingers grasp at my hair. It is our nightly ritual, our special time. When it is just the two of us.

She is three months old and in those three months I have watched her grow and grow and grow. Her body is chubby and full of rolls. She is a picture of good health, thriving and strong. Since the day she was born the only thing she has eaten is my milk. And when I look at her I feel so proud. My body created her and my milk is growing her.

It amazes me that from birth she knew exactly what to do and where to get food. She had never seen another baby feed before, but her tiny, wet hands scratched at my chest and she moved around until she pretty much found my nipple on her own and she had her first feed.

Now breastfeeding is how I spend my days. Day in, day out. In bed, on the couch, at a café, at the bank, at a park, in the car, at a wedding, at a funeral. Anywhere, anytime. I feel the two of us are part of a special club, that no one else can help with or join. That I have something that no one else can give her. That my daughter really needs me.


Many mums, who have had a difficult experience, may think I’m delusional saying how wonderful breastfeeding is, when really they know it’s exhausting, painful and hard. And it was hard for me too. I had so much trouble the first 9 weeks of my daughter’s life. I had an oversupply, repeat mastitis and a recurrent breast abscess. I was constantly at the hospital. Even when my daughter slept through the night I couldn’t because I would wake up in puddles of milk and so much pain. I have forgotten how many courses of antibiotics I had to take. I had two breast specialists suggest I give up on feeding. In one way hearing these words was a great relief - they gave me permission to put my body's needs first, they were an acknowledgement that what I was going through was hard, they gave me a way out. And in another way they made me even more sure that I wanted to persist - to continue doing what I knew my body could do, to not give up.

I didn’t continue out of pride, or because I’d been told ‘breast is best’, or out of pressure to be the perfect mum. I continued because of the look of satisfaction and peace on my daughter’s face after every feed, when she was ‘milk drunk’. I continued because I love the closeness of our feeds, the comfort that it gives us both. I continued because of how cute she is when she drinks too fast and ends up totally puffed out and gasping for air. I continued because even though I had trouble, there’s no way I could give it up, because I felt proud of what my body could do. And I continued because it got easier, and better, and my troubles went away. And when they did I was left with just the good bits – the closeness, the convenience, the knowledge that my body is growing a precious life and of course the special (sleepy) moments in the middle of the night.

Once I eventually got into a rhythm I started to love breast feeding, it became easy and I plan to continue for as long as I can. My problems were caused by an oversupply of milk. I decided to use my oversupply to do something good for the world, so I recently signed up to be a milk donor. Each morning I express an extra bottle of milk, which is donated to abandoned babies in Durban who are waiting to be adopted. It's organised by iThemba Lethu, which you can read about here. I've come to feel very passionate about breast feeding, so knowing my milk is helping develop the immune system and health of very vulnerable babies is a wonderful feeling. They don't call it liquid gold for nothing!