It’s no use crying over spilt milk: an expression meaning there is no use in being upset over what you cannot change.

But I am still upset. Want to know why?  Well, here it goes! 

Zandi “Princess Zar” MqwathiFlashback to 19 May, 2006: my first day back home with my baby boy. In all my planning for motherhood, nothing — and I mean nothing — could have prepared me for those first days.

Having a “not-to-do list” from the hospital did not help at all. Upon leaving the clinic, I was injected with fear by the nursing sister whom, till this day, I think was just trying to help.

That day my life changed! The sister asked if I understood my condition. And I said yes. I thought I understood what it meant to be HIV positive. I was ready to do whatever was necessary to keep my baby safe and healthy.

The sister explained that I could only bottle-feed my baby, that formula was very nutritious and would ensure that the baby stayed HIV negative, healthy and strong.  With bottle feeding, there would be no need to give him other food or water.

My excitement turned into sadness when I got home. My breasts started leaking and my baby started crying. My breasts were full of rich, warm and nourishing breast milk and I was not able to give it to my baby.

At night, my pajamas were stained with breast milk. My mother (may her soul rest in peace) was confused as to why she couldn’t give her grandson any water or soft porridge, since she believed the baby cried from hunger.

I felt forced to disclose my status to my mother so she could understand the importance of exclusive bottle feeding.

Then I felt overwhelmed by the unnatural yet natural process that followed.

My mom advised me to put cabbage leaves on my nipples to stop the breast milk. There it was, the paradox – nature’s promise to bond with my baby while the most nutritious food is taken away from him using a traditional natural resource.

Thank God for the shift in the way HIV is perceived and managed. Today, WHO infant feeding guidelines recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, followed by continued breastfeeding  with appropriate complementary foods, for women who are not infected. HIV positive mothers on ARVs can breastfeed exclusively for six months. Read more here.

It is so sad that many HIV positive mothers still think that, once diagnosed, you cannot breastfeed.

It has been seven years since that day. And yes, my baby – Loyiso Jerome Mqwathi – grew up HIV negative, strong and healthy.

I have found ways to make up for that lost bonding time, although I still feel I was robbed of a chance to bond with my baby. For this reason, this spilt milk is worth crying over.

 Zandi “Princess Zar” Mqwathi  is a confident, innovative young leader and a former radio personality with a zeal and drive to use her craft and experiences to educate and empower other young women.

 

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