WHENEVER I see breastfeeding mothers, I am always overwhelmed by joy. I end up staring at them with a deep sense of admiration. Often I am left with the desire to tell them about that great job that they are doing as mothers.
When I met 30-year-old Donia, one of the displaced lumads from Kapalong, Davao del Norte, I was immediately reminded of my own experience as a breastfeeding mother of two kids.
Her five children were all breastfed. She recounted her breastfeeding experiences to me while her youngest, 1 year old baby Jane suckled at her breast. She was smiling while she was telling me how breastfeeding always pacified her children, including Jane.
When I was nursing my eldest, I sustained scratches because I lacked techniques in proper latching-on. I would end up crying because of the pain. But I never gave up. The challenge allowed me to learn breastfeeding skills. And I learned well that I was already a pro when I had my youngest.
While breastfeeding, my diet included a lot of malungay and clams. My mother told me I needed to eat food that could improve milk production and flow. Like Donia, I never allowed myself to get hungry, afraid the production of milk will be affected.
To keep milk production, lumad mothers eat cassava.
There are many others like Donia at the evacuation center in UCCP Haran. Out of the 130 adult women, there are 69 breastfeeding mothers there. They told me that breastfeeding has always been a part of their traditional way of raising children.
For them, this has been the way of life — passed on by their grandparents to their parents and in turn, to them.
At the evacuation center, these mothers expose their breasts, oblivious of how others would react to such a display of affectionate unselfconsciousness. Some breasts are sagging, some firm, some big, others too small to feed a hungry mouth. These breasts, however, tell stories of motherhood, love, affection, and survival.
There are a lot of similarities between a city dwelling mother like me and the Manobo mothers. But unlike them, mothers like me always have the option to stop breastfeeding in favor of formula milk. We can also easily pump milk and store it in a bottle and while away working, babies are assured of milk at home.
But there’s no such option for lumad mothers.
Recently, I witnessed how breastfeeding create this beautiful emotional bond between a mother and her child in the times of crisis.
While on their way from their village in Talaingod to Davao City, a very agitated baby Jane only needed to suckle at her mother’s breasts to calm down. Obviously scared, the nursing mother also felt peace everytime Jane sucked her breast.
This beautiful calming effect was also recently displayed when police and soldiers and members of Alamara raided the UCCP Haran center.
While the lumad men clashed with the police, the mothers breastfed their babies.
August is Breastfeeding Month. Looking at the Manobo mothers is like looking at the real advocates for breastfeeding.
Looking at them nurse their children also make me see a deeper meaning into the calls for them to go home to their upland villages, to their communities – to where they are safe, to where they are not harassed by soldiers and paramilitary groups, to where it is peaceful and they can raise healthy, happy children.