The look on the woman’s face as my friend, Mary, who is just three months into her motherhood journey, brought out the paraphernalia for her daughter’s food was one that stopped her in her tracks.
She did not know when she started to put everything back inside the bag and take her baby from the woman, who was a member of her husband’s extended family. But not before the woman let her know about the “poison” she was giving her baby, their daughter.
“So, you cannot breastfeed her shey? Why do you think God gave you breasts, for fancy abi? Our baby is just three months old and already you are giving her poison.”
“You think the thing inside this tin is the same as the one in your breast? As long as I’m here, you will not give her that thing. And your husband agreed to this crazy idea? Haa, I pity you.” She ranted.
Mary was shaking with both anger and embarrassment. Many people had turned in their direction and were wondering what was happening. This was the first time, Mary was stepping out of her house with the baby since she came back home from the hospital with her baby, and this was the worst kind of welcome she would have expected.
Her husband’s family was traditional in the sense that a new born baby must not see the sun for the first three months of its life. It did not matter that this is 2016 or that she was in paid employment, she stayed home for that length of time and the first people she went to visit were her husband’s people and this had happened.
She was due to return to work the following Monday and had been trying to get her baby used to baby formula, since she never took breastmilk from bottle. She was so dejected and this was worsened by the fact that they couldn’t leave early but spent the whole day there, so she had to behave as though what had happened earlier in the day didn’t matter.
What was worse was the fact that she breastfed while she was there and knew that would affect her milk supply the next day, when she was billed to resume; leaky shirts galore.
Mary has since resumed work, her baby has resumed her baby formula, which she is fine with, but they won’t be seeing her brake light at her husband’s family gatherings anytime soon. And I don’t blame her. No one likes to be in a place where they are castigated for their choices publicly.
There are so many expectations where women are concerned in society; you must give birth vaginally to be considered a real mother; you must breastfeed your child, it’s their right and you just have to do it; you must back them…the list goes on! All of these are even turned into a song in Yoruba, all to eulogise the mother. All well and nice, but not everyone will live up to those “standards” and it doesn’t mean they are any less of a mother like the “conventional custodians” who happen to the women would have you believe.
It took Yemi’s husband standing up to the breastfeeding bullies before they left his wife alone. Yemi was never able to breastfeed her baby for some reason. Her milk wasn’t just coming in, so after three days of waiting and frustration on everyone’s side, they had settled on a baby formula and finally, their new born was sleeping on a full tummy.
That was when Yemi was told she would have to relocate to her father-in-law’s hometown residence for the naming ceremony and come back home a week later. Even though it did not go down well with her, but as they said, it was their first child and it was customary to have the christening ceremony in her husband’s father’s house, so they left town, with the newborn in tow.
Every single person, big or small, had an opinion about how she fed the baby, carried the baby, dressed the baby. They all had an idea of how she should be doing things. The worst reaction was the fact that she wasn’t breastfeeding. It was a grave crime to her mother-in-law, who plied her with more ogi and herbal mixture (that supposedly induce milk) than she could take.
Before the day of the christening itself, she had taken to feeding her child inside her room and only passing him to the Grandma afterwards. But on the naming ceremony, Yemi was told to feed her baby inside the room, so she would not embarrass the family.
Her husband had been there when this happened and he had gotten angry with his mother, which had led into a verbal interchange between mother and son, over what was more important; that the baby was fed or the means by which he got that nourishment. Mama wouldn’t make a choice, just that breast milk was the best and this was a shame to their family that his wife was not able to breastfeed.
“If he starts acting out, well we all know what he was fed while he was a baby. You don’t know that children who are breastfed always show more concern for their parents? It was because I breastfed you, that is why you are like this.” She had gone on and on.
Of course, she would always win; no one can win this kind of argument. They did not spend the expected one week after the baby was named, as the very next day, they were on their way back home and at last everyone heaved a sigh of relief. No more hiding to feed her baby and no one to offend by feeding her baby. What a tight spot that must have been for Yemi.
It’s sad but these things happen and they only make it harder for women to be true to themselves. Not everyone is able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons, ranging from physical to physiological reasons, and that is not something they should be castigated for.
What matters most is, the baby is not starving. So, let’s keep the show on the road and ease off the mommy-bashing.
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