Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The Immigrant Experience, Baby Edition
I have a friend who works with new moms and their babies in a hospital that serves a broad population including immigrants from a huge range of countries. She regularly handles discharges with the aid of a phone interpreter and is used to seeing all sorts of traditions, such as kohl eyebrows drawn on female Somalian babies by their fathers.
Recently, she cared for a Burundian mother who spoke not a word of English, and when she brought the baby to the mother for the first feeding, she gestured in a way that said "will you be breastfeeding"? The mother gestured in a way that indicated she would not, and my friend was puzzled, but she respected the mother's wishes and brought a bottle.
Later, a minister from the woman's church came to visit her. She spoke English fluently, so my friend asked her whether women in Burundi typically breastfeed. The minister, also a woman, said of course, that's how we feed our babies. My friend then related the ealier conversation with the new mom and asked the minister to help her talk to the mom aobut it.
During the short conversation, the woman said she hadn't wanted to breastfeed because she was worried about offending my friend. Alone in a hospital, thousands of miles from anything familiar and unable to communicate, she was not feeding her baby in the way she wanted to because she thought it would be rude.
My friend quickly explained that it was not necessary to be polite about this, and the woman promptly lifted the baby to her breast and began to feed her.