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Lisa Mansour, IBCLC, OBS Facilitator

Lisa with her daughter Joy

Lisa Mansour, IBCLC, with her second daughter

My life in breastfeeding

When I was young I didn’t have a lot of drive or direction when it came to education and career. I left art college uncertain about my future. I worked in admin jobs for a few years before I remembered a long-forgotten childhood dream of being a midwife. A friend showed me an advert for a Community Maternity Care Assistant post based at the John Radcliffe hospital and I thought I’d give it a go to see if I liked working in maternity, and I did. As it turned out, life took turns that made a midwifery degree impossible and I remained in that auxiliary role for 7 years. Early on, training on the postnatal wards, I found that I was pretty good at giving breastfeeding support – something I had never even thought about prior to this – and I fell very deeply in love with it: I had found my vocation. I took every opportunity to learn, train, deepen my knowledge and improve my skills and when I finally left the NHS, I was recruited to Oxford Baby Cafes (now OBS) in 2008.

My first daughter had been born in 2003 and as much as I thought I knew about breastfeeding, she was my greatest teacher in terms of real empathy for the experiences that other breastfeeding mothers had shared with me.

In 2010 I started studying to become a Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). This is not an easy thing to achieve and by now I was a lone parent on a low income, so had to muster every ounce of determination and self-discipline that I had to get myself through it. I spent nine months and a lot of money completing online courses, reading huge textbooks, discussing weird and wonderful cases with colleagues until I was ready for the IBCLC exam, which at that time happened only once a year and failure meant waiting another year and more cost to retake it. So no pressure! The exam started early on a Monday morning in central London, so I was up at the crack of dawn to get my daughter to a friend’s house and myself onto the long bus and train journey to a nerve wracking 5 hour exam. Yikes! I hadn’t felt so nervous since the day she was born and was very glad to have the company of my lovely colleague Jayne Joyce. After that, there was a 3 month wait for the results. I remember Jayne phoning me just after midnight to say that she’d got our freshly released results online and we had both passed, thankfully. In fact, I got the highest mark I’d ever achieved in anything because I had a genuine interest and love of the subject. (I hope the same will be true when we take our 10 year re-takes in 2021). For me, having this post-graduate level qualification was such an important thing. I don’t have a degree so felt that I had a lot to prove. It gave me a sense of equality with my peers (almost all of whom have at least one degree and many of whom are medical professionals).

I have been working for OBS (formerly Baby Café) for 12 years now and I still love it, every day. I am blessed with fantastic supportive colleagues and am enjoying working clinically with breastfeeding dyads whilst being a breastfeeding mother again myself. My second daughter is a few weeks off her second birthday as I write this and she, like her big sister, has been a great teacher.

Anyone who knows me personally will not be surprised that my development from Maternity Care Assistant to International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) was a unique path that I forged for myself, sometimes with nothing more than bold determination (I was a single mother, had no higher education, earned a low wage and am the daughter of an exiled refugee Egyptian father). I never personally encountered barriers that I would consider to be racist, but the system itself is very much skewed towards those with more money and education than I had. I was required to provide testimonials from my ex-line manager and the hospital’s infant feeding lead (having left the NHS 3 years previously) about my suitability as an IBCLC exam candidate - despite having more than fulfilled the stringent clinical and educational requirements – and was seen as an anomaly rather than being embraced as a candidate they wanted to support. I am not the sort of person to be put off by this level of scrutiny, for which I credit my very determined, well educated parents, my own good secondary education and growing up in an affluent area just outside of a dynamic and multicultural city. This coupled with my olive complexion meant that I did not experience the overt racism and disadvantages I could have.

I feel very strongly that we as a profession need to make it much easier for people like me to become breastfeeding supporters at every level. We never intended to be elitist and we don’t want to hold anyone back, so we have to change the rules and increase the opportunities. We need to find funding for training subsidies and we need mentoring schemes to truly support new colleagues because it is vital that we start to properly represent the diversity in the communities we support.

Lisa Mansour IBCLC & breastfeeding mother

August 2020

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