This is Joleen
South African, 34
Location The Pier, Simonstown, Cape Town, South Africa
Feeding her four-month-old child
Photographed August 2017
“Breastfeeding meant I got to see my son more often – during work hours. He just would not drink a bottle, even with breast milk in it. Fortunately, I live five minutes away from work. So, every day, every tea time and lunch time, I’d drive home and breastfeed. This allowed me to not feel so guilty about being at work. Breastfeeding has made me feel more connected to my sons in a deep, almost spiritual soul-touching type of way. My nine-month-old son has the habit of giving me a little bite on my nipple when he’s had enough and then giggling when I say ouch. That was our first communication; it made me realise this little one seems to have sense of humour. At the expense of my nipple of course [laughs].
I was breastfeeding at Spur one day and some of my students came past. I am in the navy, and juniors need to [salute] seniors as a mark of respect. The looks on their faces was priceless. I said to them afterwards that I may be a sailor and wear a uniform, but outside work I am a person and a mom just like any other mom.
My duties in the Defence Force can take me away from home. I had to write letters requesting to be excused from some of these. Sometimes seniors or male colleagues thought I was making excuses. I once had to ask my boss to be excused during an almost four-hour-long meeting to go and express: my breast pads were saturated and milk was starting to show through my shirt. A male in charge of a meeting does not understand that when a breastfeeding mom comes back fresh from maternity leave, the milk ducts don’t just get into the work routine immediately. I hope to get to a senior enough position to make changes for breastfeeding mothers in the military.
As I have small breasts I try to ignore the sexual way breasts are portrayed. When I became a mom, all of a sudden I got boobs. I was so proud, not because they were bigger, but because these small boobs have such a lot of milk. I had my baby at the military hospital where the nurses do not allow formula or discharge you from the hospital until baby latches well and breastfeeding is established. My son’s nanny always encouraged me to continue breastfeeding until he was at least two years old. She would make comments such as, “You are doing so well, this baby loves his tiettie.” It was like a reconfirmation for me, every day.”