Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Samoa, susu and subtext

I look kind of palagi. This was pretty easy to figure out as a kid growing up in Samoa, because kids would follow you around saying 'palagi, palagi'. I may be somewhat obtuse sometimes, but even I can pick up on that level of subtlety. I was a kid who longed to be browner. I spent endless time in the sun determined to get a shade or two darker. At Uni, despite sun smart warnings and that "wear sunscreen' song, I was slathering on the oil, and obviously I blame this destructive behaviour on that early trauma (everyone knows all destructive behaviour should immediately be blamed on either childhood trauma, or those solely responsible for all childhood traumas ie. parents). I look so palagi that people often talk about me, in Samoan, right in front of me. I can't complain about this, as it really has given me a great insight into a number of things (like the stupid things guys say when they think you can't understand them) and endless amusement (same example as above).

It also means that people express surprise at how 'Samoan' I really am (even though you look so WHITE). So when I was in Samoa recently I wasn't surprised to gain a bit more insight. A couple of girls (who knew I spoke Samoan but were commenting on me in front of me, as we Samoans do) said "E, ga faapea a'u aga e palagi, e susu lana pepe i se apa, ae lae susu lana tama i lona tino'. The subtext seemed to be that formula was more desirable but it was expensive. And that everyone knew that palagi's (a) had more money (b) were going to take the convenient option or (c) wouldn't pull out their breast faster than the speed of light or all of the above.

Ok I admit it- I lured you in with my innocuous little tale about Samoan childhood, but (as you may have figured out by now) this is actually going to be a rant about... breastfeeding. Oh the CONTROVERSY! Few topics are more controversial or more sensitive to new mothers than breastfeeding. This is probably because it is so bloody hard. But and I'm going to just be frank here, breastfeeding is irrefutably better for the baby. People tiptoe around saying this for fear of being viciously viscerated. Generally don't mess with someone who has just popped out a child. They have just realised exactly what they are capable of.

And I get it. I really do. To say breastfeeding has been a struggle for me would be the understatement of the century. My nipples both cracked and wouldn't heal, for four months. For those (obviously not mothers) who are like 'pfffttt, just four months', let me translate- it was at least 16 weeks of excruciating agony. And yes, my baby screamed unexplainedly both day and night. Many people suggested supplementing with formula. My exhausted partner was imploring for formula (at that stage it was ANYTHING to keep that baby quiet). But I had a few things on my side. A mother (who breastfed all of her four children for over two years each and is a staunch advocate of breastfeeding) who was an unbelievable support, and my own fierce determination that my baby would have the best. My baby is 5 months old, and while no longer excruciating, breastfeeding for me is still along way from comfortable. I can't go anywhere or do anything without my baby. It's not exactly convenient. There's no zumba or salsa classes for me (so that's why I'm so chubby just in case you were wondering). I'm not saying this makes me better than anyone and I'm not judging. I'm just saying I really do get it.

But we shouldn't be scared to say 'breastfeeding is best'. It's just the truth. I'm not disrespecting or dismissing those (very few) mothers who really can't breastfeed. I'm saying that mothers should be encouraged. Here in Australia, the midwives have specific conversations with you about the importance of breastfeeding. There are posters, leaflets and books which tell you about the innumerable health benefits, the fact that you have the right to breastfeed in public, and encouraging you breastfeed for at least 6 months. Now I am no public health policy expert but I really think this message could go along way in Samoa. Especially as some of the very important benefits of breastfeeding are that it lessens the chance of both childhood obesity and diabetes. Obesity and diabetes people! These are the major health issues for us Samoans.

I just don't think the subtext in Samoa should be formula is fantastic. I don't think the subtext should be the only reason not to be on formula is the expense. It's important that everyone understands the full health benefits of breastfeeding, whether in Australia, or Samoa, or any other country and then make an informed choice.


Coconut Girl said...

Funnily enough, it's Breastfeeding week in Samoa - and possibly worldwide, but I have yet to google and find out. It's all over the radio, and the Ministry of Health are holding workshops in many villages. I think Samoan women do understand the importance of breastmilk. You would be amazed with the amount of emphasis the Ministry of Health places on this. Every single clinic and hospital I've been to (and I've been to a few) have posters plastered everywhere on breastfeeding. All doctors I've seen give me a look of disdain when I tell them my children are on formula.

I've had problems with breastfeeding all my 3 kids - I don't seem to lactate enough. By the third month, I've run dry basically. I've tried everything, and maybe I should have endured the endless nights of the baby wailing in hunger, pushing away my teat in frustration - I just couldn't handle it and put them on formula. But I've seen the difference between children who've been breastfed and my own. They are so much stronger, motor skills developed more quickly, and general development is at a faster pace than that of a formula-fed child. And more importantly, they are more healthy and more immune to getting sick. And that's a fact.

Love this post :)

reesa said...

Just to add to coconut girl, the Maternity Ward at the hospital DOES NOT allow formulae within its walls. My MIL had to sneak in formulae in the dead of the night to feed my niece who had problems latching on. True story. So point is, Breastfeeding is being pushed very strongly here so very surprised that you picked up the said subtext.

Lani Wendt Young said...

I always felt very grateful that i had my first child here in NZ because i found the maternity ward nurses and midwives and then Plunket nurses so supportive and helpful with my attempts to breastfeed. I knew NOTHING abt kids or babies so the system here was perfect for me. Breastfeeding is really really difficult for a lot of people. Im thankful i was able to do it with all my children because I know that not every mum can. I think that the folks in Samoa at the Maternity ward and the Nutrition Dept ( like Christine Quested etc) do a rockin great job at promoting breastfeeding. Sidenote, post tsunami, baby formula and bottles were included in the aid packages/containers and DMO did not give them out anywhere because of Samoa's breastfeedin policy.

Teine Samoa said...

They say timing is everything but how about that! It's great to hear about all the information. I didn't have my bub in Samoa so obviously you are better placed than I am. Oh and I am in awe of mums with 3 when I am needing help with just my lil one. Clearly pronouncements shouldn't be made after reading subtext into one conversation in the one week I was home. My rant about breastfeeding has been bubbling up for ages (bec clearly since Im struggling with it I want everyone else to similarly suffer! :-) ) I'm just an irresponsible blogger like that! Lucky I have understanding readers like you. :-)

Teine Samoa said...

Hey Lani- I really needed the help too! My poor bub wouldn't latch properly though he tried like a trooper (and screamed like a banshee) and eventually the midwife tried to help me express. For the three days before my milk came in we'd get about 2 drops after half an hour to an hour, which I'd then feed him with a syringe. I was going to write as well that information alone isn't sufficient- the stats here in Australia are that only 16% of women are still breastfeeding at 6 months. But the blog was already getting too long (and possibly rightous).

kuaback said...

I had the same problem with my first n now my 2nd baby. They dont latch on properly or don't latch at all. Both my kids were introduced to formula at the hospital during their first few days becoz they get frustrated from not latching n I get frustrated that they weren't latching plus my milk always takes forever to come in. I always have a hard time breastfeeding but I try to breastfeed my babies up to 6months then stop when they take solids. Btw, have u tried Lansinoh for your nipples? It does wonders for me. Put it on before and after u breastfeed. Trust me, it's my lifesaver at the moment.

Teine Samoa said...

Lansinoh was definitely a lifesaver for me too! Thanks Kuaback. My bub is a big eater so that might be part of the issue- my nipples never had time to heal because he is always on them!!! LOL!!!

Jen R said...

Hello ladies! I know this post was about breastfeeding, which was great by the way, but does anyone know about GBS positive? I am moving to Apia in Feb, so my husband can be closer to his family. And we want more babies. We have one but I found out with her that I am GBS positive which just means I need iv antibiotics during delivery. Do you girls know? Oh, and I am a palagi! LOL