Why the #normalisebreastfeeding hating needs to stop. (And why we need selfies)

Beautiful baby and mama breastfeeding.

Dear Mom Diaries,

A couple of days ago you wrote a blog post stating your issues with the global #NormaliseBreastfeeding/#normalise/#normalizebreastfeeding movement and the breastfeeding selfies or #brelfies mothers share online.

(Here’s the link, readers):

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwi72YH0-dbMAhVFcT4KHWfUD8AQFggbMAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.themomdiaries.co.za%2F2016%2F05%2F11%2Fwhy-i-think-the-normalisebreastfeeding-war-needs-to-stop-and-the-selfies%2F&usg=AFQjCNHRN5609DrO_psEtVVKTFgFAh8rlw&sig2=0uNNlPwYpOwVFu4_aFWWow

 

As the founder member and co-Director of South Africa’s first civil society organisation (Normalise Breastfeeding SA or NBSA) exclusively tackling the issue of public breastfeeding becoming normal once again, I’d like to help you understand what the dangers are of writing such a misleading blogpost…

Did you know that South Africa has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world? The World Health Organization’s stats say that only 7.4% of South African babies are breastfed.

In the commentary after your blog, Public Nutritionist Chantell Witten unpacked for you some of the reasons our breastfeeding rates are so low and commentator Andrea B helped you understand the place in those rates occupied by parents who are put off breastfeeding because of the constant stigmatisation in public and at work. Add to that the attractive marketing of formula as a lifestyle choice in areas where there isn’t even clean water, nevermind money for new teats, and people so desperately poor that they feed infants watered down pap*… In a country such as ours, dear Mom Diaries, where children die every day of preventable diseases – breastfeeding is a life saving intervention. So as the Lancet Group’s medical booklet says…we have a duty to  protect, promote and support breastfeeding…because it saves lives.

I can’t comment on the relative privilege one must enjoy when you have never ever come across breastfeeding harassment in public. So I’ll unpack some of the incidents shared with us in the short year our movement has been around…

A KZN mom is waiting for a taxi. She is breastfeeding her baby. The security guard manhandles her out of the mall…

A young mum in Pretoria is shopping meds for her sick baby. He screams for the boob and she’s told in no uncertain terms there is NOWHERE in that store for her to feed her child. She’s followed by the male manager to make sure she pays heed. At the same group of stores…the in-house clinic nurse tells a mom to go breastfeed her baby in the toilet.

A Cape Town mom called Tasneem Botha is frog marched out of a popular retailer for breastfeeding her baby. She is jeered at by staff while she sits on a bench to try and calm down her child. Look I could sit here all day, but let’s move on. Oh by the way, Mom Diaries, NBSA has done some breastfeeding shoots for World Breastfeeding Week last year and we had a nurse-in at the shop mentioned here after Tasneem’s ordeal. It was very peaceful, serene. And uninhibited, covered, semi-covered moms all together basked in that lovely love of feeding a baby. We’ve never marched anywhere yet, either.

Do you know what patriarchy means, dear Mom Diaries? I’d like to suggest you read especially what bell hooks, the feminist author, has to say.

I’m asking if you understand patriarchy because in a patriarchal society people think they have the right to police a womxn’s body. Yes, womxn with an ‘x’ to make allowance for the fact that we don’t come from man, they come from us.

Anyway, this blog post of you starts off policing and judging of womxn’s rights to breastfeed as they see fit. This is very much a product of a patriarchal society such as the one we live in…also the sexualisation of the breast, as Andrea B commented, is a patriarchal construct. I see you have a problem with grasping this fact so that’s why I’m on and on about patriarchy. Even down to the comments section you want to defend your POV that a breast ought to be concealed in public.

As you stated, we live in a diverse cultural soicety. I can’t help but think of my friend Sizile who started the #AnywhereAnytime movement on Twitter. In her culture unapologetically uninhibited breastfeeding is the norm.  A doctor at Netcare in Rustenburg asked her to breastfeed her child behind a curtain and when Sizile questioned her request…she was told it’s just not ‘done’ in ‘our (Western) culture’. Sizile kept feeding her child. We as whites would do well to remember we’re not living in her majesty’s territories anymore but in Africa.

Culture aside, actually it is none of mine or your or anybody’s business how much boob womxn want to bare in public. Nor is it anybody’s business if a mom wants to cover up and segregate while breastfeeding. We are not the police of womxn’s bodies in a sisterhood.

Which brings me to my next point…why do you think moms are angry for being told where/when/how/baring how much flesh they should breastfeed? Did you know that our children’s right to breast milk has been enshrined in the SA constitution since 2012? Thus my child’s right to food is protected and going after me is going after my child’s right to eat. Construing the brelfies as angry/attention seeking/attempting to make history selfies is misguided on your part. You know what you turn into when someone harms your child. These are momma bears protecting their children’s rights. The fact that they are brave enough to share these images and blaze a trail, as Andrea B commented – is a gift to future generations. Mothers don’t want what’s wrong with this generation to remain wrong for the next.

 

I also want to point out that the flip title you created for the image of the blonde mom breastfeeding on a bench is quite cruel. I know you didn’t mean to be mean but look for Paa.la on Facebook and follow her journey of becoming a breastfeeding advocate. As I type this she is in hospital with her premature baby, born at 24 weeks.

 

There is still so much more I want to unpack about this problematic blog post of yours…I’m afraid I’ve run out of time today.

 

But the door is wide open if you need any more information on the vital aspects of how we normalise breastfeeding in South Africa.

 

Love,

Anel and the Normalise Breastfeeding South Africa movement .

*pap: Ground maize meal. The staple food of South African people.

(Thank you my darling friend Tsholo for sharing the beautiful pic of a mama breastfeeding her baba xxx – source unknown)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sindiwe


For the indomitable spirit that is Sindiwe Magona. Halala!

sindiwe-magona-pic-31

I beheld this petite package of fireworks and dynamite the first time when I went to stalk Antjie Krog at the Goethe in Parktown. Doctor Sindiwe Magona read from her Biography of Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane.  I remember feeling impatient, the only Archbishop I’ve ever had an interest in is Desmond Tutu, especially after reading about him through the gaze and heart of Antjie Krog. I sighed. The extract Sindiwe read was from when the Archbishop was locked up on Robben Island and in the matter of 5 minutes, laughing, crying and cheering ensued from all of us in that room. What an exciting way with words this woman has! Then she read her poem Please, take photographs  – and I knew this would be an author whose work I would follow for the rest of my days. If you haven’t read that poem yet, please, take the time. Do yourself the favour.

During the Q & A afterwards, the issue of domestic workers arose. Someone was crying white tears about their white guilt of employing a black woman to do the cleaning. I thought uh oh when I saw her face. Her eyes were little slants and she was smiling. Later I would find out,  as Astrid Stark wrote in Interview with Dr Sindiwe Magona – for the love of literature:

“Working as a domestic worker for four years, and as a single mom, she made a bit of extra money selling sheep heads and even selling liquor on a take-out basis.  She lived with about thirteen souls in a four-roomed hose (sic) in Gugulethu.  By candlelight she acquired her general certificate of education with the University of London, followed by her bachelor’s degree through UNISA.”

Then Doc Magona laughed a short, loud HAHA – slapped her thigh and spoke to us of black women cleaning homes. Her face was serious, you could see the pragmatist at work. She said, sure – get a domestic employee – make sure she’s young and ask her what her plan is going forward. Make it patent she must get educated. Make sure she’s in an out of your employ in 5 years.

This  wisdom has lingered with me all these 5 years since that first time we interacted…

We were walking to our car after that exhilirating night at the Goethe. I just hear ‘tsk’ (or ‘cluck’ as you write Doc) and YOH, what happened to your car?  I turn to see a small figure in the dark, frowning. “A taxi took the door out, mam” I stutter and blush. “And I’m not insured.” She gave me a little pat on the shoulder and kept walking. Those taxis, tsk. And she was gone.

Fast forward to Cape Town, November 2016. It’s been almost a year since I lost my mother. On Monday I was fortunate enough to attend the launch of Doc Magona’s latest novel, Chasing The Tails of My Father’s Cattle. And I was fortunate enough to get a seat too. Book Lounge was packed. It was electric! She was joined by a lady on stage who it turned out didn’t irritate only me, but everyone after the 60th purchase of Sindiwe’s new work, as that’s all the irritating lady ordered. For such a big opening night.  Cluck.

What struck me most about listening to Sindiwe speak that night is the magnitude of her compassion. When she speaks plainly about subjects that can spark controversy or make people seriously uncomfortable or openly scolds stupidity – she does so with the love of a mother. How I wanted to run back and tell my mother about that night, the way I did after the first time at the Goethe.

When she signed my book (which I fortunately bought soon enough) she saw me stumble and waffle. I’m the world’s worst starfucker. Gush, brabble, blush.  She grabbed me and gave me a looooong hug, probably as much to shut me up as to share her genuine, earthy love of people.

And so this white girl’s education is also elevated by you Doc Magona. I’m going to isiXhosa classes, so as to read your new story. Both to understand the phrases in isiXhosa, which come without references – sociologically. And more importantly, to climb into the hollow of the heart of this story and curl up there. These stories.  Someone once remarked he’s never once met Settlers as blatantly deaf, dumb and blind to their fellow countrymen’s language and culture as white South Africans. It’s true. I’m going to remedy that at the ripe age of 39.

Enkosi, Dokotela Magona.

Pure Teater


Dis pure teater, hierdie lewe.

Dis ‘n Griekse Tragedie.

Ek strek my palms en daar is twee littekens.

Ek sal nooit die een op my regterhand vergeet nie.

Ek was warm in jou boesem se sublieme reuk

Terwyl Dr Bertus die 3 steke ingewerk het.

‘n Vrou het my vertel treur vir jou dooie  Ma is ‘n tsunami.

Dis geweldadig. Nes jy dink die vorige golf is verby

Is jy weer onder, toegedraai in soutwater en tragedie.

Ek het jou so liefgehad, Mamma.

Het jy geweet?

Let’s set the record straight on my opinion piece, ‘It’s time to normalise breastfeeding in South Africa.’


Right, so it was pointed out to me by a good friend that if one Googled ‘Normalise Breastfeeding in South Africa’ , the first thing you’re hit with is my opinion piece published to News 24 opinion on 13 April 2015. Here’s the link: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CB0QFjAAahUKEwjH2vbF57LHAhVKHB4KHbVLB2E&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.news24.com%2FMyNews24%2FIts-time-to-normalise-breastfeeding-in-South-Africa-20150413&ei=rzzTVYfHIcq4eLWXnYgG&usg=AFQjCNGCdGhhJ59amdEyQcI6wqk4DMMkAA&sig2=_pvack9R5_eu4f53hSXVWQ

Sigh. This is very unfortunate. The piece was edited by the good feminists at 24, you see. I’ll explain:

I joined the FB group ‘South African Feminists’ a while back and got into big fights there from the get-go. It’s a small group of colleagues from Media 24 who started up the group and admin (read that as gatekeep) what falls within their specific margin of acceptable feminist behaviour. My first argument was sparked by mansplaining of feminist issues. So were the rest, mainly. Having offended a male feminist view by commenting that ‘women can stop having babies at any time if men refuse to come to the party’, one of the Media 24 girls refered to me as Valerie Solanas. My dystopian comment was flagged and I was threatened with expulsion if I didn’t apologise and the Solanas commentator was not required to apologise.

This went on for some time. The part where I left the group was when another male Media 24 ‘feminist’ posted about how women ought to shave their girl bits. My response was that paedophilia is a very real threat when women are expected to have vaginas smooth as seal pups. The inbox threats of expulsion in lieu of an immediate apology started again and I bid that lot adieu. So ridiculous. ADMIN: ‘Anel Olsson, check your other inbox please’ always preceding a sermon on how my ass is so almost out of this particular fold.

Who has time for this? Not me.

I forgot all about the ‘feminists’ and got involved in breastfeeding activism in the beginning of April and when I hit ‘send’ on my first opinion piece, did not connect the particular dots of why my piece was butchered to a point of being completely illogical reading material. Until another good friend at 24 joked I shouldn’t have pissed off those feminists.

Anyway, sane adult readers – here’s what I wrote (and sent off for publication, News 24 ‘feminists’) Pffft.

“It’s time to normalise breastfeeding in South Africa.

Becoming a mother is a massive collapse of ego. Your previously familiar biological self is often unrecognisable. You’re trying to do the best for the huge new responsibility/ies in your life. You may have had to face one or many complications around birth. Your hormones are raging with love, nurture and at time fear responses. Add to that sleep deprivation. It’s a huge adjustment.

And if you are lucky, you are well supported as a new mother. If you are very lucky, you grew up learning the reed dance, so breastfeeding freely is already a completely normal part of your culture. This is an aspiration for the rest of us.

Very often, modern living sends you back to work after 90 days. So if you’re going for gold and exclusively feeding your baby breast milk, you’ll be expressing milk or relying on expressed donor milk to nurture your hungry little bundle.

And at no point is it ok for someone else to attempt to humiliate you by likening your efforts to livestock being milked. Especially if those individuals have huge audiences, they have agency and are opinion leaders.

I’m speaking to you, Gareth Cliff. And you, Rian van Heerden.

As a mother, life as usual does carry on. You go out. You take your baby out with you. A baby will ask for food when and where they need it. And as you know, a hunger makes you angry and upset. Is this how you would like us to treat our babies?

At no point is it ok for anyone to harass you for feeding your hungry baby.

I’m speaking to you Martin Bester. And you Roger Goode. You Cliff, van Heerden and your female co-hosts who chime in to your Calvinistic sermons. I’m speaking to the public who call in to radio stations harassing nursing mothers. The internet trolls. The lactation support specialist who goes on air, telling nursing mothers they must consider others when feeding their hungry young. And then suggests we face a wall in a restaurant while nursing.

Media men, it’s not funny to refer to a breast as a ‘pram.’ Nor play audio clips of cows mooing, while interviewing a champion of promoting breastfeeding. Nor suggest we nurse where baby diapers get disposed of. Nor ask if we can’t just sit under the table to nurse, when in a restaurant.

Roger Goode’s mother going on air and chewing him out publically for his misogynist rant and demanding a retraction, which we got– now that is hilarious.

It’s very simple, guys and dolls. A child’s right to optimum nutrition is enshrined in our constitution. Not your hungry baby? None of your business. You don’t get a vote.

However, if you’d like to be a support, a social movement to normalise breastfeeding is flourishing, in light of this recent spate of vitriol aimed at nursing mothers. It’s time for us to dismantle this particular construct of the patriarchal discourse, too. Let’s do it for the future babies who deserve the best nurture, nature has to offer.

Let’s normalise breastfeeding.”

This is what I wrote and requested you update and got ignored for, mmkay News 24 staff? GROW UP.

Blue period.


For Shana, ‘Just a hoe. With babies’ blogger (I’m going through a Picasso’s blue period. A Shana period as writer. )

They are calling me delusional online, saying I should get back on my meds behind my back.

These are women who purport to be champion advocats for breastfeeding.

Would you little girls prefer I apologise for being better at this work than you are?

What fucking meds?

The actress thinks I organised a breastfeeding shoot so that I can distribute the pics of her ‘baps’ nogal, to some breastfeeding porn ring.

The shoot brief is babies under 2 being nursed in a public space. The Maha Al Musa meisies are vying for my blood.

The stuff shared on Anel’s group is such trash! Glad I disassociated long ago! pipes up the owner of a Facebook group that is advocating for women to be segregated while nursing in restaurants. Or at LEAST cover up at the table.

Good luck with that lady. You’re not living in one of her majesty’s territories anymore. This is Africa.

And when shopping, her stellar suggestions for normalising breastfeeding include that you go to a ‘facility’.

‘Where there’s like wi-fi and a flat screen TV.  I gave it a 5 star rating, ladies!!!’ She reports excitedly.

I wonder if she noticed the brimful bin of soiled diapers in her fuckoff facility.

Why do you want us to feed our children where they defecate, Breastfeeding ‘Friendly’ SA?

It’s like Drama School all over again.

Jose liked my selfie on Facebook last week where I was crying for my mom.

Liked it. Is that because all those years back in London I said I didn’t FUCKING CARE that Gary lost his mother?

Boohoo motherfucker.

We were sitting with Maurice at the bar. Me in the middle. We’d been celebrating graduating year one and we’d been klapping the pints since lunchtime. They had both wrapped an arm around me and then Gary turned his face to me and smiled. The pain shot through my left breast like a million pins and he wouldn’t stop squeezing. My pint almost automatically tipped into his lap.

He’s up and shouting WHAT THE FUCK.

Maurice didn’t see what he did and kept asking ‘What happened doll?

What the fuck just happened? My doll-face!?’

I join Jose and other sane individuals at their table.

Gary advancing toward me fast and a whole pint of beer flies into my face.

‘You fucking slag’ he whispers.

Eyes burning like my boob.

I jump up and run. Blindly to the bathroom. Water. Water. Howl in a cubicle. There are knocks on the door.

Then banging.  You are to open up this door at once, Anel.

Fellow thespies demanding an explanation for Gary’s wet pants.

I can’t speak. Sob sob sob.

‘Well what the fuck did you expect, love?’

He grabbed my boob at the bar for fuck’s sakes ladies!

‘Gary says you’ve had it in for him since day one, Anel.’

‘Yeah I’m afraid if you’re gonna behave like a psycho bitch, things like this happen, Anel.’

Enough. I work my way through the stares out front.

‘Wait’ says someone from the other class.  ‘I’m a cabby by trade. I’ll give you a lift.’

I cry all the way home. Throw off the lacy catsuit. Sob sob sob.

We go to college for assessments. No-one makes eye contact with me. It’s like me and Matt being the only ones getting the Equity once again.

Only this time Maurice’s Chinese eyes aren’t liquid black and he is not lifting me up in a hug, smelling like heaven.

They are snake slits and his beautiful black arms are crossed.

My mouth can’t make the words he hurt me Maurice. Don’t be angry with me.

Gary is his brother from another mother. I am an uppity white bitch from Saf Africa.

Someone from my class eyes me suspiciously while we wash hands. She wants to know wha’ appened?

I show her the black bruises on my boob. She bursts into tears.

Oy, Gary grabbed her tit she’s shouting.

She’s lying they’re shouting. She hates him, she would make that shit up.

Fucking psycho cow, tha’ one.

I’m gone girl. Forever, as it turned out. A year later an update from class, Jose saying they’re so sorry Gary’s mom died.

Now that I’m motherless too, I feel sorry for her other kids and husband’s loss.

No, I didn’t press charges. And Jose and I are still friends.

Never underestimate the sheer evil of – the stupidity – of the mob.  I thought you learnt that at 21, Anel?

Ohrenkuss


For Kimm Manzanares.

During one of these endless sleepless nights I’ve been having since my mom died, a las tres de la madrugada – I caught an interview with a fascinating woman. Her name is Dr Katja de Bragança. She’s of Indian and German descent, grew up in Goa as a young girl, then moved to Germany and later studied her doctorate in biology. She fascinated me for many reasons…her work, of course. I’ll get to that. But first it was this quiet confidence that she excudes. And the absolute warmth and clarity in her big brown eyes. That effervescence one experiences when you know you are in the presence of a very intelligent person, articulating their world.

Her doctorate was a thesis on living with 47 chromosomes. As a biologist she is absolutely fascinated with the fact that human beings can and do function, function well – with Down’s Syndrome. She feels honoured to be a part of a world that has stopped killing and marginalising people with Down’s.  She is also fascinated and driven by the work that dismantles the part of our brains that says: ‘But they are disabled.’ She refuses to believe that about her colleagues. And she says they don’t believe that about themselves at all.

She started a subscription-based magazine, written exclusively by people with Down’s. It’s called Ohrenkuss…da rein, da raus. The Germans have absolutely beautiful expressions. And Down’s Syndrome people, I have learned, have an absolutely fresh way of stringing language together in a way your prefrontal cortex inhibits you to when you have 46 chromosomes. The title was coined, Dr de Bragança said, when she was out with her magazine colleagues one Summer afternoon in Bonn, where they are based. The sun was shining outside and the chap next to her was having ice cream and coffee. Absolutely in bliss with his world. He leaned over and planted an ice-cold kiss on her ear…an Ohrenkuss. Then their colleague opposite commented: ‘In the one ear, out the other (da rein, da raus) Indeed a juxtaposed response.

It’s a fantastically glossy and exciting publication. I do hope they start translating to English and Spanish, to open up this amazing work to the rest of the world.

Sheesh, I share DNA with some seriously screwed up people


I broke it off with my mother’s family when she died. The reasons are many, complex, motivated by the sense that I would never be used like she was…and the break welcome. Imagine your worst imaginings of dysfunction and the worst kind of relatives and then imagine the relief. One cousin, who I really thought was a friend, wrote this about me when I asked her to make sure my mom’s car wouldn’t be sold without being included in her deceased estate. The thing was, the car wasn’t transferred to my mom’s name and the seller was her brother. Someone sympathetic to my crazy experience copied and pasted this for me from her Facebook feed. If you don’t read Afrikaans, let me know. I’ll translate.

gedig vir .n feeks
.
v.1.0
.
die gif
wat binne my nou
dwaal is
daar gesit met
inspuitnaald my
arms vasgebind
met elke woord
agter my rug
wat kom in holtes
in jou hart
wat oor is van
wat eens daar
was nou
stinkswart dampe
uit jou bek
wat alles voor dit
doodverdwyn
en wolke van jou
skewe denke
hang hier swaar
bo.oor my kop
ek het gewillig hier
kom bly hier
op die bord
en op .n skulp staan
kyk hoe jy my siel
verwoes die
waarheid hoor en
konkel
met jou grys intensies
met jou
skubbe weggeverf
met hoeveel jy jouself
nou haat jy
vrek alleen
en vreet die liefde
uit my uit
en kots dit oor
die randsteen waar
jy lê en kyk
vir koningin wat naak
voor lyf die
hoogte in
ek sweef
jy vrot
ek tel jou op
nee
klaar gekyk hoe
sonder brein
min long en vel
jou slangvroulyf
hier voor my rol
dat alles
wat jy dink jy is
diep onder in my sak
sal pas
en weggewas word
met die reën
so doelloos soos
.n strokie
sonder ink geskeur
en in my lig
sal jy verbrand
jou slaaf
jou onderling
maak skerp dai
tong en groei
die tand
kom kyk of jy
nou man kan staan
tog weet jy sal
verloor
sal ewig doelloos
drentel in
dieselfde pad sal
niemand hê
vir liefde nie
familie niks en
dooie lyke ondervoet
so
sal jy altyd
so moet leef
vervloek vir hoe jy
met my maak
ek speel dan
skaak
jy
dambord
maat
.
.
.
whew!
much bett