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I Am Lunch

Wednesday 2 August 2023
I became a mom in February this year, and after what seemed like an eternity and a second at the same time, it was time for me to return to work. After four glorious months spent bonding with my child, I was faced with what I am certain most mothers are faced with, many long before the 4-month mark; the decision to introduce solids or manage a tight schedule of expressing while at work.

I could just see it: me sitting in a small office pumping away, while thinking of my daughter many kilometers away, being fed by someone who is, well, not me.

But my child outright refuses the bottle because she knows it is not the real deal. This, coupled with our alignment to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendation to exclusively breastfeed an infant for 6 months, means I was granted the support to continue working entirely from home for 2 months, so that I would not have to make this decision and could continue to exclusively breastfeed.

If you’re especially lucky, your milk comes in and you can breastfeed almost immediately after birth. What doesn’t come so naturally, is the how of all of it. I spent the first 6 weeks learning new tricks, getting over the pain, figuring out the holds. I understand now why so many mothers may give up on breast feeding before the 6 weeks mark, and all I can do is encourage those who want to, to keep going.

Alright, so now I know what I am doing, I could do this blindfolded, or in complete dark at 2 am, as I so often do. Time to learn a new skill: being a full-time working mom at home, breastfeeding.
Thank heavens for online meetings without cameras! (Though even when the camera is on, my colleagues haven’t noticed).

Juggling a feeding schedule while working at home is easy: camera off, pillow under the arm, and we’re good to go. If I don’t have a meeting, I can go to her room, and we enjoy a slower luncheon together. But as many jobs do, I am often required to be somewhere to work in person.  This is where it gets tricky. Timing your arrival, how long you stay, your getaway – and let’s hope there is no traffic – is no easy feat. The constant fear my child may wake up earlier than planned, demanding food, while I am very far away, is daunting.

A few of days ago I attended our Annual General Meeting, alongside our board and key stakeholders, 40km away from home. The event posed an opportunity to celebrate our achievements and take a critical look at where we can improve. For me, it was an opportunity to venture out of the house, meet colleagues old and new, and get some much-needed Vitamin D.

Before too long, I had to start my exit. As the clock started inching towards 1pm, my mind was racing calculating the distance to get home, then to settle in, hopefully without any further delay to her feeding schedule. Certainly, we would not want a baby going hungry on the first day of National Breastfeeding Week!

Sorry, I must leave - I AM lunch!

I am cognizant that I write this from a position of extreme privilege; that I have been afforded the opportunity to stay at home with my child while working. Shockingly, but not surprisingly, according to the WHO, more than half a billion women worldwide are not given essential maternity protection globally, only 20% of countries require employers to provide employees with paid breaks and facilities for breastfeeding or expressing milk, and fewer than half of infants under 6 months of age are exclusively breastfed. This is unsurprising, considering South Africa’s informal economy, but it should be, we should be enraged!
The journey into motherhood has been a sweet one, my breastfeeding journey was padded with knowledge gained over the years during my time at Save the Children South Africa. Even as I write this, nearing her 6-month birthday in August, I know that our breastfeeding journey is not over, soon I’ll need to start introducing solids, preparing her for longer stretches without me at home.  There is still an immense amount of growth that she and I will need to navigate together. I am confident that we’ll be able to tackle any hurdle together, I only wish every mother could be afforded the same.