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.