Tag Archives: breastfeeding

Interview: Cape Times on Breastfeeding 101 by Leah Hawker

Cape Times Newspaper (full) Article

Newspaper article by Nontando Mposo, 26th August 2019

What drew you into photography?

I’m a creative, I can’t live happily without making, doing and creating and I just sort of fell into photography the moments after I finished Matric. I could have done many things I think but photography was a happenstance actually. My Dad called me up one morning and said it was enrolment day at Ruth Prowse School of Art (in Woodstock). I went immediately and that was that.
I loved it from the get-go. It’s the perfect creative and expressive format to bring across my feelings and ideas about life, about being a woman and what that means in this day and age.

Tell us about the story behind and inspiration behind you book
“Breastfeeding 101”

Amongst other things I work with a lot of birth, new-born and maternity photography and my connections to local midwives and doulas meant my social media feed was saturated in the frenetic current debates surrounding the controversial nature of how women are treated when breastfeeding.

I was intrigued that this part of our anatomy was such a contentious issue for so many. The breast is both sexual and nutritive and I think this is a very uncomfortable idea for people to sit with.
I loved the idea of exploring the subject as a large scale portrait series and so I started working on it, intuitively, alongside many other self-motivated projects.

I’m always working on many self-motivated and pro-bono projects concurrently, I do this alongside my commercial, income generating photographic work.


How did you go about selecting the mothers you photographed? and is there a story behind the chosen backdrops?

I felt it was important to re-ignite, conceptually, the oral traditions of passing information between people. It is a strength women share: the act of passing on information and knowledge from generation to generation: between families, friends and support groups. This is an age old concept which benefits us all and which is often lost in the buzz and tech of modern living.
So I reached out to two of my cousins who were new mothers and told them about the project. I asked them to share the concept with the women they knew and thus the project unfolded organically: from one mother to the next so that almost all of the mothers in this project are interconnected in some way.

There are only 4 mothers in the entire project of 101 portraits that I actually approached directly.

After connecting to each Mother I coordinated an interview and a photoshoot. We found diverse public locations; everywhere from a forest in Utrecht, Netherlands, to outside a neighbours’ house in Delft, Cape Town.
I shot as widely and diversely as possible. I photographed mothers from Somalia, Germany, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Austria, Holland, Namibia, Malaysia, China, Portugal, South Africa and more!

Is there a story behind each image?

Every Mother shared a unique story with me. The stories covered many variables depending on the mothers cultural and personal backgrounds. After the first 30-40 portraits I felt like I must, by then, have covered it all but the subject just kept unfolding. The contradictions, joys, pain, funny moments, struggles and diversities of women’s stories is like a never ending pit of information, I had no idea!
Now, after photographing 101 portraits, I realise there is still so much I don’t know about the subject and even about what women experience when they become mothers. It’s surprised many people that I’m myself not a mother; I’m a photographer that has a specific interest in dealing with women’s issues.

There is a story behind every image. I had numerous conversations over coffee, exchanged voice notes, text messages and emails and received questionnaires that were most likely typed out, one-handed, by mothers while the other cradled a baby at the breast. I tried to retain each woman’s voice through the transcribing process; the texts were, however, edited in places for clarity and understanding.The data incorporated on each page gives extra insight – the context of each mother’s location, age and that of her child or children serve as a further layer to the narrative.

What would you like the reader to take away from the photographs?

The title of the project is Breastfeeding 101 and even though it is not intended as a manual, it may serve as one. The term “101” refers to learning or knowing the basics of a subject. There is a discrepancy between experiential knowledge of breastfeeding and common beliefs, and it is these two elements which play through the stories and images. Some may argue about truth, about what is right or wrong, but that is not the point here. What is important is that these women stand for their owntruths. A truth each found through lived experience. It is also evidence of experiences that are collectively true for many women.

The photographs and the anecdotes are colourful, culturally diverse, enlightening, bizarre, painful, emotional, and surprising. They tell unique stories and reveal surprisingly uncommon knowledge which, I feel, underpins the project.The current influences and outside factors affecting women, breastfeeding and infant health are substantial. The stories told in this book are therefore important ones.

How do you get inspired? And what inspires you the most?

Working on exciting creative projects which investigate women’s issues excites and inspires me, always. I’d love to work on more big projects like this for large organisations who support women,- this is the dream.
The way we experience gender identity is a subject I’m so interested in. Women’s bodies and women’s identity is used very objectively in media and the effects this has on both men and women is fascinating. There are so many elements involved in making us who we are; from family traditions, cultural rites of passage, our experiences with our bodies, how marketing  portrays us, big pharma and politics.
For example in the case of this project, Breastfeeding 101, I was most interested in how one part of women’s anatomy is so controversially viewed and treated by both ourselves and by others.

Where can people purchase your book and for how much?

The book is available for R385.00 at Exclusive books nationwide, via orders on the website breastfeeding101.co.za and at numerous independent book stores in South Africa.

You can find more of my work on leahhawker.co.za and on Instagram: _breastfeeding_101

 

Link to the online article here

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An Interview: Breastfeeding101 – A portrayal of the pleasures & pains of breastfeeding

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.”

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An Interview: Breastfeeding101 – A portrayal of the pleasures & pains of breastfeeding

This is Emma

South African, age 43
Location At work, Claremont, Cape Town, South Africa
Expressing breastmilk
Photographed September 2018

Emma donated 532litres of her own breast milk to South African breast milk bank Milk Matters over seven years.

Once I got my milk supply going, I became the mother cow. I probably started expressing milk around seven weeks after giving birth. Of course I always made sure that my boys got first chance breastfeed, but the majority of my additional expressed milk was for those premature babies. It all started when I went to Milk Matters and saw the abandoned babies there, weighing under a kilo. In other countries, babies that weigh up to two kilograms are given donated milk, but here in South Africa there isn’t enough, so it’s saved for babies who weigh under a kilo. I’d get tired and think ah, do I really want to give up another 25 minutes, up to five times a day? But their tummies are so small and some are abandoned; they are too sick to feed, or their moms have passed away. I just wanted to help; it was important. There are so many good things about breast milk that you can’t duplicate with formula.

I had happy times and difficult times expressing milk. I had to travel all over: Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Malawi and even further, the UK. Before I left home, I’d express and build up stock for my own baby. Sometimes he couldn’t come with me – you know, with the outbreaks of polio and ebola and stuff. Then while away, I had to keep my milk supply going or otherwise I’d have burst! I would express four to five times a day. To save time, I used two separate pumps at the same time: I’d express from both breasts in 25 minutes. Did you know that there was nowhere at O.R Tambo airport or Cape Town International other than the toilets to express milk? Sometimes I’d make a point and sit on the floor at check-in as they all have plug points. I didn’t want to be one of those women [makes sounds of pump expressing]; the point is there should be a place.

While travelling, there was the mission of trying to find hotels where I could put my milk in the freezer. I would have to go through health and safety [protocols] and avoid contamination and mark it carefully. Even when I did a psychology postdoc at Stellenbosch University, I would put milk in the refrigerator during the day and a few times people would steal it for their tea and coffee. After I labelled it “Please do not drink – Breast Milk”, it never got touched again. It is also important to keep [containers] sterile, especially when travelling. I would have to sit with a kettle and a microwave in the middle of rural Madagascar, sanitizing equipment.

When travelling through borders, I used to have to explain what the breast milk was – and then I’d be asked, “Where is the baby?” If the baby was with me, I wouldn’t need to carry the milk! Now, I actually grab my boob as the universal sign for breast milk. In a good number of countries, I have had to sip it, just so they can see it really is what I say it is.

I think three quarters of the luggage I took on my travels was to deal with my breast milk expressing and storing. I had a whole system in place to keep it frozen. I’d wrap my clothes around my ice bricks and ice packs to keep it frozen, then get it to Milk Matters as soon as possible.

Eventually I stopped when I had to go away to Dar es Salaam for ten days. I’d actually wondered whether I should take the job or not, but then I thought, “Emma, you have given years to this. It is okay. Other moms need to come to the party.” I can’t carry the world.

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An Interview: Breastfeeding101 – A portrayal of the pleasures & pains of breastfeeding

This is Elmarina

South African, age 33
Location Outside a house in Delft, Cape Town, South Africa
Feeding her three-year-old child
Photographed August 2018

Whenever you give a child a bottle [that contains formula], they get sicker, more quickly. It’s because you get moms who don’t close the bottles properly. Flies get attracted to them, and there are more germs.

I’ve got three children. I didn’t breastfeed the first two, the boys. I had very small nipples and it wasn’t easy for me. For the first week, my eldest did drink from my breasts, but he couldn’t really get a grip on the nipple because it was so small. And I used to struggle with him the whole time.

But when my girl here came along, my husband hadn’t had work for a few months, so we decided we were going try the breast again. I couldn’t afford to buy the formula that worked for my two boys. I told myself, “Now Elmarina, you have to think. You must rather put her on the breast or what are you going to do? There is no money for formula.” So I had to try, and just do it and even though it was painful, try not to panic. But I would panic sometimes because my daughter would cry you know, because the nipple was so small, nè[not so]? I went to the clinic to speak to one of the ladies who works there. She really tried to help me with technique.

It was still really, really hard to feed my daughter, and she is still underweight. I cried with that nurse, asking her to just help me try to figure something out, because I didn’t have the finances for the milk. She told me to come whenever I’m ready, like every day, I could go to her for help. She was a little old lady, but a very nice one. You know how older people are: They know how to explain things to you down to the last detail. That’s why I think she showed me those techniques with my finger. She knew about my situation, the money, that there wasno money to buy a breastfeeding pump, you understand.*I wish the hospitals or clinics would give us pumps, or pills to help with the milk. I have a friend who was offered help by the clinic in Bishops Lavis. She didn’t have milk but she really wanted to breastfeed and not put her child on a bottle, so they gave her pills [probably sulpiride, believed by some doctors to increase serum prolactin and aid milk supply]. But I didn’t get that in the hospital I was at. Nobody even asked me: Do you want a pill to help you breastfeed? Nothing like that. I had to find a way to breastfeed.

My daughter was born very small, so I was often at the clinic, trying to get her weight and her iron right the whole time. When she was two, the doctor said she could drink till she’s five. She loves it; she doesn’t want to give it up [laughs]. Sometimes I tease her and tell her that she’s getting too big now and she says, “No, no!” and shakes her head [laughs].

<sidebar note>

South African public hospitals do not supply mothers with breastfeeding pumps.

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