“We can’t see you back there Mrs. Shorty. You need to move forward.” the photographer said.
“Ha! She’s camera shy. Don’t worry, I’ll move her to the front right now.” Tamara called out, while pushing Mrs. Shorty forward. “This is your moment, so shine! You deserve it,” she said, winking at her.
“Whoop! Whoop!” some other colleagues yelled, showing their support.
Mrs. Desola Shorty smiled. Her hard work had paid off, and she was super grateful.
The journey to this moment began after her best friend, Tubo, put to bed. Desola was in the delivery room because Tubo’s husband was out of the country, and her friend insisted she should stay.
Desola was super surprised when barely ten minutes after the baby was out, the midwives insisted that she began breastfeeding.
“Won’t you allow her rest a bit before she starts feeding a baby?” Desola asked them.
“Rest ke?” the attending doctor remarked. “She needs to start as soon as possible, within one hour of birth to be sure that the baby receives colostrum. Colostrum is the thick yellow milk that first comes out and it is loaded with nutrients and antibodies that will protect the baby. Initiating breastfeeding in the first one hour also helps the mother lose less blood by causing the womb to contract. To crown it all, it helps the mother produce milk better.”
Turning to face Mishell the doctor added, “I hope you remember that it’s exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life that gives the best child outcomes…”
“Yes. I remember. And I need to start safe complementary foods by six months and continue breastfeeding for up to a year or two.” she replied nodding. “You’ve drummed it into my ears. I can’t forget.”
Over the next few months, Desola watched Tubo struggle to balance work and caring for her tender baby. She eventually had to stop work when she couldn’t cope, as her workplace was unsupportive.
That’s when Desola determined that things had to change. She didn’t want to give up her career after working so hard.
She asked other mothers how they handled the first few years of work after putting to bed and the tales they shared were heart-breaking. Many women knew the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding but had no choice but to drop their babies in crèches or with strangers. “We all have to choose one. You can’t eat your cake and have it obviously.” Martha added, a wry expression on her face.
But Desola would not be deterred. She wanted the best of both worlds. ‘There has to be a way.’ she thought.
After some research, she decided to speak to Mr. Rickshaw, the short, round man with a bald ring on his head. He was the head of the Human Resource Department and had earned the nickname ‘Stout’ for his uncanny similarity to a stout bottle.
“Sir, I would like to ask for a workplace crèche, and a breastfeeding room equipped with a fridge. This would help mothers breastfeed their babies during work breaks, and store breastmilk that they express safely.”
However, Mr. Rickshaw wasn’t interested in that idea. “Why should we incur more expenses because one or two women want to be mothers? This is a workplace and I would like to keep it that way! I don’t have time for lazy women who want to hide behind nursing a baby as an excuse to abscond from work. There have been working mothers without an office crèche, and the last time I checked, they didn’t have two heads!” he said, pushing his glasses higher up on the bridge of his nose.
Being a mother is a personal decision so if you have nothing else to say, then let’s get back to work. In case you don’t have any more work to do, I’ll be happy to give you some more.”
However, Desola was prepared. “Sir, you are right that being a mother is a personal decision but it is also a business decision with global impact.”
“How do you mean?” he asked, as he leaned back and folded his arms atop his pot belly, his face showing just a hint of curiosity.
“For starters, breastfeeding is natural and does not contribute to environmental pollution…”
“And what has that got to do with me or with this organization?”
“Well, if we destroy the world then there’ll be no business for any of us. But let me give a more relevant example. If Chikaodi, your trusted accountant for the past six years, has a baby now, what will happen? There’s no breastfeeding room at the office, so she drops the baby with some strangers at a crèche. She is constantly worried about the baby’s wellbeing and her mind drifts from office tasks. So she is physically present at work but can’t deliver optimally. One day she will mistakenly transfer 10 million naira to a wrong account. And guess what? We won’t be able to get the money out because it is a dormant account. The real client will be on our neck and we’ll all be running helter-skelter.”
“Ha! She’ll suffer the consequences then. Her job is gone! Abi which kain yeye mistake be dat?” Mr. Rickshaw thundered in his deep baritone voice.
“Exactly my point sir! What if she was your wife? Wouldn’t you rather save her job by providing a room and a fridge so she can contribute financially and not leave all the financial responsibilities on your neck? Or let’s even say she resigns because she can’t cope and her husband decides he will handle it. You get a new accountant who does some ‘Hushpuppi moves’ and wipes off the company’s account in a heartbeat. What happens to your job then?”
Mr. Rickshaw shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “But there are… never mind.” He said sighing deeply. “I’ll take it up to the management team. Oya, come and be going! You have successfully told me three ways I can lose my job or my peace of mind, and I don’t want any of that.”
“Thank you sir. You’re doing the right thing.” Desola replied. “And the best part is that your name will be written in gold as the HR that cares.”
“Ummh! Be scoping me! Just ensure you’re ready to defend this to the management board.”
“Yes sir!” she answered.
Days turned to weeks, and after some debate, the management board called on Desola.
“Mr. Rickshaw has told us all you said about how breastfeeding can impact our environment and our business. Do you have anything else you want to add as we consider your request?” the General Manager asked.
“Yes sir. I do. Research has shown that children who are breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life, and who continue to be breastfed for up to two years or more are less sick than those fed with formula? What that means for this organization is that there’ll be fewer work interruptions from parents who unexpectedly need to be away from work because of a sick child. You can take that to the bank!
Also, you say ‘Why can’t new mothers be like others who juggled everything? Your personal life shouldn’t be any of our business.’ But the truth is that when your workers feel you don’t care about them, they will only deliver the barest minimum. Just enough to keep their jobs. Now I ask, is that the kind of organization you want? The barest minimum? Wouldn’t you prefer that all members of staff, throw in their all and fight to remain with you in building your vision?” she said with narrowed eyes.
“The choice is yours but I do hope you choose wisely. Thank you.”
Talk about a ‘drop mic’ moment! She could feel their gaze on her back as she walked out of the room.
Four months later, a breastfeeding room was created for mothers to breastfeed while at work. One of the spaces was also converted to a comfortable crèche for their children.
And that is what they were dedicating today!
The photographer peered into his camera again. “Yeah. We’re all set now. On the count of three; one, two, three, say cheese!”
“Cheeeeeese!” everyone chorused.
As she smiled, the baby in her womb kicked for the first time, as if to say ‘well-done mum’.
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