We're starting a new series spotlighting the leaders behind La Leche League South Africa. Get to know the mothers, each with their own stories and breastfeeding journeys, who have a passion to support and empower fellow mothers in their journeys.
1. Shortly tell us about your motherhood and/or breastfeeding journey(s).
As a doctor, I knew how vitally important breastfeeding is, so when I had my first baby, I KNEW I would breastfeed. She was born in the maternity unit I was working in full-time at the time. So I diligently followed all the instructions for breastfeeding (immediate separation, 4 hourly formula until my milk “came in”); and my baby never breastfed. I went home bottle feeding formula, my heart breaking, and feeling like an utter failure as a mother and a woman. During my second pregnancy, my neighbour lent me a (borrowed) copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (2nd ed, the official La Leche League book). The lights came on - it made sense when I thought about the physiology I knew, and had forgotten first time around. So, following the WAB, holding my baby on my body 100% of the time, breastfeeding went easily, pleasurably and successfully, she weaned at 2.5 yrs.
2. How did you come to know about La Leche League (LLL) and how did they support you?
When she was about 2 months old, I met a woman in the park who asked me if I was breastfeeding (imagine!) and when I proudly answered yes, she invited me to a meeting of mothers being held. The meeting was led by the owner of the WAB I’d been lent (I didn’t tell her I had it until I got my own copy, it was my lifeline). The gathering agreed to call ourselves the Port Elizabeth Nursing Mothers Association. We used the WAB as our bible, and went ahead. In due course about 5 of us applied to be leaders, and so LLL of PE started a few years later….
3. What inspired/motivated you to became a LLL leader?
I’m a leader because I can’t bear the thought of mothers wanting to breastfeed and being systematically sabotaged by the system. Not only are they deprived of normal good health, but they also feel guilty, and a failure, and all because they didn’t get the information, encouragement and support they needed. Breastfeeding is not just about the food. It involved all of me, all of my baby, the family, all humanity. It involved the soul, the dark, deep mystery of life and creation. It speaks of the feminine, of our roots and source, of continuity, and of the need of trust and faith to give unstintingly and grow. In the beginning of life, and in the end, it’s relationships that matter. And the first relationship we all have is with our mother; it is the template for all our future relationships. Breastfeeding is the practical expression of physically intimate love.
4. What do you find challenging/frustrating about being a LLL leader?
The only challenge I’ve experienced is that mothers don’t seem to realise that they need LLL, and need to come to in-person meetings - preferably from before they have their baby. It makes ALL the difference to see and hear actual mothers who are succeeding in their real lives! They just don’t appreciate that the entire culture and economy is actually anti-breastfeeding, making formula seem normal; although everyone says they are “pro” breastfeeding. “Breast is Best” advice incorrectly and subtly suggests that only the very rich, determined, and lucky mothers can breastfeed; this messaging suggests that normal moms can’t, and who knows why, probably they don’t really want to (often this is untrue). Breastfeeding is just the normal way for mothers to feed, love and nurture their child - it's as normal as breathing or your heart beating. Healthcare workers are unaware that they don’t know anything about breastfeeding; they are unaware that there IS anything to know about breastfeeding. We are still not at the point where the basics of breastfeeding support and management is incorporated into the basic training of ALL healthcare providers.
5. What do you find particularly enjoyable about being a LLL leader?
I’d felt guilty about exposing my first baby to the risks of formula; but in time that changed to a feeling of anger and betrayal by the health care professionals, and our industrial culture. Now I LOVE how simply helping a mom with the latch; or with worries about her “supply” of milk can change her breastfeeding experience, her relationship with her baby, her family, her community, her country and the earth: in the present, long term future, and generations to come. Talk about making a difference!!!
6. Where will mothers come in contact with you?
I'm based in Gqeberha and involved with the LLLSA group there as well as active on our Facebook group.