Mother’s Milk – Breastfeeding Mothers
If you’ve known me for any length of time, or even if we’ve had a conversation averaging fifteen minutes (in a bar or in the hallway of an academic building or around a campfire), the odds are high that you know some unsolicited detail about my coming-of-age. I like to disperse these jewels. I want to demystify myself for you (yes, you). The bit runs as follows:
“I hate the beach. When I was around five or six, I dug a Crayon out of the sand and ate it; two out of my three sisters tell me I’m their favorite sister; I first tasted moonshine when I was eleven; as newlyweds, my parents were poor kids, squatting at Oconee Point. And they scraped up the money to buy a watermelon, and my dad barreled into the woods with the whole thing under his arm; my mother breastfed me ‘til I was four and a half because I was disabled, and she figured I needed all the help I could get.” At this point in time, after I’ve animatedly divulged a slew of my non-secrets to you, it’s probable you’d like me to shut up. But you’re usually too polite to say so.
And it’s kind of wild, right? I mean, here I sit, in this chair that moves as I steer it. And I’m looking you square in the eye, maybe smiling a little. Maybe my fingers are popping in and out of joint, and it’s freaking you out. But I’m pretty! and I’m oddly personable!, so it’s decided that I’m good people. We become friendly, and you don’t even know what hit you. Sometimes we even exchange Facebook names and cellphone numbers to legitimize our bond. Then, just before parting, that one particular subject has a habit of resurfacing as something to the effect of, “Did your mom really nurse you so long?” This query, ever intoned with disbelief and a pious revulsion, is answered by an emphatic yep! And why not. I’m prouder than punch.
With me, following three successful home-births with my father acting as midwife/birth attendant/doula, my mama endured a horrible, dreadful, and life-threatening emergency cesarean section in the inaugural week of 1994. Her blood pressure had sky-rocketed. It was nearly the end of us both. And my dad, known to parade afterbirth around like it was the prize at the bottom of a cereal box, collapsed in the operation room when he saw the inside of his wife’s stomach and a blooded little Miriam being hoisted from it. Nothing improved from there for a long while. Two weeks passed before they released me from the NICU and back to my parents, back to my stubbornly convalescing mother. Against prevailing medical wisdom, I latched on without much of a fight.
There’s an anecdote (one of scores) my mom tells on Judeo-Christian holidays, at other people’s weddings or, my personal favorite, at the apple stand last Friday. Climbing out of the blue bus, not even looking at me but eyeing a bag of Golden Delicious on the front table, she says, “They all told me that I couldn’t nurse you because you didn’t know my scent. They said I was too unhealthy. But I was determined, and I was right. You had very capable teeth by the end, and you still didn’t want to give it up.” I do remember asking if not having my ninny meant I had to leave home. Evidently not. Though my sisters really had me going there. (They also had me convinced that I was a robot, but that is another story altogether.)
What I mean to say is, I am in awe of breastfeeding mothers and motherhood/parenthood in general. Biological, spiritual, adoptive, honorary—what have you. That initial umbilical pull is powerful enough to harness the surplus life within a female body, and even this routine phenomenon does not prepare a single child for how hard it is on the outside. And just maybe my mother nursed me for so long in the hope that, disability or no, I would be able to tell someone (yes, you) about myself without stating the obvious. I’m sorry if that makes you uncomfortable.
Read other writings by Miriam: