Of course when I gave birth to Vito, I was in for a shock. Breastfeeding is just about one of the most difficult, most painful things I've ever experienced! When Iñigo was born, I thought, "Second time around. This should be easier." Hell, no. It was even worse! I keep telling people, "I would rather give birth than breastfeed." Yes, it's that bad. But, hey, I breastfed both kids successfully. I'm still breastfeeding Iñigo actually. Breastfeeding is a skill that mommy and baby must learn. Once mastered, only then does it become the easiest thing in the world.
|Nursing 3-month-old Iñigo at Power Plant. No cover. I'm a shameless hussy.|
So here I was feeling smug about being such a fabulous breastfeeding mom. I have my breastfeeding clothes, my nursing covers, my breast pumps (one electric, one manual), my breast pads, my nursing bras, my bottles, my lactation aids. When I experienced trouble with nursing, I turned to books, online resources, videos. When I went back to work, I had my own office to pump milk in comfort, the pantry ref to store my milk and a cooler for transporting my precious milk back home. I am a fully equipped breastfeeding mommy! And it crossed my mind that my success in breastfeeding comes from my money. And it crossed my mind yet again that maybe the reason why many poor moms don't breastfeed is because they can't afford it.
One day, a few months after giving birth to Vito, I was at an Air21 to ship a package. The lady there was pregnant at the same time I was pregnant so I asked her how her baby was doing. She said her baby girl was doing well, just a bit on the skinny side. I told her that fat babies are not necessarily healthy babies and added that my Vito, who was born a few days before her daughter was born, wasn't fat either. "It's the breast milk," I assured her. "Hindi tumataba nang grabe ang baby na dumedede sa ina." And she replied that didn't feed her baby breast milk. She stopped nursing after 2 weeks because she had to go back to work. She said her breasts became so engorged, she had a high fever but she had to work. So she just wrapped her breasts tight in plastic and hoped the pain and swelling would go away.
"Pang-mayaman lang po yang pagpapadede," she laughed at me. "Wala po akong pump na sinasabi niyo. Kung meron man, saan po ako gagawa nun? Nakabantay po ako dito maghapon. Mas lalong di ko pwede pisilin yung dede ko para lang makakuha ng gatas. Wala rin po akong lalagyanan. Mapapanis lang po. Mas mura pa ang Bear Brand. Pwede na yun."
It's hard to be smug after you hear that.
The truth is breast milk is the best food for our babies. But there's also that truth that not every mother find providing that milk easy or without cost. If mothers didn't have to work, then no issue. We can all just stay home and breastfeed our children. No excuses! But many mothers need to work—either the father is absent or isn't earning enough. For these mothers, what is the solution?
I honestly don't know.
This Breastfeeding Awareness Month, my Facebook feed is filled with calls to attend breastfeeding classes at this posh hospital, to buy tickets to this breastfeeding rock star's talk, to avail of special discounts on breastfeeding paraphernalia, to pressure malls and other public places to build comfortable nursing stations with nice chairs and electric sockets and refrigerators, to condemn forever all moms who feed their babies formula. This is all good, of course. All good to us fabulously lucky mommies.
I'm not saying we should stop talking about breastfeeding. I'm forever going to be an advocate! I am in fact in the middle of editing a book on breastfeeding. But I know I'm really lucky. And that luck makes me feel so bad for those who aren't because I really don't know how to help them.
I told the Air21 lady, "Bilhan kita ng manual pump!" And I thought as I said that, "What are you doing? A manual pump is still a few thousand pesos! You have to buy her bottles and a cooler, too!" But I didn't need to worry because she refused my offer. She just laughed at me again. "Wag na, ma'am. Nanakawin lang yan. Salamat na lang po. Masaya na po anak ko sa Bear Brand."
I never went back to that Air21 shop. I was afraid of her. I didn't want to see her anger and scorn and shame and guilt. I know she felt that because when she laughed at me, I looked at her and knew what she was screaming at me silently: "Keep your fucking bleeding heart to yourself, bitch. You don't tell me what to feed my child!"