Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here. This is Zikoko’s What She Said.
This week’s #ZikokoWhatSheSaid subject is a 29-year-old Nigerian woman who got married, had her first child and relocated to the UK in quick succession. She tells us about juggling school, work and motherhood, and just how hellish it could be to stop breastfeeding your baby.
Tell me about leaving Naija
All my life, I’ve wanted to do my master’s right after BSc. and launch my professional career on a high. But a lot of things happened — like, my dad passed right before my final year — so once I graduated in 2015, I kinda just said, “This will be the final bus stop, joh. I’m tired.”
Well, they say marriage comes with its blessings, and I can attest to that. Because right after I got married, the resources to pursue a master’s came through from both families. It felt like a dream come true, everything working together at once.
And I married someone I’ve known for 15 years. We went to the same secondary school, so we’ve known each other and kept in touch for that long. We dated for three years after my NYSC in 2016 and married during COVID in 2020. It’s been an amazing experience so far. I don’t want to sound cliché, but marrying your friend, it’s like we’re not even married, we’re just living together. There’s no routine, no rules.
Must be nice
Very nice. But for every next level, there’s a new devil; there are challenges that come with it.
Hmm… Let’s hear it
Hands down, the craziest time of my life was giving birth to my first child in 2021, but more precisely, getting her off breast milk after moving to the UK. I’ve never come across people, even parents, who talk about how hard it is to stop breastfeeding. And I don’t get it because… it’s crazy. Like, it’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to me in my entire life.
Oh wow. Let’s get into it a little bit. What made it crazy?
No one warned me about it. No one even tells you it’s something to prepare your mind for, at least, not in Nigeria. I’ve seen other people go through it, but I guess you don’t know what it’s like until you experience it yourself.
Please, tell me about your breastfeeding experience
So first off, I relocated with my husband and new baby to study in the UK this February . She was about ten months old at the time. I was juggling her with school until I got a job as a caretaker at a nursing home and started juggling all three.
Most weekdays, I attend classes from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., go for my evening work shifts then back home to take over babysitting duties from my husband, who works nights. Some nights, we have virtual group meetings for school, and I’m that student who has her baby in her arms, petting and begging her not to cry while trying her hardest to participate. I’m even a group leader. I also work on weekends from 10 to 5 p.m.
When she turned 14 months in June, it made sense to get her off my milk completely.
Breastfeeding her was painful from the beginning. I didn’t start producing milk until six days after her birth. And two weeks later, I woke up to find my left nipple bleeding. My mum told me to let her continue sucking with the blood, or she won’t accept breast milk from that breast again. My doctor also said the milk ducts could clog up if I didn’t let her despite the pain. You can’t imagine how painful it was. Thank God it healed after a few days.
Thank God. I’m so sorry
It was a lot.
I started weaning her at six months. But by 14 months, she would still avoid solid food because she knew she had something to fall back on. Then there was the midnight thing. Once she woke up to breastfeed, I found it difficult to go back to sleep. I needed it to stop.
So what did you do?
The entire experience took about six days. But you see those six days? It was like hell on earth. My breasts were full and swollen. I couldn’t pump the milk out, she couldn’t suck, and it was painful. Besides the pain, there was the fever. Having to combine that with a master’s programme and work? Well, it was a lot.
And you had no idea any of this would happen?
I feel parents, mothers especially, should tell their children the breastfeeding phase is hard. But it’s not talked about at all. It was painful. I could barely touch my body during that period because even the smallest part of my skin, in fact, to pee and poop, hurt. They tell you it only lasts three days, but my breasts were still producing milk by the fifth day.
What about your antenatal checkups? Shouldn’t those have prepared you for the whole breastfeeding process?
I had a serious health condition during my pregnancy I don’t want to get into, but I couldn’t attend most of those sessions. I was practically bedridden. But even if they mentioned it during antenatal, I bet they don’t stress the pain enough.
How do babies react to being taken off breastmilk? How did your daughter take it?
That’s part of it… part of the pain. I couldn’t handle her tears. It was traumatic. Her dad had to hold her while I hid from her. She still hasn’t forgotten about the milk, tbh.
But now, I give her water whenever she reaches for my breasts. From what I’ve observed, she only asks when she’s thirsty.
Knowing what you know now, would you have opted not to breastfeed at all?
No, I would’ve still breastfed my baby. I see how it’s helped her, especially those first six months. She was extremely healthy; people would ask if I was sure I was only feeding her breast milk.
Besides that, it helped us bond. I can’t explain it, but there’s just this connection that’s lasted even beyond the weaning period. That first phase was like getting to know her properly. It was the only way we could communicate. I would definitely breastfeed my next child.
Fair enough. What are some things that made the experience better?
Like I said, her growth gave me so much satisfaction. Watching her gave me the validation that I’m doing something right. Secondly, my husband. He made things way easier for me than it would’ve been if I had to go through it alone. The support is unmatched, from the day he found out I was pregnant up until now. He’s a real blessing.
Love to see it! So how do you feel in the aftermath?
I feel like the old me again, thank God.
What’s something that keeps you going through this hectic period?
I still get As in my courses!
It gives me great joy that I’ve always wanted to do this — to be an academic with a bright career in the corporate world ahead of her — and it’s happening. Every time I remember this, it’s all just worth it.