One of the questions I frequently get asked by strangers that pass me on the path, is whether I’m breastfeeding. At first I thought this slightly strange. I’ve sat through multiple lessons from our community health teacher when I accompanied her to the village or on medical outreaches about breastfeeding. It includes how to express milk, the benefits and an admonition to give each child only mother’s milk until six months. Before children, I absorbed these lessons as a matter of choice. If the mother simply made the choice to breastfeed her baby for that long, lo it would be so! Although I’m sure they’re partly wondering how white people feed their babies, they also knew something I did not. My personal experience has thoroughly enlightened me to previously unknown difficulties.
Carmel and I have had issues with latching and milk supply from the beginning. Thankfully God has given me periods of relief, but it has never been the idyllic, bonding experience that I envisioned. When in the States, we received countless help from a support group, artificial means of pumping and feeding said milk. The phrase, “It’s no use crying over spilt milk” took on entirely new meaning. I had a hungry baby that needed to be fed and I was unable to do it as nature had provided. It was humbling and exhausting. When we arrived in Uganda, things seemed to settle down a bit, but as she continues to grow and so does her need my body takes time to catch up. This means I’ve spent numerous hours consulting with lactation consultants and reading endless blogs and websites with tips and cure-alls.
I find the advice I received almost impossible to translate to this culture. Hygiene is such that pumping and bottle feeding would most likely result in a child quickly dying from disease. There is no such thing as a nipple shield here, either the child figures it out or they don’t. To maintain supply, we’re told to drink lots of water and make sure to rest during the day. Drinking water has to be carried from the nearest borehole. I would not be surprised to find that the entire population lives in a state of mild-extreme dehydration their entire lives. In a culture where people live by the work of their hands in the field, where work is dictated by the season, how can I tell someone to rest today and starve tomorrow?
Since our return, four of our workers have had babies. We rejoice with them and laugh together about how the children are keeping us up at night. When day five rolls around and they tell me there is no milk so they are feeding the child porridge I no longer frown and lament that no one listens when we teach. I ache with them and applaud their efforts to keep their child alive.