Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Bronwyn Millar, Johannesburg, South Africa
Photos: Bronwyn & Ruby by Lisa Trocchi
Bronwyn relates her difficult start to breastfeeding and tells us how she came to be on the front cover of a very important book.
I was lucky enough to have a prenatal teacher who was as passionate about breastfeeding as she was about natural birth. Because of her vehemence on the matter I never allowed myself to question the fact that I was going to breastfeed, period. And I was not going to be doing it for a measly six months either, I was going to do it for 18 months. At least.
So when I was in recovery after my homebirth-turned-cesarean-section, pumped full of pethadine and trying to take in the nuances of breastfeeding Ruby, my ten-pound baby girl, I was reeling from the shattering of my idealistic birth vision. I looked down at this strange creature on my breast and all I remember thinking, desperately, was “I wish I could just rewind this and start again.”
I took nothing in. For 24 hours, I allowed Ruby to latch on shallowly. The nurses in the hospital never once checked how breastfeeding was going or offered even cursory advice. In fact, three or four of them offered formula or water and told me that my baby was far too big to breastfeed exclusively, she was going to need glucose at the very least. Fortunately, I had had the presence of mind to remember my midwife firmly stating that I was not to allow even a drop of water into my baby. When my midwife arrived the next day she helped me correct Ruby’s latch, but the damage had already been done.
A few days later I had large, crusty scabs on my nipples and every time my baby latched on it felt as though a viper were biting my breast, a fiery, hot, blistering burn of pain. I tried putting my nipples in the sun, I tried using a sun lamp, I tried a multitude of creams. I got mastitis twice and ended up on antibiotics, which caused thrush. I was struggling with depression, and didn’t bond properly with Ruby for weeks. The damage to my nipples worsened. Eventually, at five weeks, I started to use Dr. Jack Newman’s All Purpose Nipple Ointment, and my nipples healed up quite quickly.
My mom and husband were amazing, but they were in the minority as no fewer than seven people, close friends and family alike, told me I should just give up and put Ruby on formula and that a happy mommy made a happy baby. That, more than anything else, was very hard to bear. What I wanted was sympathy and support. I needed my friends to tell me I was doing amazingly well, that I was being the best mommy to Ruby that I possibly could be. I slowly emerged from my depression and breastfeeding helped to heal the heartache of my cesarean. I began to feel like at least I was able to do this one thing right.
When Ruby was eight months old I was at a coffee shop and the waiter placed a hot cup of cappuccino directly in front of her. Of course she plunged her little fist right into it. It splashed all over both of us. She started screaming and everyone in the place turned to see us dripping with coffee. Not knowing what else to do, I stood up, moved away from the coffee puddle to a chair which was directly behind my husband, out of sight of most of the restaurant, and quickly pulled my top down and latched her on while my husband took the ice from his drink and rubbed her little red hand with it. Within a minute the owner came bustling over, she told me curtly to go back to my seat. I did. She then leaned over—I was expecting her to ask if she could get more ice for Ruby’s hand but instead she said, “Customers are complaining. Please stop doing that, or at least cover up.” I was shocked and said, “No.”
I offered to speak to the people who were complaining and explain that it was illegal to discriminate against breastfeeding mothers. She walked off angry, but came back a minute later to tell me that I was putting people off their food. At this point, we stood up and left. I went to a local newspaper with the story and within three days I had been interviewed by journalists from three papers and had to switch my phone off so as not to have to deal with more journalists from what seemed like every paper in the country. The owner of the restaurant said I sat with my breast uncovered for over 15 minutes while my baby was not on it. Have you ever seen a nursing mommy do this?!
The letters in response to the articles were mostly vile—I was called shameless, indecent, a slut, an exhibitionist, a bad mother and an attention seeker. It was hard to bear. Strangers trolled my Facebook page and looked at my photos, leaving nasty messages. Despite the unpleasantness something good did happen. I became passionate about breastfeeding. I realized that yes, I was shameless. There was nothing shameful about feeding my baby.
I became passionate about breastfeeding. I realized that yes, I was shameless. There was nothing shameful about feeding my baby.
I posted a beautiful photo of me and Ruby breastfeeding at five weeks on my Facebook page and it was deleted for “obscenity.” I reposted it on the now infamous “Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!” group page. A few days later the editor of the LLL magazine in the UK messaged to ask me if she could publish it. It’s now on the cover of the UK edition of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. How’s that for shameless?! Oh, and Ruby’s still feeding at two years old, with no imminent end in sight …
The UK edition of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding is published by Pinter & Martin.