“I hope you’re keeping those boobs going,” my mother warns me down the phone. Yes, I’m at the airport and yes, I’ve pumped, I assure her. I gaze through the glass at the apron, slick with rain. #badweather is trending in Cape Town, though it’s trending everywhere. My Twitter feed is filled with photos of a tornado that swept past the airport in Johannesburg. Already, some wit has decided that it should be named after Bonang because “they’re both in the business of wrecking homes”.
The queue next to me murmurs like bees waiting quietly to swarm. We should have begun boarding ten minutes ago, but nothing has happened yet. My mother accepts my story, though she’s not happy that I will be back so late. I think of the Medela bottle in its carry bag tucked into the pocket next to my laptop. I filled it in the Slow Lounge, my poloneck top and dress hoiked up over my bra in the privacy of one of the cubicles. (I imagined staff wondering why I was taking so long, and worried about what they might think.)
Thank God for the Slow Lounge at any rate. A toilet cubicle might not be the best place to express breast milk, but theirs are spacious and private. By 5.15pm, my boobs were painfully engorged and it was a tremendous relief to decant something, anything. I’d managed to express a little earlier, in a toilet cubicle at the client before the tech guy miked me up for my talk on brands and communication. Just enough to delay the pain.
Breast feeding while working isn’t easy, but breast feeding while travelling is even more of a challenge, as I found out during today’s trip. Normally I would say no to travel, but this was a favour for the chief creative officer and our biggest client. Not that I’m ever good at saying no at the best of times, but I believe in not disappointing clients if at all possible.
This, my first flight since having Ra-Ra, required a bit of preparation. For one thing, the prospect of being away from her for so long, and having to have so much pumped for her, catalyzed something I’d been holding out on for a while: formula.
Yes, dear reader, I caved. Last Friday, I finally accepted that I just can’t keep up. Either I spend the entire day plugged into my baby, or she starves. Neither is a serious option. At the time, I found the decision extremely stressful, to the point where I was conscious that my eyesight was negatively affected. For about half an hour, I went through the obligatory self-loathing and mild tearfulness before pulling myself together and admitting that not being under so much pressure is a relief.
Oh, every time I read the message on the NAN tin about how its contents are not breast milk, and the message on the Tommee Tippee box about how breast milk is the best food for babies, I feel an awful twinge of guilt – but not enough guilt to get the milk flowing reliably, sadly. Yes, I would very much rather my baby was exclusively breast-fed, but it’s not possible.
Today is the 26th, which means it is five months since Ra-Ra was born. She’s nowhere near that in real terms, of course, and she still fits into newborn clothing, but five months is what the calendar says. Today was also the longest I’ve been apart from her since she was born – more than 12 hours by the time my husband picks me up at the airport. I’ve missed her, but I’ve handled it better than I thought I would.
I’m writing this as I sit on the plane flying back home. The rumble of the engines fills my ears as we sail over the dark, cold earth 37,000 feet below. The family in front of me murmur in a language I can’t quite catch, though I think it might be Dutch. The captain is announcing from the “flydeck” that we’re about to begin our descent. The runway has just been changed because the wind direction has changed, which means we will land six minutes later than planned.
I’m aching to hold my baby, and I can’t wait to have her in my arms again.