Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Humiliating Heathrow...

Heathrow, Terminal 5. Standing in an insufferably long queue at that stage in the proceedings when bags, laptops and shoes (*sigh* yes, shoes!) are x-rayed by mirthless, uniformed officials – and I remember hoping that someone would have such ghastly smelling shoes that it would either a) make one of them laugh, or b) forever damage their olfactory bulb as punishment for being so stubbornly without human humour! Standing in that queue with this tiny little baby felt like my life’s biggest challenge – and I eyed the curious and very mobile toddlers with much envy, imagining toddlers are a million times easier to handle on international travels because they can talk and walk. And it’s only now that I have one of those talking/walking excitement-machines and our next 12 hour flight looms ever closer, that I realise all those toddlers’ moms were, in fact, eyeing ME with great envy! Anyway, I’ve digressed twice already. Back to the security check. Watching each traveller ahead of me reacting to this necessary invasion of their space passed the time quite nicely, and I suddenly found myself at the front of the queue.

“Ma’am, do you have any liquids in your hand-luggage?” (Mentally rifling through the items wallowing in the copious depths of my handbag, I wondered if three tubes of lipgloss qualified as ‘liquids’, when suddenly I remembered the bottle of milk I’d so laboriously expressed that morning at home.)

“Um, yes. I think so.” (If looks could wither, which they can – then I was certainly withered to a mere smithereen by the security official. A woman, no less.)

“Well, do you – or don’t you?”

“My baby’s milk?!” I squeaked as inaudibly as possible, hoping this woman could lip-read. My cheeks burst into fire as I felt everyone in the queue around me scrutinise me with the same shameless contemplation I’d myself previously directed at the travellers in front of me!

“Yes, baby’s milk qualifies as a liquid.”

“Even breastmilk?” All I got in response was a glare that ruthlessly crumpled me like paper destined for the trash. I hauled out the bottle with its milk sloshing limpidly about, declaring for all to see that here was indeed this young mother’s bodily fluid. I was about as embarrassed as when I’ve had to drop off a urine sample in a clear plastic vial at the doctor’s. Also, I couldn’t hide my disbelief at the thought of my breastmilk being construed as a possible bomb-component! Imagine this news headline: “Mother caught in aeroplane loo trying to detonate her breastmilk! It is, all jokes aside, an explosive issue – and 13 months later I can see how ignorant I was. But then, I was still such a newbie at the breastfeeding thing, and felt the reactions of others so sharply that I succumbed to the well-meant advice to cover up so as not to offend anyone or cause sexual thoughts in other men, or to feed my baby rice-cereal at four months so she would sleep through the night (though I now know that a baby’s gut only closes up at 7 months!)

If the same security check had to happen to me today, I would have guffawed in maternal pride and turned around to give Heathrow Terminal 5 a happy little lecture on the magnificent miracle of breastmilk – e.g. that there are four different types of stem-cells in breastmilk, reproductive cancers are much less likely to occur in the breastfeeding mother and the breastfed child etc. (I will be posting a selection of resources next week with links to exciting discoveries and research. But again, for those moms who couldn’t or wouldn’t breastfeed, please remember that I support every mother’s right to feed her child in the way that best suits them in their unique situation!) The security official asked me to please drink the milk to prove it wasn’t some conspiratorially flammable substance! If it weren’t for the deadly stringent look on her face, I would have thought she was pulling my leg – but, no, there I stood, cheeks absolutely crimson, drinking my own warm, sweet breastmilk from a baby-bottle! Needless to say, the broken breastpump, the surreal humiliation and my worry about Layla actually drinking from it to ease her ear-pressure upon take-off was for naught because Layla refused the bottle with her trademark vehemence, and it turned out to be fabulously easy to sommer just breastfeed her, seatbelted up and all! There was no screaming or visible signs of ear-pain on Layla’s part – and, in fact, she seemed to actually enjoy the take-off, and the landing, 12 hours later. The moral of the story? Try not to let the scaremongers scare you into hours of pointless worrying – because, if you can be calm and cheerful, your bub will be too!

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