When Nature Fails Nurture

When Nature Fails Nurture

By Maria Kostaki

Sleepy Mom w slippersI hated breastfeeding. Not because it hurt. Not because… I can’t think of another reason normal women don’t like breastfeeding, but not because it hurt. A few minutes after my son was born, my midwife placed him on my breast. It was the second most magical moment of my life; the first was watching him pee on the OR floor as the OBGYN shouted “Oh! He’s blond!” and handed him over to the nurse to clean up. The following day he spent nine straight hours on my breast. I had a C-section, he’d insisted on staying head up in the womb and my body’s quarters were growing dangerously small for him. It hurt to sit up, to lie down, and it definitely hurt to have an extra seven pounds on me for nine hours. But I didn’t hate it yet. It was still magic.

A week later, this is how my day goes:

10:00 pm: Stumble up the stairs to bedroom with husband behind me, hauling sleeping baby in portable crib, freaking out that he will wake and I will have to feed.

10:05 pm: In shower (sometimes), nipples burning at the slightest contact with warm of water.

10:10 pm: Asleep.

11:00 pm: Baby wakes for feeding. Right breast.

11:15 pm: Left breast.

11:25 pm: Asleep with baby on breast.

Midnight: Woken up by baby sliding off me and me sinking off the three pillows behind my back. Breastfeeding pillow is on the floor.

12:30 am: Baby awake for feeding. Right breast.

12:45 am: Left breast.

1:00 am: Baby asleep on breast. Carefully release nipple from mouth, slowly place baby in cot.

3:00 am: Jump out of bed to look at clock, feeling rested, terrified that something has happened to baby. Maybe he starved.

3:05 am: In kitchen, one hand holding pump to right breast (it works better), the other flipping and crushing candy to stay awake. Pop open a beer, they say it helps milk production.

3:25 am: Carefully place 60ml of pumped milk in fridge. Sneak upstairs.

4:30 am: Baby wakes for feeding. Wake up husband. Send him to warm refrigerated milk. Breastfeed baby while husband warms milk.

4:35 am: Leave baby with husband and turn back to both. Baby eats and falls asleep on husband’s chest.

6:00 am: Baby wakes to feed. Right breast.

6:15 am: Left breast.

You get the picture.

By month two, I’m a complete disaster. I rub my red, cracking nipples with olive oil, sit on my side because post-pregnancy hemorrhoids won’t let me sit on my ass, I’m exhausted, my baby is hungry and grumpy, cries most of the day, never sleeps for over an hour straight, and I feel like the weakest woman to ever walk the earth. Weak and useless. I can’t even feed my own child. A friend suggests I go to a lactation specialist.

“No, don’t,” another friend says. “I did and she took too much money from me and didn’t help. Just keep pushing through it, it’ll get easier.”

I go see another friend who gave birth six months before me. She has huge breasts, bursting with the magic serum, there’s so much of it, she feeds her son and her niece at the same time.

We go out as a family, just down the street, to a couple who are close friends. My son doesn’t sleep for a second, so I spend the day on the couch in their spare room with him on my breast. The woman friend keeps coming in to watch. Fascinated. She doesn’t know I am failing. I pretend everything is all right and keep at it.

At the end of month two, the pediatrician makes a house call. I buzz her in and return to my crying baby. I’ve laid him on the floor, gotten down on all fours, and tried to feed him in this rather primitive position that the Internet suggested I should try. The doctor pulls me up from the floor. Writes something on a piece of paper. Hands it to me. It’s a name of an organic formula brand.

“Go get it now,” she says.

I do. Baby eats, baby sleeps for four straight hours. My life changes.  But the guilt for giving up grows at the same rate as my son.

Two years later, I’m at the pool where I take my son for swimming lessons.

A woman is changing her two-and-half year old son next to me. She takes off her bathing suit and covers her body with a towel. Or so I assume. Next thing I know, her child was going to town on her breast. I didn’t manage to breastfeed for as long as I wanted to; I envy and look up to mothers who do, for however long they want, as long as they want to. This woman gave her child her breast after he spent half an hour swimming. This kid was hungry. She let him feed for ten seconds. And he kept asking for more. She told him to put his socks on. He kept asking for more. She got dressed. The kid went nuts.

My son stared. Oh wow, I said, immediately grateful that nothing worse came of my mouth. And then it did. “Oh honey, don’t get any ideas,” I said, zipping up his dinosaur sweatshirt. The woman asked how long I breastfed. Six months, I lied. “Oh, so he doesn’t really remember then, ” she said. No, but I do.

Maria Kostaki is a native of Moscow, Russia, but has spent most of her adult life on a plane from Athens, Greece to New York City and back. She has worked as an editor and staff writer for Odyssey magazine in Athens and New York, and her debut novel Pieces (She Writes Press) publishes in May 2015. 

Illustration by Christine Juneau


Did I Breastfeed?

Did I Breastfeed?

Mother Breastfeeding her newborn baby

By Claire McMurray

Did I breastfeed my daughter? As a new mother I spent an unhealthy amount of time grappling with this question. Not because I wanted an answer for anyone else, but because I needed one for myself. I still don’t truly know. For the first few weeks of her life my baby had a mix of breastmilk and formula. Then she had milk from the breast, even though she screamed every time I tried to feed her. At 12 weeks I gave up feeding her at the breast and she got pumped milk in bottles for the next few months. When I tapered off the pumping she got a mix of frozen milk and formula. Then it was just formula.

It was the disconnect between what seemed like a simple question and my own baby’s intricate and flexible breastfeeding timeline that sent me into a tailspin. What exactly is breastfeeding? I wondered. Is it just milk from the breast? Does pumped milk count too? And what about duration? What if I only breastfed for a few days or a few weeks? Would that count?

Eventually I turned to the research and science behind breastfeeding in the hope that it would help me settle my confusion. I emerged even more bewildered than ever. I had assumed that breastfeeding studies would be based on a shared assumption of what “breastfeeding” meant. However, many studies I found defined breastfeeding on their own terms, with researchers choosing a variety of ways to divide breastfeeding mothers from non-breastfeeding ones. Worse, some studies did not mention the criteria they used to define breastfeeding at all. All of this has even lead to conflicting results among studies.

An article entitled “What is the Definition of Breastfeeding” finally came close to answering my questions. According to the author, a 1988 meeting about the definition of breastfeeding sponsored by The Interagency Group for Action on Breastfeeding (IGAB) resulted in a set of definitions for breastfeeding, including exclusive breastfeeding, almost exclusive breastfeeding, full breastfeeding, full breast milk feeding, partial breastfeeding, and token breastfeeding. The consortium also defined breastfeeding as applying only to a certain moment in time and differentiated breastfeeding from breast milk feeding (what I was doing when I pumped and bottle fed the milk to my baby). Other health organizations, like The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, have a different set of definitions. They group breastfeeding into the categories of exclusive, predominant, full, and complimentary.

What struck me most after all of this reading was that the idea of multiple definitions of breastfeeding was already in place. I was surprised to learn that some researchers and health organizations had already been arguing for years for the nuanced differentiations and distinctions that I felt were so necessary and so lacking.

Yet my astonishment died quickly. If I was unaware of these ideas, it was because they have failed to make it into the popular press and into the public’s consciousness. Too often we still see breastfeeding in Manichean terms, as a two-sided debated pitting “those who do” against “those who don’t.” Instead of nuance, fluidity, and multiple possibilities, we picture a presence or a lack. It is a dangerous duality constantly perpetuated by science and health reporting, media headlines, and even our own pediatrician, family, and friends.

Why does all this matter? Why should I or any other mother care about the definition of breastfeeding? Quite simply because it is through the network of mothers that we can change the narrow view of what breastfeeding is. We can give ourselves and each other permission to embrace the full set of possibilities that exist. In fact, we can do even better than that. We can promote and make visible the idea of a breastfeeding spectrum upon which every woman can locate herself at a certain moment in time. We can recognize it as flexible, adaptable, and individualized. And we can refuse to be divided into camps and set in opposition to one another when we read, listen, or talk about breastfeeding. Let’s even stop writing and talking about respecting the other “side.” What if there were no sides?

I have decided that changing my definition of breastfeeding will be my own personal act of feminist solidarity. And I have pledged to myself that I will change my own breastfeeding vocabulary. I won’t use words like “side” or “camp.” I won’t ask anyone if she has or has not breastfed. Most importantly, I will stop asking myself the question Did I breastfeed? I’ll replace it with a better one: Where am I on the spectrum?

Where are you?

Claire has published essays in Parent Co, Scary Mommy, and Sammiches and Psych Meds. Her stories have been  published online in Aphelion Magazine and by Scholastic Press. Claire currently live in the Midwest and work as the Graduate Writing Specialist at a university writing center. I earned a Ph.D. in French literature from Yale in 2010.


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Milk and Cake

Milk and Cake

beauty child at the blackboard

By Sarah Bousquet

Last week it occurred to me, I’ve stopped counting my daughter’s age in months. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It just tapered off, which I suppose is typical after age two. This morning I measured her height on the pantry door frame. She’s grown an entire inch since we last measured her on her birthday in January. Then I started counting days on the calendar and discovered her half-birthday is exactly halfway between her dad’s birthday and mine. I told her we’ll bake a half-birthday cake.

Her legs suddenly look so long. “She’s stretching out,” my mom says. That’s what it feels like too, stretching, both of us. Drifting from our perfect dyad, stretching toward autonomy. The evolution of nursing newborn to nursing toddler-the dramatic growth and change, the intimacy and beauty-is almost impossible to capture. From balled fists to dexterous hands. From curled toes to toddler feet flung in my face. It feels like only months ago I sat glassy-eyed and thirsty, nursing my newborn, so voracious, it felt like she was sucking milk from the bones of my back.

There is the magic of that transition from cut umbilical cord to latched breast; nine months of nourishment invisible, now suddenly right before your eyes. And you see how perfect the design. For us, breastfeeding was that easy. Instant and harmonious. Nursing my baby evolved almost as unconsciously as my heart pumping blood.

The triumph of a body doing what a body does was packed with meaning. After nearly three years of struggling to conceive, I became pregnant naturally, much to my surprise and elation. For months and then years I had worried, wondered, researched—why wasn’t my body working? My pregnancy was an answered prayer, but one fraught with anxiety. The act of breastfeeding, just moments after giving birth, my daughter’s perfect latch, allowed me to see my body in action. It was the assurance I was providing everything she needed, the empowerment of a body at work.

When my daughter was six months old, a hyper clarity bloomed. I would listen to conversations, observe the behavior of others, and have sudden insights, new depths of understanding. I remember saying to my husband, “It’s the strangest thing, I feel like I can almost see right through people.” I called them popcorn epiphanies, these realizations that came in quick succession like kernels popping in the pot. I tried to write a few down, but they felt indescribable and came too quickly.  The lactating brain is plastic and creative; new neurochemical pathways are forged during the process of breastfeeding. I felt the changes in myself as surely as I saw the changes in my daughter. As she awakened to the world around her, taking in sights and sounds, babbling and laughing, intelligent eyes holding my gaze, I too became more alert and aware, both of us growing together.

I more often use the term nursing, which feels all-encompassing and true. Because breastfeeding is about much more than nourishment. It is medicine, comfort, bonding, security. You have only to nurse a toddler who has just finished a breakfast of banana pancakes to understand that nursing is pure contentment. Pure peace.

And sometimes pure hilarity. When she’s in her father’s arms calling out, “Goodnight, Mommy! Goodnight, milks!” When she charms and cajoles, “How about milks on the couch? Sound like a plan?” Or when I step out of the shower, and she’s there handing me a towel, her face so full of glee, calling out, “My milks! My milks!” Such celebration of my body. Such love.

I’ve been reflecting as it begins to taper. I’d never set any specific goals around nursing, no timelines or numbers. I have followed my baby’s cues and my body’s cues. And I will follow that wisdom into the next phase, as we grow together, celebrating the glittering increments, marking the door frame, baking half-birthday cakes.

Sarah Bousquet is Brain Child’s 2016 New Voice of the Year. She lives in coastal Connecticut with her husband, daughter and two cats. She is currently at work on a memoir. She blogs daily truths at https://onebluesail.com. Follow her on Twitter @sarah_bousquet.


When I Said Goodbye to Nursing

When I Said Goodbye to Nursing

By Jennifer Berney


Some months ago, after enduring four hours of dental surgery, my toddler emerged from anesthesia groggy and pissed off. He punched at my ear and my jaw as I carried him to the car, and then he cried the whole ride home. I brought him to the kitchen where he clung to me and threaded his fingers through my hair, still sobbing. I offered him some blueberry yogurt in a bowl. He calmed himself enough to eat a few bites, and then he pointed to the couch. I carried him there, and once we settled, he asked to nurse. I lifted my shirt and cradled him. His breathing steadied, as did mine. I wiped the tears from his face with the edge of my sleeve. My eyes wandered around the room. “Other side,” my son requested eventually, and so we changed positions. All in all he nursed for maybe fifteen minutes, and in that time he was restored to his usual self. As I righted my bra, he slid off the couch and began to chase his older brother around the living room.

I had no idea that this would be the last time we ever nursed.

My approach to weaning had been so haphazard that perhaps it’s a stretch to even call it an “approach.” A year earlier I had wanted to quit because my son—newly two years old then—woke up desperate to nurse every morning. His demand was so insistent that it limited my ability to meet my own basic needs. I learned to master the art of peeing with a child propped on my lap and to brew a cup of hot tea with my one free hand. He seemed to have an internal rule: his feet could not touch the floor before he nursed.

Once I brought him to the couch, he wanted to keep me there all morning. If I tried to unlatch him after, say, twenty minutes, he looked me coolly in the eye and moved my hand away from his mouth. After several months of this, I left town for a conference and was gone for seven nights and seven mornings. Without me, my son woke up happy. He walked straight to the kitchen table and ate his breakfast.

I returned home wondering if our nursing relationship was over, and also knowing that I need not wonder—the decision was mine to make. If he asked to nurse, I could simply tell him no. The airport shuttle dropped me off at home an hour after bedtime. I peeked at my sleeping children and settled in my own bed. In the morning my younger son wrapped his arms around me, smiled, and asked for a bowl of cereal. We had spent two hours of our morning together before he put one hand on my shoulder, cocked his head, and asked me “nursey time?” I hesitated for a moment, and then I said, “Okay.”

In the months that followed, my son nursed less and less. Sometimes he’d go two days without asking. Occasionally, he’d ask twice in one day. Each time he asked, I wondered when I would start saying no.  With my first son, I had drawn a clear line. “This is our last time nursing,” I had told him before our final session. It was late on a Saturday morning and sun blasted through my bedroom window. I propped up pillows so that I could comfortably sit and nurse, just as I’d done a thousand times before. I thought about his first days at home and the hours I had spent in this same spot latching and unlatching my newborn, trying to get it right. I thought about the midnight feedings and the naptimes, and all the times that nursing had put an end to tears. It was a tender moment, this final goodbye, and the clarity of my boundary allowed me to savor all of the flavors, the bitter and the sweet.

I had expected to do the same with my second son, eventually. And then one day I realized that we hadn’t nursed in weeks. Our nursing relationship had ended without ceremony. I only remember our last time because it was such an unusual day.

I am thirty-nine now and, by choice, I will have no more children. I will never be pregnant again. I will never nurse another baby. I feel relieved about this, and sad about this, but more than anything I feel puzzled. How did I get here so quickly? Every day I look at my seven-year-old son and tell myself that he’s halfway to fourteen. Before I know it, he’ll be shape shifting into a man. My second child, my three-year-old, still looks like a baby to me most of the time. But then last night as he raced two imaginary friends across the living room, he looked suddenly taller, leaner. I could see in him a preview of the child he’s becoming. Somehow, suddenly, I’ve arrived at the phase of parenting where my children leave my embrace as often as they seek it.

I leave behind the years of intensive physical parenting, the years of rinsing diaper inserts in the toilet, of wiping drool away from chins, the years of mastitis and sore nipples, of baby whorls and cradle cap, the years of rarely being alone and always being needed, of being too crowded in the bed, of being asked to sing the same song over and over and over in spite of my broken voice.

Those years are now behind me. They are years that were as frustrating as they were joyful, but I have no doubt that the filter of nostalgia will eventually render them perfect. There’s no token I can hold—no lock of hair or beloved blanket—that will actually bring those years back. That era has come to an end with no clear warning, no announcement. This is of course, the way of things. To say goodbye, I must turn around and wave to the thing that is already gone.

Jennifer Berney is a Brain, Child contributing blogger. Her essays have also appeared in The New York Times Motherlode, the Brevity blog, and Mutha. She is currently working on a memoir that chronicles her years-long quest to conceive a child. You can connect with her on Twitter, or on her personal blog, Goodnight Already.

Why I Pump in a Storage Closet at Work

Why I Pump in a Storage Closet at Work

By Marjke Yatsevitch


While many support the idea of pumping at work, the world of the nursing mother is still happening in a shadowy corner.


The recliner sits in the corner of a storage closet, surrounded by old telephones, bedraggled hangers, boxes of bank statements and purchase orders, and spools of tickets used for 50/50 raffles. It is not a nice chair. Its upholstery might have once been a shade of pink, but it now reflects a low-pile sadness that must have a name like puce, or dun, or boiled yam.         

For the second time today I am sitting in the intermittent light of a motion sensor, wearing a brazier-like contraption that allows me to write, while I extract as many vital ounces of breast milk as I can, before second lunch ends.       

I am at work—and compared to many other nursing mothers who work, I have it pretty good. I am not perched on a toilet trying to negotiate an absence of power outlets. I have not been walked in on, yet. I have not made agonizing eye contact with an athletic director as he stands in the doorway of my hiding place, jawing a palm-sized piece of pizza, and too slowly, saying, “I heard a weird noise,” without apology. I have a supportive and generally good humored administrative team, and I have a Styrofoam cooler next to me on which I can place a water bottle and the apothecary of herbal supplements that I need to produce 16 ounces of milk each day.        

The whole situation would be hilarious if it weren’t so important; if it didn’t drive the two greatest pressures of my life, teaching and parenting, right into each other, divining one of my least favorite circumstances: one in which it is impossible to succeed.

On the first day of school, I returned from maternity leave knowing I would need to pump. I underestimated what that meant, and had not developed any real system for it. I glibly transported my subpar breast pump in its neat little carrying case to work with me that first morning, with a few bottles and an ice pack. What I should have done is walked through the step-by-step process with impeccable precision.

Instead, I was a hot mess. I made the rookie mistake of washing all of my pump parts in the front office sink. Where else could I have gone? Could I have laid out some elaborate sanitary blanket on a bathroom floor somewhere? Where would I put all of these damp tubes and bottles? I hadn’t thought through the systems, and I was too embarrassed to ask a veteran. While scrubbing a sink full of phalanges and nipples, the school art teacher came to my rescue—she suggested I put the unwashed parts into a paper lunch bag, one that breathes, to keep in the front office fridge until the next time I would need them.

Even armed with the cleverest of tips, so much depends on timing; fire drills and schedule changes, faculty meetings, and kids in crisis can dismantle the best laid plans. Or, more intimately, the limitations of my own body: dehydration, leaks, swollen breasts, raw nipples, and exhaustion compromise my professionalism, daily. Milk production is mostly out of my hands, and so are the inherent needs and obligations of my career.

I had not spent a day away from my son until that first day back; I had never developed a pumping schedule, one that might work once I returned to school. Thankfully, the first day had been for staff members, not students. The principal’s secretary lent me her storage closet key.

A low mechanical drone overpowered the room, with halting thwacks sounding like a tennis ball hitting a wall. I wish I could multitask while pumping, but most are off limits: phone calls, filing, anything that involves movement or engaged brain cells. I settle on answering email, usually, but still wonder at the surrealness of me in my surroundings: shirtless in a storage closet sending out missives to unsuspecting colleagues. It just feels weird.

In the throws of pumping at work, so many things can go wrong. Spills, overflows, running out of bags, power shortages. There are figuratively and literally a lot of working parts—tubes, sterile bags, bottles, caps, phalanges, membranes, motors, power supplies, adapters, freezer packs, and a whole array of materials used to disguise my goods when I have to store them in the community fridge. But the comedic humility of it all is nothing.

There is something about having to hide, even as I perform a vulnerable and essential task. While many support the idea of pumping at work, the world of the nursing mother is still happening in a shadowy corner. For each of us who sit in a storage closet, while trying our damndest to remain invisible, there is a cost. The variable conditions and compromises that women who return to work have to make, reveal the wide gaps in understanding what we go through, and the need for some candor.           

I count the bells through lunch hoping that I am still safe within a cushion of time that will allow me to return to my room with my game face on, ready to perform, as if nothing humbling and indiscrete has happened. As if I had not just balanced everything that mattered on a very thin wire.
Marjke Yatsevitch grew up in the woods among reclusive farmers and artists, and has slowly been adapting to quasi-suburban parenting, teaching high school English, and seeking comforts in gardens and kitchens on the Seacoast in New Hampshire.

To The Disapproving Man Watching Me Breastfeed in a Restaurant

To The Disapproving Man Watching Me Breastfeed in a Restaurant

By Allison Martin


To the disapproving gentleman at the corner table,

I’ve been lumbered with ample bosom since my mid-teens and it has been a source of embarrassment, not pride. I’ve covered up in baggy tees and long-envied more athletically built ladies, their ability to wear tank tops or halter necks without unsightly straps spoiling their sartorial elegance.

So, believe me when I say that sitting here, in this restaurant with my breast on show, I’m as, if not more, embarrassed than you could ever be.

I say on show but there’s less flesh flaunted here than you’d see on MTV, in the movies, on the covers of dozens of newspapers and magazines or on any beach across the world on a hot, summer’s day.

My baby son’s head and body cover much of my milk-filled mammary as he, oblivious to your distaste, enjoys his own lunch while you attempt to choke down your steak in the face of such horror.

I could cover the little guy with a scarf to spare us both any blushing, but I suspect if the waitress asked either of us to eat with a tablecloth over our heads we would be aghast, an unpleasant, hot and bothersome way to take a meal. I’m sure you’d agree.

I could remove myself to avoid your embarrassment, feed my hungry child in the bathroom but then, the idea seems somewhat ridiculous and, not just a little, unsanitary.

If the manager suggested you or I munch our margarita pizzas to the backtrack of hand dryers and toilets flushing we would, I suspect, protest.

I understand that the sight of me feeding my child is a painful experience. Getting to the point of being able to feed him was something of a painful experience for me. I knew I wanted to breastfeed but boy was I surprised when it didn’t come naturally. Initially it was agonizing, so much so I almost threw in the towel, then an infection meant I was unable to feed him for two weeks. I can’t tell you how heart-breaking this was, expressing milk only to pour it down the drain in the vain hope my little man wouldn’t reject my boob having developed a taste for the bottled stuff. Again, with much support and encouragement from friends, family and an incredibly patient partner, we persisted.

I know you’re embarrassed to be eating your green beans just yards away from such exposure, I can see it in your eyes. I had that same look as my boobs were manhandled by a wonderful breastfeeding counsellor who came to my home and worked with myself and my son as we tried to get it together as a feeding team. I’m not ashamed to say there were lots of tears, a good dollop of anger and the occasional expletive along the way. But I’m guessing you’ll understand that level of frustration, you look pretty frustrated right now as you mutter to your friends and throw disapproving looks in my direction.

I could, I suppose, pretend I haven’t noticed your annoyance or ignore your feelings but, then, I was raised to respect the feelings of others and I intend to raise my own son that same way. I’m sure you’d agree that compassion is a much-underrated quality and, God knows, society could do with more of it.

I am, I like to think, a caring human being and, as such, I’m sorry that you’re unhappy. I know you came here hoping to enjoy a delicious meal, good company and maybe a beer or glass of Chardonnay. I know this because it’s why I’m here too. I don’t get out that much so I aim to enjoy myself on the rare occasion I do. I can only apologize that the sight of something so offensive, so freakish as a mother mammal feeding her cub is putting you off your potato dauphinoise and putting a real chink in your dining experience.

I wish I was able to oblige you but, unfortunately, my priorities must be with the hungry 12-week-old and, unlike you or I who may complain to the maître-d if the service was tardy, my little boy has neither the communication skills nor patience, he will, if denied, just howl the place down. Perhaps that would be preferable, less intrusive to your lunch than the vista of the top third of breast you’re currently being confronted with?

Maybe if we both focused on our own meals, our own friends and their lively conversation it would make life easier. In short sir, if the amount of bosom on show, which would frankly fail to raise eyebrows in a Jane Austen novel, troubles you so deeply, might I suggest, to avoid yours and my own discomfort, you simply STOP LOOKING, and let me feed my baby.

Yours sincerely,

A breastfeeding mum

Allison Martin is a freelance writer and mum-of-one. She used to be a news reporter for The Daily Mirror and now writes features and blogs for The Guardian, Reader’s Digest, Mother & Baby and the Huffington Post amongst others. She lives in London with her partner, three-year-old son and a goldfish called Bookworm. You can follow Allison on Twitter @AlliMartin

I Just Needed A Hand

I Just Needed A Hand

By Amy Challenger

overwhelmed-mom“Get that kid OUT OF HERE!” yelled Cindy the music teacher, swatting at the air with one hand while holding up a basket of CDs with the other. She elevated the gifts she had promised to the toddlers, high above their chubby grabbing hands. Her torso twisted, pulling at the seams of a tight, bright-colored jacket. One fuzzy-haired 3-year-old grabbed at her polyester pants. Determined to get to the CDs first, he had already leapt across the room to get to her, like a mini ninja warrior, ignoring her request to stay seated. The other toddlers had followed—a drooling sea of arms and “gimmees.” Now Cindy toppled onto herself, tripping on her awkward feet, before regaining her balance. Her round nose wrinkled beneath her eyes bulging downward, glaring at the lead ninja.

My boy.

Did she really just yell that in front of all of these moms and kids? I thought, glancing at the horrified faces of the women standing along the rim of the scene.

My face flushed. I felt like I might pee my pants. I was helplessly on the far side of the mass of little bodies, and now my arms reached out, paddling through the toddler current to get to my boy. Must. Get. There. Before he tantrums! I thought, panting, trying not to fall on top of my seven-week-old baby girl, who was sucking from my breast, beneath a white cotton sling attached to me.

As music class had ended, Cindy announced that she’d give gifts to all children who remained seated, waiting for their names to be called. The gifts were CDs packaged in colorful cases. I had calculated that these “flingable” objects handed around could trigger my boy’s impulse to chase and grab. And surely the word “gift” would zap his impulse control. The excitement could inhibit his ability to consider other bodies, recognize sounds, or follow commands. As I had considered the impending doom, my infant started to cry. Surely this additional shrill sound would only make my boy’s sensitivity worse. I quickly looked down to quiet the baby, latching her on to my nipple beneath the white cotton fabric of my sling. And then my boy disappeared.

Now Cindy’s perfectly manicured fingers were attempting to detach him from her thigh. “Let go!”

While still clinging to the polyester, he screeched back, “Gimee. Gimee da CD!”

He had been diagnosed with ADHD and symptoms of sensory processing disorder. He had anxiety, maybe PTSD, possibly from his open-heart surgery during infancy and the hospitalization and medications he had received for a life-threatening arrhythmia.

“Excuse me, excuse me,” I said nervously, knowing loud noises, chaotic motion, and prizes yanked AWAY would ensure a complete meltdown.

Weeks before that morning, I had explained to Cindy that my boy had special needs. He’d been kicked out of preschool on the first day for no specific reason while I was in the hospital having my third C-section. “He just doesn’t fit here. Can’t return tomorrow,” his preschool teacher had said through the phone by my hospital bed. Since that morning, I had called all sorts of classes, therapy groups, and preschools, searching for help while caring for my two toddlers and infant, all born in less than three years. When I found Cindy, the music teacher, I had explained that my boy sometimes became “over-stimulated,” particularly during transitions; but a calm music class could provide therapeutic benefits if lead by a patient instructor. She had assured me that, with her numerous years of experience teaching in Tiburon, California, she was fully capable of teaching every kind of child—even a boy like mine.

But there we were. Commanded to GET OUT.

“We have to go, honey! Come on!” I tried, when I finally reached my boy. He kept jumping and pulling on Cindy, so I lifted him with my free arm and pulled him away hollering, kicking, and hitting me. Once close to the doorway where our shoes waited, I lowered myself to the floor, with him on the opposite side of the baby still nursing in the sling. I groped for his shoes with my free, shaky hand. “We have to go,” I said, using my feet to slide our bottoms toward the door while my clumsy swinging arm attempted to land a blue crock onto his wild foot. It was hopeless. My boy hated shoes—they itched his skin—they confined him.

Meanwhile, Cindy handed out the CDs, smiling to the other moms and children, compensating for her earlier outburst. She dropped a plastic case next to me with a grimace, reminding me that I needed to leave.

“I’m trying!” I yelped in disbelief as my boy grabbed for his prize.

“Lemme go!” he screamed kicking at the air, scratching my arm. My infant girl finally became irritated, belting out a cry from below. It was all so ridiculous—opposite of how I had imagined motherhood to be. I sucked cracker-smelling air inward, as I tried to imagine a way out of my humiliation. The tears forced their way out with the exhale, exploding down my red cheeks. My sobs jerked uncontrollably, revealing the truth. I was so tired. So lost. So lonely.

I’m a terrible mom, I thought. Pathetic. I couldn’t even get out of the damned classroom. Worse, I was partially blocking the door, like a wet, ugly mat. The other moms’ white sneakers stepped across our sobbing heap on their way out of the classroom, yanking children behind them, tripping and bumping our legs. They did not speak to me. They did not look down at me. They just left. The children stared a little, peering back, as they were pulled out the door.

After most mothers had disappeared, I finally dragged my shrieking boy outside by the legs, into the dry fall breeze. As soon as we reached the pavement, he jumped up and ran barefoot through the busy parking lot. I chased him, seeing Cindy through my tears. She watched through an open window. “I told you about him… I told you,” I cried.

“This was your fault. Not his. Your infant, your breastfeeding was disruptive,” she called like an angry crow. (I had seen many other moms come with infants, so her comment made little sense to me. But nothing did that day.)

Six years later, after thousands more difficult days of parenting, I reflect back on that episode, and I feel sad. I needed kindness. I needed help. But believe it or not, I think that flailing on the floor of a classroom was one of my early motherhood gifts in disguise. That day, I was forced to learn about parenting from down on the floor where part of my pride fell away in a stream of tears. I had to learn to stop seeking approval from Moms. In order to embark on my mothering journey, I had to find my reward in loving, understanding, and advocating for my struggling boy and his siblings. I needed to focus on my family.

And later, as my mama feet became steadier, that lonely low-down perspective taught me to watch closely for the mothers who might need me. Because I know that a hand lowered, a nod, or even one kind word can make all the difference to a mom.

I hope that my lessons from the floor can become another Mom’s bench to rest on—perhaps a sturdy platform to reach out from, finding at last another mother’s welcoming hand to hold.
Amy Challenger is an artist and writer working in Fairfield, CT on her first novel about a boy’s struggles and triumphs growing up “different.” This year her work relating to parenting has been published in the Washington Post, Mamalode and on her two blogs specialneedsblessings.blogspot.com and thefruitofmotherhood.blogspot.com.

Opinion: We Need to Talk About Breastfeeding

Opinion: We Need to Talk About Breastfeeding

Mother nursing son

By Wendy Wisner

I write a lot of articles about breastfeeding and, each time one of them appears online, there is a type of comment I can count on seeing. It goes something like this: “Breastfeeding is fine. I get it. Do it all you want. But why do we have to keep hearing about it?”

I understand that feeling. As a lactation consultant, even I get tired of talking about breastfeeding! I also know that mothers who have had bad experiences with breastfeeding can feel sensitive about it. Some moms may understandably feel that breastfeeding advocacy is stigmatizing them as having failed in some way. No mother should ever be shamed for not breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is not the measure of a mother’s worth or her ability to nurture her children.

But for moms who do nurse, breastfeeding is a meaningful part of parenting. These moms are proud of what they have accomplished. Many want to celebrate the obstacles they overcame to make breastfeeding work. That alone is reason enough for us to share and celebrate breastfeeding—especially because seeing positive breastfeeding experiences encourages new mothers to persevere, and helps normalize breastfeeding for all.

Beyond that, the main reason we still need to talk about breastfeeding is simple: America is failing breastfeeding mothers. They are not well supported to meet their goals; they face daily harassment; and in many cases, their rights are not sufficiently protected by the law.

If you ask pregnant moms whether they want to nurse once their baby arrives, most would emphatically answer YES! Every family wants to do what’s best, and the benefits of breastmilk are well-known. Many mothers have heard the recommendations outlined by the Academy of American Pediatrics and other health organizations (the AAP recommends six months of exclusive breastfeeding, and a year or more of breastfeeding overall).

But while the majority of women initiate breastfeeding in the hospital, that number drops dramatically soon after they leave the hospital. For example, in New York, where I live, 80% of mothers start off breastfeeding, 37% are exclusively breastfeeding at three months, and 16% of mothers are exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months. By 12 months, only 31% of women are breastfeeding at all. You can check your state’s breastfeeding rates here.

What happens in those days and weeks between the initiation of breastfeeding and the three month mark when it goes downhill?

Most hospitals have a lactation consultant on staff to help mothers after delivery. But did you know that some hospitals don’t employ these lactation consultants on the weekend? So if you have your baby then…well, sorry. Also, many hospital lactation consultants only have short amounts of time to see the many mothers who need help. I have learned that most breastfeeding problems take a while to solve: you need to observe the baby nurse, examine the baby, examine the mother, take a health history of the mom and baby, and offer counseling and education. Many (but not all) mothers leave the hospital having received minimal breastfeeding help.

Then the mothers are on their own. Maybe things go well with breastfeeding. But most new mothers have questions.

They might call a breastfeeding counselor, a family member, or a friend. Often, this can help a great deal. But if a mother has a more complex situation, she needs hands-on help, someone who can watch her breastfeed, and see what’s going on. Enter the private practice lactation consultant. Some are covered by insurance. Some are not (despite the guarantees outlined in the Affordable Care Act, not all insurance companies are properly covering lactation consultants). Some lactation consultants are helpful and non-judgmental. Some are not. Regardless, a mother may or may not be able to find one, or afford one.

There is little structural support mothers have to breastfeed—from ill-equipped hospitals, minimal insurance coverage for lactation consultants, and maternity leaves that are way too short.

We need to talk about the fact that many more low-income mothers and African-American mothers are negatively affected by all this, and thus have disproportionally lower breastfeeding rates.

We need to talk about the fact that women are harassed daily for breastfeeding in public even though 49 out of the 50 states have laws protecting a woman’s right to breastfeed in public. We need to talk about the fact that there are no fines or consequences for breaking these laws.

We need to talk about the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which contains a provision mandating employers to give time and space for mothers to pump. We need to talk about the many loopholes in that law, including the fact that the pumping breaks are not required to be paid, certain business types are exempt, and there are no guidelines written into the law to enforce it. We need to talk about the moms who have gone to court to defend their rights to pump at work, and the mothers who frequently lose their jobs in the midst of these fights.

We need to talk about how formula is handed out like candy at some hospitals, even when mothers specifically express their desire to exclusively breastfeed. We need to talk about how formula is mailed to most new mothers’ homes without them ever asking for it. We need to talk about the fact that formula supplementation can drive down a mother’s milk supply, even though the formula ads claim otherwise. We need to talk about how much easier it is for a mother to find a bottle of formula to give her baby than to find good, affordable help to solve a breastfeeding issue.

We need to talk about all of this, and more. We need to tell our stories of how the system is still failing us. We need these issues to be exposed. Yes, there are mothers who just don’t want to nurse (their reasons are none of my business and I respect their decision). And yes, there are moms and babies who have very difficult experiences because of biological anomalies. But I have seen too many mothers fail at breastfeeding simply because there isn’t enough built-in support in our country for them to get adequate education, support, and time with their babies to establish and continue breastfeeding.

I get how annoying it can be for people like to me be talking about breastfeeding all the time. And I wish it didn’t sometimes feel like a slap in the face to non-breastfeeding moms to hear about it. I wish it didn’t seem like discussing breastfeeding is somehow furthering the “Mommy Wars.” But the fact is, until we solve these issues—until breastfeeding mothers are given the respect, rights, and very necessary help that they deserve—we need to talk about it. In fact, we need to raise our voices and shout about it.

Wendy Wisner is a mom, writer, and lactation consultant (IBCLC). She is the author of two books of poems (CW Books), and her writing has appeared in such publications as The Washington Post, Huffington Post, Brain, Child Magazine, Scary Mommy, Club Mid, Role Reboot, Your Tango, and Mamalode. Find Wendy at WendyWisner.com. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Top 10 Breastfeeding Books

Top 10 Breastfeeding Books


By Jessica Smock

It’s been a while since I read a book about breastfeeding purely for informational purposes. My ten-month breastfeeding journey with my second child, a daughter, has been relatively uneventful to date. In contrast, my brief breastfeeding experience with my son was difficult from its unhappy start to its painful finish. He had latching issues, colic, reflux, and severe milk protein allergies. We were both miserable — in pain, exhausted, and frustrated — for several weeks, despite help from a lactation consultant and two doulas. When his pediatric GI doctor suggested that it was perfectly okay to consider a special, prescription hypoallergenic formula, I breathed a sigh of relief.

Breastfeeding, many of us think before our babies are born, should be the most natural thing in the world. However, what is “natural” is not always easy, or even best, for every family. I know that not every woman makes the choice — or has the choice to make — to breastfeed, and I included a few books that will appeal to all mothers and parents of any age, no matter how they feed the babies in their lives.

Instead of breastfeeding guides describing how to breastfeed I’ve recently found myself more drawn to books about the emotional and political aspects of breastfeeding in our culture. As a consequence this list has a little of both: how-to guides as well as literary, scholarly, and humorous examinations of the challenges and triumphs of breastfeeding. I make no attempt to include all of the informational books and guides about breastfeeding, of which I’m sure there are many excellent ones, just a few that were most useful to me.

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League (revised and updated eighth edition) and The Nursing Mother’s Companion by Kathleen Huggins

No list of books about breastfeeding would be complete without these two classics. Both books have been revised and updated to reflect the needs of today’s nursing mothers and families. They’re both full of practical, reassuring advice about preparing to breastfeed, getting through the first difficult weeks, overcoming common challenges, and returning to work. I would recommend either book to pregnant moms who would like to breastfeed their babies, and I would particularly recommend that they read the “newborn survival” chapters before the baby is born.

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding was first published in 1958 as a loose-leaf pamphlet and has come a long way since then. The new edition is well-designed and fun to read. It was the book that my doula gave to me when I asked her for the best book she knew about how to breastfeed.

The Nursing Mother’s Companion is now in its seventh edition. In this book, I particularly liked its quick reference “survival guides,” set off from the rest of the pages, that focus on the most immediate breastfeeding concerns.

Bestfeeding: How to Breastfeed Your Baby by Mary Renfrew, Chloe Fisher, and Suzanne Arms

If you’re like me (and most new breastfeeding mothers), it’s not enough to read explanations about the perfect latch and the various breastfeeding positions. What sets this book apart from most other guides is the inclusion of dozens of pictures and diagrams that help make learning to breastfeed easier. The illustrations and pictures show new mothers not only what they should do but also what not to do, in terms of incorrect positioning. It’s written by three midwives with decades of experience between them, and they successfully combine their interpretations of academic research with their own clinical experiences.

Sweet Sleep: Nighttime and Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family from La Leche International

For many breastfeeding mothers (but certainly not all), sleep can be a challenge. In contrast to my formula-fed son, my daughter has struggled with sleeping longer stretches. Even now at 10 months, she wakes at least once or twice at night for a feeding. Unlike my son, she preferred to co-sleep and nurse frequently throughout the night during her early months. Some may not relate to this book’s emphasis on co-sleeping and bedsharing — or agree with many of its claims about sleep safety and the supposed dangers of sleep training (I do not) — but many breastfeeding families may find that it provides much-needed practical tips and reassurance about patterns in baby sleep. I particularly like the way that it is organized around a breastfeeding baby’s developmental stages and needs.

Unbuttoned: Women Open Up About the Pleasures, Pains, and Politics of Breastfeeding. Edited by Dana Sullivan and Maureen Connolly

This intense and relatable anthology includes 25 writers’ reflections of their breastfeeding experiences. I was especially interested to read essays from a few of my favorite authors, such as novelist Julia Glass and frequent Brain, Child contributor Catherine Newman. If the previous how-to guides are primarily about the mechanics and logistics of breastfeeding, this collection is focused on the emotional ups and downs. Several of the writers discuss the internal and external pressures to breastfeed, as well as the shame they felt when breastfeeding was difficult or unsuccessful. Many of the essays are quite funny in parts, describing incidents of spraying milk on unsuspecting bystanders or attempts at dating and romance while lactating.

The Breastfeeding Cafe: Mothers Share the Joys, Challenges, and Secrets of Nursing by Barbara L. Behrmann

This book also focuses on the lived experience of breastfeeding for mothers, this time from the perspective of ordinary women rather than professional writers. The author, a sociologist by training, weaves her own story with insights from women’s first-hand accounts through interviews, and journals, and online interactions. The book does not back away from controversial topics, such as sexuality and “swap” nursing, and includes a diversity of voices, including women from a wide spectrum of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.

How My Breasts Saved the World: Misadventures of a Nursing Mother by Lisa Wood Shapiro

I was chuckling along with this book before I even opened its cover. This breezy, witty memoir from a writer and filmmaker tells the story of her daughter’s first year — from birth to weaning — along with advice, information, and encouragement. You can get a sense of the tone of the book from a few of the chapter titles such as “Don’t Bite Your Newborn,” “The Panic and the Pain,” and “Red Angry Nipples.” The main message of the book is that breastfeeding is difficult but rewarding and often gets easier with time (and a sense of humor). And, of course, that no new mother should ever have to go through it alone.

The Places You’ll Feed by Lauren Hirschfield Belden

An even more hilarious take on the triumphs and tribulations of breastfeeding comes from the recently published parody of the Dr. Seuss classic. The author felt blind-sided by how challenging her breastfeeding experience was and wrote this book to celebrate both the joy and stress of breastfeeding. The illustrations and rhyming style are funny and quite truthful, featuring lines like “Your pumping machine/likely came with a case,/which you’ll find yourself dragging/ all over the place.” Belden’s goal was to make women — who often do not feel like breastfeeding is always the pleasurable, idyllic experience that they are meant to feel like it should be — feel less alone. Because of her sympathetic message, this would be a perfect gift for any new mom, even one who did not continue breastfeeding. While it would make a good shower gift it is humor best appreciated after experience.

Is Breast Best? Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood by Joan B. Wolf and Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t by Suzanne Barston

These books examine the research evidence and concludes that much of our public understanding about the health benefits of breastfeeding are overstated and not substantiated by the medical literature.

Wolf’s book attempts to challenge the notion that “breast is best,” the widespread belief that breastfeeding is scientifically superior for infants than bottle feeding. Rather, she argues, our modern preoccupation with breastfeeding is an expression of our cultural acceptance of the value of “total motherhood,” in which mothers must selflessly devote their entire emotional and physical beings to their children in an effort to reduce all possible risks. I found Wolf’s discussion of our cultural aversion to certain forms of risk (and ignoring others) and the media’s and general public’s difficulty with interpreting statistical evidence to be the most compelling components of the book as she effectively dissects the reasons why so few research studies are able to assess the effects of breastfeeding in a statistically reliable way.

Between the two, I found Barston’s mix of memoir and reporting, including interviews with medical professionals, academics, and feminists, to be more empathetic and accessible to most mothers, who may want reassurance about their personal feeding choices.

After Birth by Elisa Albert

It might seem strange to include a novel in a list of books about breastfeeding, but this raw, darkly humorous, and provocative portrait of modern motherhood allowed me to explore my own thoughts about birthing, caring for a newborn, and reinterpreting one’s identity after a baby is born. And, yes, in this novel, breastfeeding — as it is for many mothers in real life — takes center stage. The main character Ari has a nearly one year old baby but is depressed, full of buried rage and subversive opinions on lots of things, and friendless. The friendship at the heart of the book blooms when Ari begins breastfeeding her new friend’s baby when the friend initially struggles. The book isn’t for everyone, but I found it brave, honest, absorbing, and funny.

Jessica Smock is aneducator and researcher who earned her doctorate in educational policy in 2013. She is the co-editor of The HerStories Project, whose newest anthology Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience will be published in November. 

BreastFeeding COVER7-31-15 copyPurchase Brain, Child’s newest archive collection eBook. On sale this week for $2.99.

Brain, Child Writers on the Joys and Challenges of Breastfeeding.


Milk Machine: One Donor Mom’s Journey

Milk Machine: One Donor Mom’s Journey

By Krystal A. Sital


We meet at the side of the road, in parking lots, and on rare occasions, in our homes. Our clandestine encounters are often laced with surreptitious glances thrown over our shoulders but end in tearful embraces, an alliance, an understanding, a mutual love so deep, we carry it forevermore.

The first time I donate my breast milk to another mother, my husband and I organize and label five hundred four-ounce bottles into three coolers, a total of 2,000 ounces that could feed a newborn anywhere from two to three months. As we stack the bottles like bricks and I register the pleasant click-click-click of the frozen bottles being wedged together, my two-year-old asks, “What’re you doing? What’re you doing with Mommy’s booby milk?” My six-month-old rolls around on the floor as we try to explain that we’re giving away her sister’s food. “But that’s for Emi,” she says, “that’s for my baby sister.” How perceptive to know the milk is for her sibling. But this time around, breastfeeding, albeit with obstacles, has been successful thus far.

After my first daughter, Amelia, had spent three weeks in the NICU, I realized how precious this liquid gold was. For some babies, it could be the difference between life and death. For Amelia, who was delivered two months early, it probably was. I had an oversupply of breast milk; only a very small percentage of women do. Unable to directly breastfeed Amelia due to a host of complications, I became a slave to the pump, allowing it to suck everything out of me at the times I would normally feed my daughter. By the end of our year long journey together, I’d racked up thousands of bottles of breast milk and I could proclaim she was one hundred percent breastfed—not in the traditional sense—but the nutrients worked their miracle nonetheless.

The second time around was no easier than the first and so I locked myself away in a room with Emelina to make breastfeeding work. Just the thought of that mint blue Ameda pump had me ready to puke. While I vowed never to pump again, I physically needed to and that blue brick stayed anchored in my house for the better part of a year. I only pumped twice a day yet filled bottles at a time, stacking more than a thousand in my freezer within six months. Though we had a rocky start and I was perpetually frightened that it would all fall apart at any moment, we were, again, running out of space. The freezer drawer now creaked when opened. There was no denying it needed to go. This is where Willow came in.

I find Willow after searching on a few sites tailored to mothers looking for breast milk for their babies. I’m surprised by how many sites there are and how many women are desperate to acquire only a few bottles. When I post I’m willing to give away a large amount, I’m plied with questions—Where are you located? How do you handle your milk? What is your diet like? When can you meet? There was no decision making on my part, I just went down the list and responded to other mothers in the order in which they sent me emails. Their stories were heartbreaking and I wanted to give milk to all of them, I even thought of parceling it out but in the end I thought it best used as sustenance for one child at a time. Many things didn’t pan out for the first few responses—location, diet, allergies—but eventually Willow and I got the timing right and we connected via phone.

“So,” says Willow, “about how much do you get in one pumping session? And can you remind me how many ounces you’ll be willing to donate?”

This is a question I’m both proud and timid about answering. “I pump about 10 to 15 ounces per session twice a day. And I have 2,000 ounces to give to you.”

She is completely silent save for an almost inaudible, “Wow.” I want to say something, I’m about to say something but I hear her crying. Willow shares her story with me. When she was a teenager, she underwent a procedure that rendered her body unable to ever produce human milk among other things.

“Krystal,” says Willow, “I will pay you how I can. I can give you bottles and bags, pay for the pump rental, just let me know.”

“Willow, I’m giving this to you and your baby. I already have everything I need. Please don’t think you have to pay me in any way.”

Willow breathes into the mouthpiece, “This is a tremendous gift.”

*   *   *

“Charge her,” people tell me, “you will make so much.”

Why should I? I wonder. If we didn’t use the milk and no one took it, I’d have to pour it down the drain. I look at Amelia, at how much she has grown in two years. From that frail, three-and-a-half-pound baby with skin hanging off her bones to this vibrant two-year-old with sass and brains. If I could help another mother in any way I could, I wanted to. I was done hoarding my stash. Now, when I sit down to pump, I feel a surge of excitement strike through me and I count the ounces I accumulate knowing I can give yet one more to another baby in need.

We meet Willow and her two children at the back of a restaurant. She is parked right next to the dumpster. Being my first exchange, I approach her with trepidation. I’d even brought my husband with me just in case. We’d been caught in traffic and Willow had been stuck waiting for me in the cold for half an hour. The brisk winter air forces me to stuff my hands in my pockets. She has a girl and a boy their ages not much different from our children. When Willow emerges from the car, she embraces me with such tenderness and love I know I will think of that moment for years to come. She caresses Amelia’s cheek and blows our sleeping Emelina a kiss.

In the midst of hoisting the coolers from our trunk to hers, Amelia starts bawling and at first we’re confused but I’m able to discern, “Mommy, that’s my mommy’s milk. Give it back, that’s my mommy’s milk.” I try to muffle what she’s saying by pressing her against my shoulder but for a two-year-old, her enunciation is near perfect.

“Sugar plum plum, Mommy is giving her milk to another baby, to help another baby. Don’t worry,” I say, “your baby sister has enough milk. Mommy has enough booby milk for Emi.” The tears subside but the upside down U is prominent on her little mouth, her bottom lip quivering away.

Willow attends to her own crying children. I wave to them and blow them kisses, the two of them as precious to her as mine are to me. As Willow and I hold one another in an extended embrace she whispers into my hair, “I don’t know how to thank you.” To which I reply, “You already have. You’ve shown me where my milk is going. Thank you for the opportunity to meet your family.”

*   *   *

These exchanges were usually short. But, I’ll never forget these women—their tears, their words, their beautiful families. I gather their stories along the way just as they gather mine along with other donor mothers. We share the most intimate parts of ourselves with strangers and in the end only the most beautiful thing blossoms from it.

On our way home that first day, Amelia chants in the car, “Mommy give milk to another baby. Mommy give milk to another baby,” and each time she says it, she wants to be acknowledged. She repeats that for days, weeks, and months to come, my very own cheerleader reminding us all.

Krystal A. Sital is a PEN Award finalist whose work has been published in Salon, Akashic Books, The Caribbean Writer and various other literary journals. She lives in the suburbs of New Jersey with her husband, two children, two dogs, and quite the assortment of writing jobs. Follow her on twitter: @krystal_a_sital.

Photo: gettyimages

Policy Update: June 19, 2015

Policy Update: June 19, 2015

Policy Report ARTA quick look back at events this week impacting women and families, from Valerie Young, a public policy analyst with Mom-mentum.

Significant news this week – and all of it is good!*

Oregon is the latest state to pass a paid sick leave bill!  The new law requires businesses with 10 or more employees to give 1 hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked to their employees, to a max of 40 hours, or 5 days, per year.  The bill also prohibits retaliation or discrimination against a worker who uses the sick leave.   The bill also clarifies that employers have to provide, within reason, private spaces for women to breastfeed, and may not discriminate against women who choose to do so at work.    Now there are 4 states with paid sick leave – California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts recently passed their own bills.  The national bill, titled the Healthy Families Act, continues to languish in Congress.

New York has had state laws protecting breastfeeding mothers for years.  But so few mothers knew about them, employers frequently didn’t comply.  To remedy that, the state legislature has passed the “Breastfeeding Mothers Bill of Rights,” to be posted in health care facilities, nurseries, and post-delivery rooms in hospitals.  It clearly states that all mothers have the right to take breaks for breastfeeding or pumping milk at work.  Additionally, employers have to provide appropriate spaces for breastfeeding, and may not take action against women who do so.

Pennsylvania’s Governor wants to use a new way to bring down the rate of incarceration – making preschool available to thousands more children.  Fighting crime doesn’t usually involve early education, but the Governor cites a stack of data showing that there is a strong link between preschool and completing high school, a smaller chance of being arrested and going to prison.  Based on a projected return on investment of $26,000 per child enrolled, researchers estimate a savings to the state of over $350 million.

*Wait – I lied!  It’s not ALL good.  Here’s a downer – women are still a minority in all state legislatures around the country.  In fact, there were more women in Nebraska’s assembly 20 years ago than there are now.  Why should this be, you ask?   One expert says “… that women are expected to do more and be more to meet the same goals as men.”  Yet the benefits of having women at the table are known.  Different voices, different perspectives, lead to better policies for everyone, according to this article in the Columbus Telegram.  And it has a cool map, so you can find out the percentage of women in your state’s leadership.

Follow Valerie on Facebook (Your (Wo)Man in Washington) and Twitter (@WomanInDC) and find her on the blog at Mom-mentum.


Photo: © Robhainer | Dreamstime.com


Policy Update: May 22, 2015

Policy Update: May 22, 2015

BC Logo_SquareA quick look back at events this week impacting women and families, from Valerie Young, a public policy analyst with Mom-mentum.

Breastfeeding has been going on since the dawn of time, yet it still causes all sorts of heated exchanges when it happens in public. Mothers are pushing back via social media. The Washington Post reports: “Sometimes, these days, instead of meekly acquiescing and feeling like second-class citizens, mothers will use the weapons at their disposal—namely social media—to turn the shame on its head and feed it right back to the business. This changes the companies’ struggle from a one-on-one customer battle of “rights” to a publicly discussed and judged incident of a business treating a customer as less than.”

The price of child care keeps going up, putting more and more pressure on family budgets. New data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows that child care costs more per year than annual in-state college tuition in 31 states. In a single mother household, it eats up 40% of the average annual income. That’s a major policy failure.

Chicago’s political leaders are pressing on for earned sick time. The current proposal follows a program adopted in nearly two dozen other US cities and 3 states, one hour of paid time off for every 30 hours worked, for “personal or family illness or preventive care; due to an incident of domestic violence or sexual assault; or because of school or building closure due to a public health emergency” according to the Chicago Sun Times. As pointed out in the article, what good is organic food if it’s coughed and sneezed on?

There is talk more often now about paid family leave, as if this basic labor standard in most of the world has finally registered in the American consciousness. Considering the number of families pitched into hard times following a birth, illness, or other major health event, it is a subject worthy of attention, especially as we move closer to national elections in 2016. Is the real issue the reluctance to give women a reason to choose paid work over unpaid domestic labor, as argued in this excellent New Republic article Taking Care of Our Own;  Paid leave goes from progressive pipe dream to political reality. Or, as women are 49.3% of today’s workforce, are incentives, at this point, irrelevant?

Follow Valerie on Facebook (Your (Wo)Man in Washington) and Twitter (@WomanInDC) and find her on the blog at Mom-mentum.

Policy Update: May 8, 2015

Policy Update: May 8, 2015

black-woman-nursing-300A quick look back at events this week impacting women and families, from Valerie Young, a public policy analyst with Mom-mentum.

Colorado has passed a state law excusing breastfeeding mothers, if they so choose, from jury duty for up to two consecutive 12-month postponements. That state now joins 17 other states and Puerto Rico with exemptions or postponements under these circumstances. Why isn’t this possible in all 50 states?

The US Army has no breastfeeding policy, and that’s a problem. Recently at a military base in Idaho, an order was issued that required “mothers breastfeeding in public areas on base relocate to a private room, use a nursing cover or leave the premises” according to Military Times. An uproar ensued, and now members of the US House of Representatives want clean, adequate facilities with electricity, and specify that “restroom facilities” are not appropriate.

Have trouble finding the right place to breastfeed your baby or pump? This is such a common problem in our culture which is so conflicted about women generally and breasts in particular. But don’t worry—there’s an app for that! Two mothers in New York have come up with Moms Pump Here, a locator for nursing and lactation rooms, where you can find a spot or add a good place you’ve found. They also have information about pertinent legislation for handy reference. Mothers helping mothers—that’s what it’s all about.

Boston’s City Council moved paid family leave forward for city employees with a unanimous vote. As the US Congress has failed to pass a federal paid family leave bill so far, states and municipalities are doing it alone, and with success. The Boston bill now goes to committee and will have a hearing this summer.

Do you ever get the feeling that the US talks a lot about family values, but doesn’t really follow through? The annual State of the World’s Mothers Report from global charity Save the Children ranks the US 61st in terms of maternal health, behind every other industrialized country. In starkest terms a US mother is more then 10 times as likely to die from a pregnancy related condition or childbirth than one in Austria, Belarus, or Poland. Women get more education and do pretty well, economically, in comparison to 178 other countries around the world. But we compare very poorly in terms of women’s political representation, and maternal and infant health. Perhaps if more women were in policy-making positions, we’d keep more new mothers and babies alive.

Follow Valerie on Facebook (Your (Wo)Man in Washington) and Twitter (@WomanInDC) and find her on the blog at Mom-mentum.

Good Enough

Good Enough

By Katherine Dykstra

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 4.23.31 PMMy son, slapped red and squinty and no bigger than a sack of flour, was curled up on my chest, panting, shocked by light and air and breath. My husband Parker stood over us, tears rolling down his face. There was the sound of chirping monitors and the murmuring obstetrician and the metallic scent of blood against a sharp chemical sterility. As I tried to memorize my son’s face — searching violet eyes, sailboat mouth — I was overwhelmed by a feeling of strength. I did it. We had done it. The nurse pulled aside my gown and directed Arlo’s face toward my breast, touching the cleft between his nose and upper lip with my nipple. Eyes closed, he opened his mouth, latched, sucked. He reached up and pressed on my breast with his hand, which, fingers spread, was no bigger than a silver dollar.

“Look,” said the nurse, winking at me. “He’s helping.”

During my pregnancy I’d been amazed by how my body could build and feed and stretch to accommodate this tiny human, awed that I could trust it to bring him into the world. Now, this baby, minutes old, knew how to feed himself when I did not. Watching his hand knead my breast, I realized he and my body would be handling things without me.

Breastfeeding continued to be easy for Arlo. He latched, had a good suck, and gained weight. I, on the other hand, had milk blisters on my nipples and was engorged on the right side, my right breast looking and feeling like a rock. Each time he latched, I felt as if someone was driving a pocketknife into my breast. I gripped the pillow so I would not grip my son. So by easy, I mean, it was hard but tolerable. Motherhood was supposed to involve sacrifice, I thought. Milk blisters and discomfort weren’t going to stop me from breastfeeding, which had always been the plan.

Other mothers I knew had supplemented with formula when their newborns didn’t gain back their birth weight, or when they feared they weren’t producing enough milk or could no longer drag themselves out of bed every hour to nurse. Some decided to give up breast-feeding all together, their bodies too broken from pregnancy and delivery to endure one more assault. I didn’t judge them; only they knew what was happening with their bodies, their babies, but I felt proud to be breastfeeding.

My goal was to nurse Arlo until he was one year old. My mother had breastfed both my brother and me, and I knew that “breast was best.” I knew that by nursing I could pass on my immunities to Arlo. And I knew that breastfeeding would help my uterus shrink back to its original size, lessen feelings of post-partum depression and help me shed my baby weight. These are the reasons I started nursing. Why I continued, despite the milk blisters, engorgement and exhaustion, was something else.

In the weeks before I gave birth, I happened upon the psychologist Donald Winnicot’s concept of the “good enough mother.” Winnicott, maintained that to thrive, a child doesn’t need a perfect mother, only a mother who is good enough. But the first months of motherhood were hard in a way I wasn’t prepared for. Day to day, I barely felt good at all. I had never been on demand for so many hours and days and weeks on end. I’d never been responsible for another person’s bottomless need. I no longer recognized my body — misshapen and still throbbing from labor— or my life. I couldn’t decide whether or not to return to work, and I was lonely; the friends who had visited me in the hospital vanishing after a couple of weeks, back to their own lives and jobs and plans. I couldn’t go to yoga or work in my garden or read a book. And this little being, whom I loved more than I knew I was capable of loving anything or anyone, cried. A lot. The only way I seemed to be able to make him happy was by nursing. Nursing was the thing that evened the scales, weighted so heavily with all I felt was failing at, to “good enough.”

When Arlo was four months old, Parker was nominated for an Emmy, and we decided that rather than take Arlo with us to Los Angeles, my mother would fly to Brooklyn and babysit for the weekend. It would only be three days, no time at all, and, I reasoned, good for everyone. My mother was dying to spend time with her first grandson; Arlo would get to bond with his grandmother; and Parker and I could benefit from some time alone. I would get to be myself again — a woman who enjoyed picking her way through novels during long plane rides, who could stare out of car windows in new cities for hours, who enjoyed a glass of wine and the surprise conversation of a night among strangers — if only for a weekend. It would be easy, I thought, or at least doable.

My mother worried that Arlo might not take a bottle from her, but I knew that as long as milk was coming, Arlo wouldn’t be picky about the mode of delivery. I worried more about his sleeping, picturing them both awake through the darkest hours of the night. What I never considered was what would happen when I got back.

I prepared for the trip by pumping enough milk for Arlo to drink for three days. I asked the hotel in Los Angeles to put a freezer in our room so I could bring the milk I pumped while I was away back to New York to replenish my frozen supply. I even bought a cooler to take on the plane, where I also planned to pump. Naively, pumping on the plane was my greatest stress. I still felt uncomfortable nursing Arlo in public, convinced that everyone was watching. Pumping was worse. Unlike breastfeeding, which, I believed, was beautiful, pumping made my breasts look and feel like udders, something I didn’t want even Parker to see. In the end, aside from an attendant’s telling me with a raised eyebrow that I could pump as long as I was “discrete,” it went fine, no worse than having to use a port-a-potty. I noticed, though, that I didn’t pump as much milk as I had on my last morning at home, but I chalked that up to the stress of the flight.

I planned to time my pumping in Los Angeles so that I’d be free to go out to dinner with Parker and his coworkers and to the Emmy’s without having to excuse myself to pump, an ordeal that necessitated electricity, a bathroom and access to my breasts; the dress I planned to wear had a dozen tiny buttons running up the back. I pumped in the hotel, after loafing at the pool with an old friend, in the middle of the night and upon waking on Emmy day. With each pump, I noticed I was producing less and less milk, my breasts growing harder and more painful by the hour. In an attempt to stimulate let down, Parker cued videos of Arlo for me on his iPhone, “songs” the two had recorded together — Parker on the guitar, Arlo chirping along. By Emmy day I’d given up on the pump altogether and instead stood over the hotel sink manually expressing, watching my precious milk trickle down the drain. On the red carpet, my breasts felt like two gourds.

When Parker and I returned to New York, we’d been gone for less than 72 hours. I barely said hello to my mother and went straight for Arlo. I pulled him from his crib and nursed to relieve the pain. In 30 minutes my breasts went from heavy as kettle bells and bruise tender back to normal.

I sighed with relief, thinking everything was better, that this would be just a minor hiccup in our nursing story, until the following day. When Arlo and I sat down to nurse, he sucked, unlatched and began to cry, a confused wrinkle popping up between his eyebrows.

“What’s wrong, baby?” I asked and touched my nipple to his upper lip, stimulating him to open his mouth. Again, he sucked for a minute and pulled off, his face crumpling. I hefted him onto the other side. He began to scream. I felt my breast and found it soft.

As Arlo shrieked, I ran hot water over one of the frozen bags of milk I’d brought back from Los Angeles. When I presented it to him, he flew at the bottle, guzzling the milk like he hadn’t eaten in days.

This scene repeated itself every two hours as the day wore on. A knot in my stomach grew as it dawned on me that I’d made a grave mistake.

I phoned a lactation consultant, who informed me that while I was in Los Angeles, I’d effectively told my body that Arlo and I were done breastfeeding and that it should stop producing milk. She advised me to start taking fenugreek—an herb that has been known to increase milk supply — three times a day and to rent a hospital-grade pump and use it after every nursing session and then again in the middle of the night. When I asked her if my supply would come back, she said, “I have no idea. Rent the pump right now.

For the next two weeks, every time we sat down to nurse, Arlo ended up in tears, frustrated as I moved him back and forth between my breasts before going to the freezer to defrost more of our dwindling supply. We both reeked of maple syrup, the result of the fenugreek. I was exhausted, from the constant pumping, from getting up in the middle of the night, from worrying that I was starving my child. Both of us cried a lot.

As Arlo and I struggled, the refrain from so many — my mother, my doctor, my friends, even Parker — was that I should supplement with formula. This irritated me. I didn’t want a way out; I wanted my milk to come back. I had gotten through pregnancy and labor by trusting my body, by believing that it knew what to do, even when I didn’t. I was supposed to be able to feed my baby. But what was dawning on me was that my body did know better than me; after 72 hours without nursing it knew that there was no baby to feed. I believed my failure was my fault, for being selfish, for wanting what I’d had before, the freedom to go away for the weekend, for making the choice to celebrate with my husband baby-free. When those around me encouraged me to supplement with formula, I heard them confirming my darkest thoughts, that I couldn’t undo what I’d done and this was crushing. In my head, it wasn’t that failing to nurse would make me a bad mother so much as that nursing, if I could do it, was what made me a good one.

Suddenly I understood why the women I knew who’d stopped nursing did so. Before, a part of me didn’t believe that they’d tried hard enough. Everything I read said there was no such thing as producing too little milk. Your body met whatever demand your infant put on it. The more you nursed and the more you pumped, the more milk you produced. What this didn’t take into account was the incredible demand of constant pumping, constant feeding. A newborn eats every two hours, sometimes more, all through the day and night. Infants are good at nursing, but they’re not yet as efficient as they will be. It takes them longer. They fall asleep. They wake back up and want to eat again. It is hard. It is all a woman can do.

When a friend who gave birth three weeks after I did told me that she was going to give up nursing because her daughter wasn’t gaining enough weight — parenthood was a lesson in pragmatism was the way she put it  — I supported her. Formula is a fine choice, I told her. Babies thrive on it. That’s what I believed then, what I believe now. Nursing certainly doesn’t have to be for every mother.

Early on, when our babies were teensy, my friend and I would walk to the park and meet a dozen other mothers who’d all had babies around the same time. We’d sit in the shade of a towering ash tree and talk about who was sleeping and who wasn’t and what carriers we preferred and how our bodies were healing. And when our babies started fussing, we’d pick them up and nurse them. A bunch of women sitting in a circle with their boobs out, was how I described it to Parker.

One day as we were leaving the park, my friend told me she hated being “that mom,” by which she meant the one pulling out a bottle amongst a sea of boobs. Her shame surprised me. How did anyone know she didn’t have breast-milk in that bottle? Plus, we all were doing whatever we could to get by. One mom confessed to sleeping her daughter on her stomach (forbidden); another said she turned down the monitor while she was trying to let her child cry it out. I confessed that Parker and I slept with Arlo in bed between us against the advice of every book I read and every person I talked to, including and especially our own doctor. That was the only way Arlo would sleep, so that’s what we did. Pragmatism. There was no room for any of us to judge. Which is what I told her.

Yet here I was harshly judging myself. I’d said that good enough was what I aspired to be, but now four months later I was wrapping up my entire success as a mother in whether or not I could continue to nurse.

Arlo and I were very lucky. All the fenugreek and pumping and crying worked. My supply came back and I was able to nurse him exclusively for another five months. But when he was ten months old, I went back to work and was once again faced with supply issues. I weathered them for a while, killing myself to produce, until one evening after Arlo went to bed and I tried to decide between pumping for the fourth time that day or sitting on the couch and having a glass of wine. It dawned on me that maybe good enough wasn’t the average of things I did that worked against the things I did that didn’t, maybe it was the average of the time I spent trying and caring and wanting to be a good mother with the time I spent trying and caring and wanting to take care of myself. The next day, we bought a tub of formula.

At a recent dinner with the same moms who used to sit, breasts out, under the ash tree, the woman seated next to me told me she was about to go back to work and she was concerned about where she would pump and if she would produce enough milk. I told her that I’d just begun to supplement. She shook her head, “I just don’t know if I can,” she said. “My mother nursed me. I just swore I would never give my baby formula.”

Of course, I’d once felt the same way, but in the wake of our trip to Los Angeles, even with my success getting back my supply, I’d begun to realize that I had to accept what my body already knew, that I could not live exactly as I used to, that the rigors of trying to be a person and a parent force choices and that it is easier, healthier even, to adjust expectations to realities than it is to feel constantly disappointed. For me, giving Arlo a bottle of formula a day turned out to be an enormous relief. He is 18 months old now and flourishing. I, too, am well. Or at least, good enough.

Author’s Note: Arlo is 18 months old now. Our nursing days feel like forever ago. But new challenges spring up all the time—I know there will be no end to the challenges of motherhood but I do my best to help us through the tough moments and, when what I try doesn’t work, I try to relax and readjust my expectations. I try to go easier on myself.

Katherine Dykstra is a nonfiction editor at Guernica. Her essays have been published in Crab Orchard Review, Gulf Coast, Best and Shenandoah, among other publications. 

Ten Types of Breastfeeding Moms on Social Media

Ten Types of Breastfeeding Moms on Social Media

By Jinny Koh



As if breastfeeding isn’t tough enough, now, thanks to social media, it is easy to feel stressed when you see perfect babies milking their perfect mommies on blogs and Instagram. To help you navigate this complicated territory, here are ten types of moms—the good, the bad, and the ugly—you should look out for so that you won’t be caught off guard when you meet them online, or off:

1. The Cow: Every circle has one. The leader of the pack, she is the object of admiration and envy, often posting photos of her pump sessions—four to five bottles of milk at one go—exclaiming, “You can do it too!” Throngs of Moms ask her for advice to increase their milk supply, and everyone wants to be her friend including you (although secretly, you wonder if those bottles are filled with cow’s milk).

2. The Hoarder: You were feeling pretty good about your milk supply until you meet this Mom who has her freezer packed to the brim with neatly slotted packets of breast milk. You try not to think about your one spare bottle sitting alone in the refrigerator as she bemoans the need to donate her stash to free up space. (Note: The Hoarder and The Coware often fast friends.)

3. The Non-Certified Doctor: Can you take acetaminophen while breastfeeding? Will eating broccoli give your baby gas? Does breast milk cause diaper rash? Whatever question you may have, this pro-breastfeeding Mom has the answer. Even if your baby is not gaining enough weight on breast milk alone, she’ll tell you to ignore your pediatrician’s advice to introduce formula. “Some doctors don’t know anything,” she quips. “Just keep on latching and the milk will come.” Who needs doctors when you have a network of experienced Moms telling you what to do, right? Right?

4. The Critic: Always the first to point out flaws in other Moms “to help them achieve their breastfeeding goals,” The Critic polices your every move. This means telling you to quit being lazy and get up in the middle of the night to pump, or don’t be vain to think about dieting while breastfeeding. Breast milk is king and you, as a Mom, should sacrifice everything in order to provide for your baby. Now off to breastfeeding boot camp, you lazy toad.

5. The Trophy Mom: Unlike most Moms who battle dark eye rings, spit-up stains and unwashed hair, she’s able to maintain her svelte figure, perfectly curled tresses and thick make-up while breastfeeding in the middle of the night. And she makes sure you, and the rest of the Internet, know it, by posting pictures of her latching her baby on the bus, at the shopping mall, at the park, and any other spot she can find.

6. The Businesswoman: This shrewd Mom can work a catalog even better than Kim Kardashian herself. Using her blog to promote her success with certain breast pumps and bottles, she is so persuasive that she can sell milk to cows. (Note: The Trophy Mom is often her spokesperson, I mean, friend).

7. The Statistician: Numbers is her game and she can shoot off facts and figures faster than you can ask questions. She loves to gather information from other Moms on the number of times a day they latch their baby, their pump output, their babies’ weight gain, just to prove that breast is best.

8. The Paranoid: Constantly needing validation from other Moms (especially from The Non-Certified Doctor), she often posts questions about anything and everything: Is my baby drinking enough? Is milk that has been refrigerated for more than 48 hours safe? My pump valve has milk residue—will it poison my baby? You try not to be affected by her fears, but even as you wash your baby’s bottles, you find yourself scrubbing each rim thrice to make sure every trace of milk is gone.

9. The Bragger: Armed with an arsenal of photos to show off her baby’s chubby cheeks and rolls of fat, this Mom loves to say, “This is what breast milk does and I’m so happy I stuck to it!” To prove her point, she declares that a recent visit to the pediatrician showed that her baby had jumped the charts, weighing at an impressive 90thpercentile (a piece of information immediately documented by The Statistician for future reference).

10. The Melancholic: Often the one to garner the most comments and encouragement from others, this Mom is plagued by a host of breastfeeding problems: blocked ducts, mastitis, unsupportive husband, invasive in-laws, fussy baby. As much as your heart goes out to her, you can’t help but feel like a million bucks after listening to her. At least you are doing something right.


Jinny Koh is a full-time mother and part-time entertainer to baby Ariel. When she is not busy changing nappies, she can be found writing. Her work has appeared in The Conium Review, Role Reboot, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, and FORTH Magazine, among others. 

Illustration: dreamstime.com

Nursing Porn

Nursing Porn

By Sara Levine

nursingpornIt came in the mail, unrequested, and it was called Nurse-a-rama (not it’s real name). On the cover was a woman in a mandarin collar blouse smiling down at her nursing baby, who was very pretty and reminded me of mine.

“Look,” I said to my husband. “This cover baby’s a lot like Sally!” No sooner had I made this claim than I realized that the baby’s face wasn’t visible in the photograph. What I was looking at was a Caucasian baby in the cradle hold, her face averted. The baby had no visible gender, very little hair, chunky arms and legs. One fat hand clutched the mother’s mandarin-collared top, a style I might enjoy, according to the catalogue, all summer long. I was about to correct myself when my husband said, “Oh my god! She totally does.”

That should have been the first sign that I was baby mad and baby worn. And that my husband was in no position to check me.

This story takes place three weeks after my baby was born. At that point, I had no designs on a new wardrobe, which is what the catalogue was hawking. I was reading Nurse-a-rama for the pictures: page after page of big beautiful babies lounging on their mothers’ breasts.

I didn’t immediately think about the draw here, didn’t analyze why this shook my maracas. Not because I didn’t want to know, but because of the way my headspace, formerly a great sprawling park, had shrunk to the size of a parking spot. With so much mental energy focused on the survival of a small, helpless, wriggly person, who had time for reflection? I chose to thumb through the pages of the Nurse-a-rama catalogue instead.

I said I was looking for a nightgown, but I was lying to myself, and I knew it even then.

Nurse-a-rama nightgowns come in three different styles and two different colors. But the babies come in more styles and colors. Sally had been nursing for only five minutes when I snagged on a plump page-seven brown-skinned baby with curly dark hair. Boy, he looked like a lot of fun to nurse! I imagined running my hand over his little t-shirted body, ruffling those curls.

That was the first infidelity.

There was also a redhead, much older than Sally, nursing under a tree. A pale Irish kid, who had to be pushing two, twizzling his mother in a hammock. And a girl with shiny black bangs, lolling with her mother in a field of wheat.

By the time Sally burped, I had nursed a bevy of babies—in the café, in the mountains, in the forest. I, who hadn’t set foot out of the house in days, was nursing babies off the Kiani coast. A newborn baby needs to eat often, at least every three hours. I kept the catalogue around, and soon enough it got to be a habit. I’d sit down to nurse Sally and instead of paying attention to the weight of her body or the smell of her hair, I would get lost in fantasies about what it would be like to nurse the Nurse-a-rama babies. Sally’s hand might tug gently at my shirt and Sally’s mouth might latch onto my breast, but in my mind, I was on a beach, wearing a Chantilly Lace Support Cami, nursing a stranger in a cloth diaper.

“Reading Nurse-a-rama again?” My husband asked. “No,” I said.

“I see it under the pillow. Look, there’s no shame in browsing. If you want some new clothes, just buy them.”

This was a man who, three weeks before, had watched his wife labor thirty-seven hours, had watched her push for three and a half hours, and had held her hand as she told a chain of residents from anesthesiology that the epidural wasn’t working. And I think it was because my husband had been attendant during this long and shocking labor—in which the baby clung to the uterine walls as if she were saying “You will have to dynamite me out”—that my husband urged me to buy those clothes, letting some cocktail of emotion (sympathy, gratitude, tenderness) trump fiscal sense. Our family didn’t have money for clothes, especially not specialized clothes with slits and flaps in them.

Besides, if I thought about it, I loathed the clothes in the Nurse-a-rama catalogue—shapeless, loosely cut, printed with hectic designs meant to masquerade milk stains. Sometimes I’d look at them, but in a perverse way. I’ve just had a baby; okay, how else can I ruin my looks? Should I go to a party wearing the day lily sundress with vertical flaps?

No, I didn’t want the clothes, and I didn’t want to nurse other people’s babies, either. The fantasy was good only as a fantasy. If my friend Bella had handed her son over to me and said, “Nurse him for a minute, will ya?” my milk would have dried up in terror on the spot. So what did I want with Nurse-a- rama? A view into a world, a completely artificial, slick, faked up, felt up, gorgeous breastfeeding world in which women nursed their babies as casually as they might, say, water a plant. Who cares if you slop a little water into the saucer or rustle the leaves with the spout of the watering can? I needed to see that kind of insouciance in action, even if it took nine supermodels, eight babies, seven photographers, and a six-day exotic-location shoot to concoct it. I needed to believe that breastfeeding could happen naturally because the message I’d gotten in the hospital was: You won’t know how to breastfeed unless we teach you how.

Or, as the Russian nurse who stood and glowered over me in the hospital bed said, “People zink they know how to do it! Does not “know how to do it! Need instruction.” And she was just the first nurse. A forty-eight-hour hospital stay meant that four different nurses showed me how to nurse my baby. Their techniques varied, though all shared the view that I was doing it wrong or not as well as I could. “You need to get the whole areola in her mouth!” “You need to sit up straight!” “Head higher than her body!” “Don’t do football hold, do cross cradle!” “Don’t do cross cradle, do football hold.” “Cross cradle too hard, do cradle, good for new mothers.” “Don’t let her hang on the nipple.” The first few hours after a new human being emerged from my body, I sat on a blood-soaked ice bag while experts pitched the baby at my breast and commented on my technique. Of course they meant to be helpful. “Don’t worry,” said the second nurse on the first day. (Had I been worrying?) “The lactation consultant is coming!”

Come she did. The queen of experts swept into my room and after a perfunctory “How are you?” embarked on a lecture on how breastfeeding is like eating a submarine sandwich. She showed me her profile and demonstrated how she would compress a sub to get it into her mouth. Then she rolled up her sleeves and made for my breast, which she compressed, while another nurse picked up Sally and led her into the latch. The three of us breastfed Sally, four if you count my husband, who got into the spirit of the thing and leaned over us, offering pointers.

“This isn’t working,” said the lactation consultant. “I’m concerned about your milk supply.” She whispered instructions to the nurse and departed with a brisk reminder that I could purchase her services in the future if I felt stuck. The room, once she had gone, sagged a little. Even the furniture seemed to have lost its luster. Sally and I were bad at breastfeeding! The nurse announced the lactation consultant’s plan for me: I would feed the baby formula through a little tube taped to my breast “to give her incentive,” and I would pump before and after every feeding because my milk supply was “in danger.”

“Get out of that hospital,” hissed my sister-in-law on the phone. It was way too early to assume my milk was in danger, she said. “Check out early! Go on!” This was good advice, but we were young and the labor had made us stupid. Did I say that when we’d checked into the hospital we’d given up our brains? They were in a little jar behind the reception desk; we’d get them back when we checked out. So we stuck around and fed Sally formula through a tube, though I still don’t understand why. When we left, I had seven pounds of baby in my arms and, in my head, a gnawing anxiety that I didn’t know how to feed my own child.

Once we were home, I nursed Sally around the clock, relieved to do so without the experts watching. If my husband offered a tip (“Belly to belly, remember?”) or my mother rearranged one of my thirteen pillows, I snarled like a wolfhound. Those pillows were extensions of my body and at the same time a mountain range that I had to build every time I sat down. (Why, to nurse a newborn, do you need so many pillows, all of which shift precariously in your lap, inspiring concern that your baby is going to tumble into the crevasse and suffocate, or else topple fontanel-first to the floor, an incident which you imagine having the consequences of the most ghastly alpine accident—Tony Danza skiing into a tree, let’s say, collapsing his lung, crushing his ribs, pulling his leg from his hip socket? Maybe only mothers with hardwood floors worry about this?)

Back home I was paranoid that I wasn’t feeding Sally right, and yet I was too stubborn to let anyone give me pointers. How would I know if this milk thing was working? The baby opened her mouth wide, her latch seemed adequate, her mouth never covered the areola, but sometimes, in my anxious probing, I’d yank her off too soon and milk would spill out of her mouth. Was that proof enough? No. Therefore the way we used to study books and newspapers, we began to study her diapers. Yellow crystals in the urine? Consistency of the bowel movement?

We made charts!

On top of it all, our pediatrician was a brassy, bouncy, back-whacking baby lover who, after Sally’s two-week weigh-in, called us late at night from her car phone. Typically doctors want your baby to have regained her birth weight by then, and our doctor, Dr. Brassy, was “concerned” that at two weeks, Sally weighed an ounce and a half less than she’d weighed when she was born.

“I don’t want to scare you,” said Dr. Brassy, “but we like to see babies weigh more than this so if they get sick, they have some fat reserves to draw on.” She asked me to feed the baby in the office so she could see what was going on. I assumed the cradle position and Sally began to eat; the doctor walked over and corrected my positioning so I was in the cross cradle. Then she went away. As we sat in the little examination room, Sally sucking away, my arm feeling heavy and awkward in the new position, I felt sad and incompetent. There might have been a sign on the door: BREASTFEEDER ON TRIAL HERE.

Dr. Brassy came back in and weighed Sally again. She weighed one ounce more. “I’m concerned,” said the doctor. “Feed her more often.”

I called my sister-in-law who said, “Why is she quarrelling about ounces? I’d fire that doctor.”

So we did. We found a calm, pleasantly skeptical, hands-off doctor who said that as long as Sally seemed alert, we needn’t worry. Of course I continued to worry. Was I feeding her frequently enough; was I holding her in the right position; was her latch all right? Could I nurse her the way I wanted to, or was I costing her calories with my stubbornness?

We peered into other people’s strollers and front-packs, measuring plumpness. Cast an eye back on Sally.

She looked fine. Alert. Skinny.

And then that Nurse-a-rama came in the mail.

*   *   *

I’m thirty-three years old, or was at the time of the story I’m telling, and I had never seen anybody nurse up close. The women I knew moved stealthily to a corner or to the back room at parties; they nursed discreetly. Sometimes they bottle-fed their kids in public and saved the nursing for home. Maybe I got off on Nurse-a-rama because it gave me a chance to gawk, to get a good hard look at how other women do it and check out the positions.

“You know,” said my husband, “I don’t think those babies are really eating. It looks like the models are holding the babies up to their chests, a few inches away.”

“Of course they’re eating. What are you saying?”

“How can they be? Look here. See the distance here … “

He was pulling the expert talk on me—how the baby was held, whether her mouth could be completely covering the areola.

“Well, how can you know?” he said, trying to drop it.

But I didn’t want to drop it. “I want to know,” I said. “I’ll call them.”

*   *   *

On the Nurse-a-rama website there is an e-mail address to place an order and an e-mail address to talk to someone in customer service. And then there is an e-mail address “for all other requests.”

That would be me.

“I would be happy to talk with you,” wrote the President of Nurse-a-rama three hours later, when I was still in my pajamas. “Just give me a call and we can either talk then or set up a time.”

How reasonable!

Of course I hadn’t said I was a Nurse-a-rama addict. Nor had I said I disliked her fashion sense and treated her catalogue like porn. I told her a story that seemed plausible, some- thing that came true later but wasn’t anywhere near the truth then: I told her I was writing an article on breastfeeding.

Wow, I thought. All this time spent reading Nurse-a-rama and now I was going to talk to the person who made it. She would have the low-down on my fantasy world. The adult models, were they really the babies’ mothers? Were they nursing in the photos or faking it?

Most importantly, she would know the babies.

What, Mrs. President, are they really like? You can tell me!

While I was waiting for the President to call me back, I trolled around the website and discovered that Nurse-a-rama had a mission apart from hawking clothing: to educate women about the benefits of breastfeeding. The President cared about the health of babies, she cared about the earth’s resources, and she was counting how many cans of formula breastfeeding women saved from the landfill.

I began to regret having an appointment to talk to an obviously superior human being. My confidence wasn’t great in those days. It didn’t help that I wasn’t getting out of the house much. What had happened, I wondered, to my political edge? I’d expected it to get stronger with the onset of motherhood. In my early twenties, I’d read Grace Paley’s playground stories, those witty, sharp-mouthed stories about mothers going and singing to the Board of Education, and I’d thought, This will happen to me; I will become a mother and start caring, big-time. In college I was an ardent but bookish feminist, taking part in a handful of political actions, baffled by my own discomfort when I stood up at rallies and tried to shape my mouth around group chants. But I was patient, because I assumed radicalism would come later, with motherhood. It was like a package I had ordered that was coming, say, book rate from all the way around the world. I would wait, years maybe, and my radicalism would arrive. I would find it intolerable to sit on my butt any longer. The causes I cared about, in an armchair way, I would now get up and do something about for the baby’s sake, but also because I would feel those causes coursing through my milk ducts, and at last I would have a reason to feel connected to the planet.

(I still, by the way, have hope for myself.)

But my baby had been wiggling on this planet for three whole weeks, and how could I pretend I was en route to becoming radicalized when I’d given up even reading the newspaper? Those times I was nursing Sally were my only opportunities to read, and instead of reading Mother Jones, I was reading Nurse-a-rama. I had a bookmark in Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born, and that bookmark moved more slowly than I did. I wasn’t radicalized; I was lobotomized.

As I dialed the number for Nurse-a-rama and punched in the personal three-digit extension of the President of Nurse-a-rama herself, I thought, God knows what I am going to say. My only plan was to let the bright bird of my true concerns be camouflaged by dense shrubs of questions I didn’t really give a hoot about—the underbrush, if you will, of the interview.

As it turned out, the President of Nurse-a-rama volunteered immediately that the models were nursing their own babies. “That’s what most people want to know,” she said. “For years people have written, asking if the models are nursing. People say I’ve never seen mothers nurse before, I’m leafing through the catalogue looking at the positions, and I feel like you’re right there in the living room with me!

“Really?” I said. If I had felt like the President of Nurse-a-rama were in my living room, the nursing fantasies would have been off. On the other hand, I might have grabbed her by the mandarin collar and said, “What the hell is happening to me?”

The President of Nurse-a-rama went on, professional, informative, cordial. Clearly she had given this interview a million times, to people who, unlike me, were writing articles on breastfeeding.

She explained that she hired her models through a New York agency that represents pregnant and nursing models. She told me about some models who bottle-fed but tried to pretend they were nursing so they could get the job. “You need a seriously nursing baby to get a shot,” she said. “You need that baby to nurse for twenty minutes. Babies who usually get their milk from bottles aren’t that interested. Every once in a while we’ll get a model who has a nanny or works for a living and is not that well bonded with her baby.”

“How can you tell?” I prodded, alert to a shift in tone, the confiding, slightly sneering tone to which I was morbidly sensitive.

“You can feel it on the set. The child is unhappy and not easily satisfied.”

*   *   *

After we hung up, I pondered those unhappy, ill-satisfied children and their non-breastfeeding mothers. They haunted me, those poorly adjusted mother-child dyads, the insufficiently bonded. Could specially informed people see bad bonding the way a dentist looks at a nice smile and sees Streptococcus mutans? It spooked me that the President of Nurse-a-rama might pick up deficiency like a vibration or a scent in the air. I’d read enough articles that talked about the necessity of mother-child bonding to be prone to worry. At my first meeting with an obstetrician, when I was about twelve minutes pregnant, I’d said, “Will I be able to breastfeed as soon as the baby is born? Will I be able to have the baby on my chest? I’ve read that if the hospital whisks the baby off for her APGAR, I’ll miss the crucial bonding—”

“Yes,” the doctor said with poorly disguised impatience. “That’s no problem.”

(In fact, the baby was whisked off for her APGAR and my husband cried out, “Honey, do you want me to bring her back so you can breastfeed?” Slumped in the bed, already drifting into sleep, I grunted, and luckily my husband knew the grunt meant, “Hell no, I could use a freakin’ minute.”)

Having hung up the telephone with the kind and cordial and informative President of Nurse-a-rama, I now worried that I was that kind of mother, the mother who shows up on the set, hoping to make a pretty picture, but anybody can see—okay, not anybody, but certainly those natural-woman types like the President of Nurse-a- rama—that something was wrong.

What was wrong?

Not belly-to-belly, not mouth-not-on-areola.

I loved my baby, but I also wanted to work. Was I the sort who was a little too cold, not quite attached enough, not attentive? One of the terrifying things about the early days of motherhood was how ill suited I felt my personality was for parenting someone. Suddenly all the little foibles of self were magnified, writ large. When you don’t have children you can just keep evolving at your snail’s pace. There’s no pressure to get it together. If you fail to be as generous, brave, active, and courageous as you wish to be, whom do you hurt besides yourself?

With Sally there, though, small and helpless, I felt like everything about me was now visible, legible, and about to clobber her. How easy, comparatively speaking, were the terrors of the first day home from the hospital. I had walked the baby to the car and eyed the pavement suspiciously. So hard and sinister—did it mean to trip me up? On the highway, I shuddered each time a car barreled past. On the street, children’s voices rose up, harsh and strident. And the sun, why did it have to shine so bright? Think we could get some cloud cover for a minute? Jesus, we have a baby here!

This vulnerability wore off, but three weeks later what had replaced it was a sense that I was the threatening force. Oh my god, how am I going to protect my baby from the influence of me? I might consciously teach her some abstract lesson on, say, manners, but then she would see me grabbing the larger piece of cake when I relaxed, unawares, and there would be the real lesson in manners. My god, was I going to have to patrol myself all the time? Was I going to have to reinvent myself?

In a telephone conversation, I told some of this to a friend, who chided me gently. Why was I worrying about my poor character when I’d just given birth to a baby?

“When would be a better time?” I said. “Trust me, what you’re feeling now, it doesn’t last.”

“What am I feeling now?” I said (not a smart-ass, but truly, a stranger in my own strange land).

“I don’t know. I just remember the storm of those first few weeks—it doesn’t last.”

She was right. I had things out of perspective; the volume on the radio was turned up too high. This was three weeks in—I’m describing a mood here, an olio of hormones, reality, and terror. But for all the post-partum distortions, I’d put my finger on a real dilemma: The first task of motherhood is to learn how to love yourself, and there’s no way to do this quickly. We mark the mile- stones of infancy, but there are no charts for coming to terms with yourself as a human being. I wouldn’t do this project in three weeks, ten weeks; I wouldn’t buy what I needed from a catalogue, ask a question through e-mail and—zing!—get back an answer. I wouldn’t call a hotline, or even the professional, informative, cordial President of some Department of Self- Realization and Kick-Ass Self-Esteem. I was on my own, I thought, at the precise moment that I held a baby in the crook of my arm.

Author’s Note: The first few weeks of motherhood stunned me. I seemed to be nursing my daughter all the time and had forgotten how to get out of my pajamas. In this essay I was trying to capture some of the insularity and insecurity of that period. Time passed, as they say in bad novels, and quickly I forgot how nuts I was on the topic of breastfeeding. I’ve quit my day job and am promoting a series of instructional videos, including 10 Steps to Unforgettable Breastfeeding Technique and Super Nursing: Guide to Advanced Positions. Just kidding.

Sara Levine’s writing has appeared in The Iowa Review, Denver Quarterly, Puerto del Sol, and other magazines. She teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Brain, Child (Fall 2005)

When Breastfeeding Was Gross

When Breastfeeding Was Gross

By Rachel Pieh Jones


Whatever the reason, I thought breastfeeding was disgusting.


When I gave birth the first time I was barely twenty-two years old and my braces had been removed just a few months earlier. My husband and I lived in a one-bedroom apartment in a downtown, low-income high rise with primarily east African neighbors. I didn’t know how to change a diaper and wasn’t sure I liked babies all that much but here came twins, ready or not, one boy and one girl.

They terrified me.

After they were born, I knew I was strong. I had given birth both vaginally and by c-section inside of a single hour, an experience I now call a vagi-section and one I don’t recommend. But I doubted I was strong enough for this: two tiny, perfect, utterly dependent human beings, now my responsibility.

Did I mention that they terrified me? They cried. They peed. They slept (sometimes and not at the same times). They needed me in ways I had never been needed before. They even needed my actual body and attached quite voraciously to my breasts.

I thought this was gross.

It might have been the sheer overwhelming nature of twins at such a young age. It might have been that I had never enjoyed baby-sitting, that few of my friends had babies yet, that my body and life had undergone this unplanned and radical transition in the first fourteen months of marriage. It might have been simply that I was young and immature.

Whatever the reason, I thought breastfeeding was disgusting.

These had previously been for visual effect, tactile pleasure. They were not faucets and they were not functional. But suddenly they were and they were out of my control. Spraying like fire hoses, swelling like elephantitis, releasing with the unexpectedness of a volcano. They leaked, sprayed, cracked, swelled, dribbled, bled, bloated, got infected, burned, itched. They left me with soggy bras and stained t-shirts. They puffed up so much they barely fit into those bras and t-shirts and I cried while trying to button a blouse for church.

Now, as I look back and remember those sleepless nights and sleepless days, I can’t believe we tried to go to church at all. That I tried to wear clothes at all. I’m amazed that I didn’t creep around the apartment in a bathrobe or buck-naked and shun all adult contact. I’m shocked that I thought I could make this twin thing work and make it look easy.

I had assumed being a mother was something I was physically designed to be and surely this would make it an activity I could easily master. I had ovaries, a uterus, breasts. This body was made to, among other things, reproduce. So why was keeping two little people alive and happy so hellishly difficult?

Now, that logic looks ridiculous. Most women do have ovaries, a uterus, and breasts. And yet, many women have a hellishly difficult time getting pregnant, going through childbirth, breastfeeding. It isn’t supposed to be easy and it isn’t supposed to be something I can control, kind of like spurting milk. Bringing people into the world is hard and when it happens, I can only call it a miracle. It stands to reason that keeping people in the world would be equally hard, keeping them happy and healthy infinitely harder. All of it always and forever a miracle.

My third child was born five years later, a singleton and a v-bac (vaginal birth after cesaerean) or, to use my word, a v-bavs (vaginal birth after vagi-section). She was born in Djibouti and after her birth, my husband rolled me in a wheelchair to our room. We were two parents with a little more experience on our side than the first time around, and one baby. One baby! I started to nurse her and she latched on and then there was nothing else to do. No other baby to hold. My husband started playing cards. I stared at this baby. She knew exactly what to do and over the next few days as my milk came in, I grew more and more stunned by the beauty of it, by my body producing what her body needed. It made me dizzy and humble.

Now I was older, now I had done this once-gross thing before. Now I was in awe. Breastfeeding was no longer disgusting. Not easy, mess-free, or pain-free this time either, but miraculous. Like everything from conception to delivery to survival outside the womb, like fertility treatments, like adoption paperwork and bringing the kids home, like the wild endeavor of raising human beings. All of it always and forever miraculous.

Rachel Pieh Jones lives in Djibouti with her husband Tom Jones (not the singer, though he thinks life might be more interesting as a musical) and three children. Raised in the Christian west, she used to say ‘you betcha,’ and ate Jell-O salads. Now she lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas.

The Accidental Exclusive Breastfeeder

The Accidental Exclusive Breastfeeder


“Accidentally” becoming an exclusive breastfeeder.

Let me start by saying, I’m no lactivist. I think breastfeeding is great, if that’s what you’re into. I think formula is great, too. I’m pro-feeding-your-baby in whatever way works best for you and your family.

When I was pregnant with my son, I kept an open mind to my feeding options. I figured I’d give breastfeeding a try, but I wasn’t sure it would work for me. I have a thyroid issue and while it’s usually manageable, it can get in the way of milk production for some women. I always assumed my partner and I would do some kind of combo feeding. Breast milk when I was there and awake; formula when we wanted a night out. Plus, I knew I’d be returning to work when my kiddo was about eleven weeks old. It was hard to imagine that I’d be motivated to keep up with all that pumping.

What I didn’t realize when my partner and I were making our plans was that the baby would be demanding a vote.

I had a pretty rough delivery and when the pediatrician saw me looking like death warmed over at our one-week appointment, he took my partner aside to recommend I get some rest—some real rest.

“Give the baby a couple of bottles,” he said. “Take two six-hour naps.” And then, to drive it home: “The baby’s fine. I’m worried about you.”

Six hours of sleep seemed like an impossible dream, but on the chance of grabbing even three consecutive hours, my partner dutifully tried to give our son a bottle. He wasn’t having it.

Our son wouldn’t drink the next bottle either. Or the next one. Or the next one. He wouldn’t drink from any of the eight kinds of bottles we tried. Or the cup, or the spoon, or the syringe, or the supplemental nursing system my partner taped to his finger. He wouldn’t drink expressed breast milk or any of the varieties of formula we tried to give him. He wouldn’t drink them cold or warm. He wouldn’t take them from my partner, or me, or a babysitter. He would not drink them in a box. He would not drink them with a fox. You see where I’m going with this.

He was a good eater, a chubby baby, but he would take it straight from the tap and no other way. There went my brilliant plans for combo feeding.

As the weeks went on and my start date at work approached, I started to get nervous. My schedule meant that three days a week, I’d be leaving the house at eight a.m. and wouldn’t be getting back until close to seven in the evening. I’d be gone for nearly eleven hours, which was the equivalent of four good meals for my ten-week-old baby. They seem so fragile when they’re so small.

I called the lactation consultants in near-panic. They assured me that he would be fine. He wouldn’t starve to death while I was at work. “When he’s really hungry,” they said, “he’ll take the bottle.”

Only, he didn’t. I would come home from work at the end of my twelve-hour days to an angry, screaming, and really hungry baby. And then he’d eat all night long. Needless to say, it was not an ideal situation for either of us.

I kept pumping at work to keep my supply up. We continued leaving bottles of expressed milk for him, a few ounces each. The babysitter warmed them, the baby refused them, and down the drain they went. It started to feel like such an amazing waste that I began donating some of the milk I pumped.

I found several women through Human Milk for Human Babies whose babies had bad reactions to formula, and who didn’t pump enough milk to meet their babies needs. Reading their pleas for donor milk made my heart heavy. Their babies hadn’t gone along with their plans either.

When I finally weaned my son, he was about fourteen months old. He still wasn’t drinking from bottles or cups or anything else, despite our continued offerings. But I’d already done way more breastfeeding than I bargained for and, after that and nine long months of pregnancy, I was ready to go back to sustaining only one body. The pediatrician assured me that my son would start taking a cup when the breast was gone and, this time, he was right.

I sometimes find my way into conversations about breastfeeding on the playground or at the library. When I’m asked, I tell the truth: that I exclusively breastfed my son. In some ways that sentence is the secret password into a club I never wanted to belong to. Sometimes the women in this club are supportive and open-minded. But sometimes, they can be pretty judgmental toward women who make other choices—or have other choices thrust upon them.

It’s at those moments when I feel I really don’t belong. I still don’t have a problem with formula. I think my son and I both would have been happier and healthier people if he’d been willing to drink it from time to time. It’s good to have ideas and preferences and plans, but it’s also important to remember that our babies don’t always go along with them.

All This Rocking

All This Rocking

WO All this Rocking ARTBy Jessica Latham

One hundred rocks. My husband tells me that’s how many times he sways our nine-month old son when it’s his turn, when my back is too tired from strapping our baby in the carrier, when my hipbone feels bruised, when another hour of our baby attached to me will make my skin crawl.


It’s a Thursday afternoon and I am putting my son down for a nap. I must have rocked him at least one hundred times. The carrier cups his meaty legs as his head tilts to the right and parted lips quiver on my breast. Yes, he must be asleep. Past his head, I stand and stare at the phone in my hands. Which part of the story did he fall asleep to? On my phone, I read from books, novels and self-help, parenting and inspiration. The sound of my voice seems to soothe him and I hear my own life in the words of other women, strangers tied into the same web of motherhood.

His lips slip off my skin as I alter my stance from swaying to stillness. Now that he’s asleep I will finally have time to write. But where? How? Texting on my phone takes too long, but the sound of the keys on my computer might wake him. I rock. I sway. I look. On the bedside table is my journal, hidden under a stack of books – Anna Karenina, Simplicity Parenting and Hafiz’s poetry, The Gift, each of them sadly neglected since his birth. Bookmarks are shoved into the front and centers of each book and in the journal, which has far fewer words than I’d like. When was the last time I opened it? I slide the books aside to reach for the journal and a pen. I glide and rock, sway and shake my way ever so gently not to wake him. I decide to leave him sleeping on me. Still standing, I open the book of blank pages, prop it against the dresser and begin to write.

My nipple presses against his cheek and his ear is folded on the lip of the Bjorn. Our stomachs press toward one another like the delicate contents of a sandwich. His tummy, so pure and full, hits the scar above my pelvis, the one I press with my fingers, hoping each time it will somehow disappear. My bellybutton, almost perfectly aligned with his, still projects outward.

“A hernia?” my aunt asked me once.

“I don’t know.” I gave up searching for answers a long time ago and have come to terms with the disappointment of my battered body.

I must be at three hundred rocks now. My son sucks the air, his lips pursed around an invisible nipple. I press my phone to check the time and a light highlights a prompt for my password, one I put in so my son would stop accidentally calling people from the thrill of biting, sliding, pressing and hitting. I’m ashamed he already uses my phone, copying the constant use of mommy’s life raft. I’m ashamed of what others would hear if my son dialed unknowingly. Not unkindness to my son, but the tiresome bickering between my husband and me, both overworked and overtired, projecting our anger and pointing fingers at one another.

“It gets easier,” my mother told me, “after six months.”

But it’s been more than six months. Did she lie to give me hope during the first weeks because she couldn’t stand the thought of what her daughter had endured? A difficult delivery, swollen labia, stitched stomach, numb left foot, bloody breasts, constipation and a CT scan showing signs of an infection, a blockage of the intestines due to an internal cut during surgery resulting in pain worse than contractions.

“Most women are gone by now,” the doctor had told me after my sixth day at the hospital.

“And do most women go through this?” I cried, fragile and wounded.

“I think it’s time you think about possibly getting some help.”

“What do you mean?”

“An anti-depressant. Your records show you’ve tried and done well with Zoloft.”

“I don’t need anything.”

“What do you say we get you back on ten milligrams to start? Women in your situation often need some assistance when bonding with their baby begins with difficulty.”

“I’m not having trouble bonding with my baby,” I said. “He is the only bit of light I see in my new life. My problem is not my child. My problem is the pain. The frustration. The shock. I cannot eat. I cannot sit up, move or walk. It appears I cannot even feed my child from my own body.”

“This will help with some of your frustration,” he said, his tone softening.

“Fine. I’ll take it.”

“We need to get you better so you can go home.” He continued scribbling secrets on a pad then walked out of the doors into a hall of women walking about, smiling with visitors and planning their departures.

The lights seemed too bright, the wall too white. Was I in an insane asylum or a birthing recovery room? Were the balloons, flowers and stuffed elephants in my imagination? Were my meals and medicines part of a new life here permanently? Or was this all a dream?

I left, still swollen despite three days of starvation, only morphine and water filling my aching body.

“I don’t even have body odor.” I said to my husband the day we left.

“That’s because you’re not eating anything, love.”

Those nights in the hospital I sat thinking, how long did we dance during labor, rocking rhythmically as one? How many steps did I take, my son’s body wedged into my own? And, once home, how many sways in the night did we share, his tiny folded wing across my shoulder, my distended stomach shifting like a bag of sand?

After two weeks my shocked body, previously unresponsive to cups of warmed prune juice and three laxatives per day, finally awoke and began releasing wildly during our newborn’s photo shoot. I wanted to laugh, but this was not a joke—it was bullying by some sort of a wicked god that sent me back questioning my actions in this life. This isn’t how birth recovery is supposed to be, I thought. Was I naïve and ignorant to have hoped and wished for some other reality of birth?


I turn the page of my journal, my hand scribbling memories I’d pushed aside. Words I’d locked away now emerge like wild birds that have been caged for far too long. The rustle of the thin sheet of paper causes my son to stir and his eyes flutter. “Shhh,” I shush as I rock and sway. I drop my pen and cup my two hands around the base of his head. My legs bend and straighten, shift and shake until his eyes are still once more. I pick up my pen and continue piecing together bits and pieces of my life on the lined paper as if the words themselves will comfort me when I see them before my own eyes.

A friend came over last week to meet the baby, but mainly to talk business over beers with my husband. No break tonight. After eleven hours with my son, he’ll be bathed, dressed, fed and put to bed by me. I bring our friend upstairs and don’t know why. Perhaps because I’ve forgotten what adult interaction entails. Is it appropriate to tour just the downstairs of a home or must I lead him up the stairs? It’s so silly to think of the tiny interactions forgotten when handshakes and home-visit formalities are traded for wiping bottoms and celebrating shaky first steps. As we tour the home, my husband’s friend politely says, as if hearing the conversation in my head, “No need to apologize about the mess, you have a baby.” How long can I use my boy as an excuse for my messes, my pain, my exhaustion, my bolts of unhappiness and shrills of joy? How long must I defend and explain my parenting decisions?

“He sleeps with us,” I tell him as we enter my son’s nursery. I see the shock in his eyes. “He runs the house,” I say and laugh, trying to make light of his judgment. The crib is bare, covered in long black and white hair, used each night only by our two cats. Why do I care what this bachelor thinks? Because he’ll judge me? Because, as I feared, he’ll tell my husband later that night, “You need to be tougher, you need to let your son cry-it-out.” Because I cringe at those words. Because, when I’m alone, I imagine myself, like a lioness laying beneath a tree with my cub curled into the crevices of my body, where I can rest without the need to explain co-sleeping, carrying, or any other modern label.

We move into the master bedroom. “We did some rearranging a few days ago.” I tell my friend as he glances at the folded bed frame and box spring leaned against the wall of our bedroom. So our active crawler does not fall, we deconstructed the bed and left only a mattress on the floor. A blanket is spread between two pillows on our mattress, a mini bed where my son sleeps between us. A battle I won—my son and I won. He fussed when we tried the crib and the co-sleeper, and so between us he went.

He still wakes two to three times each night. After nine months, I still wake as foggy as the mornings when he was a newborn. He turns and I turn. He begins sucking slowly, then picks up speed, waking me, bringing me back to the reality that my breasts, like my body, only provide half of what he needs – just as I couldn’t push him through after the countless hours of labor. I tap my husband’s back.

“He needs a bottle,” I whisper.


He slides out of the bed. I hear his sleepy stride against the floor, the stairs and then – POP – the sound of the microwave opening. It takes eleven seconds for the water to match the temperature of my own milk. With moonlit eyes, my husband mixes the powder and comes back into the bedroom. With my son’s eyes closed, I guide the bottle into his mouth and pull my shirt down. He sucks methodically.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper as my husband settles back into bed. I’m sorry that I cannot provide enough milk so that our son needs a bottle that you have to make. I’m sorry that I cannot go downstairs myself because he’ll wake up and I no longer have the energy to put him back to sleep, or the courage to ask you.

I had tried mixing formula with cold water from the bathroom sink, but he wouldn’t drink it. Another battle won by our son. I’m tired of changing diapers on my hands and knees because he cries when he’s put on his back, so to the floor we go, as if playing a game of chase. Tired of screams in the car that come out of nowhere. Tired of the constant lack of breath. Breath. Breath. How often do I forget to breathe? How often do I apologize that I cannot do everything for everyone? I’m sorry for all of my faults – the ones I can control and the uncontrollable. And I’m sorry, in all of my exhaustion, that I’ve lost the love for myself.


My husband will wake two hours after heating the bottle and leave for a meeting with friends at a coffee shop before work.

“And what about me?” I asked him again last night. “How can I want to make love with you when we can’t even talk? We are strangers to one another. I am a stranger to myself. Do you hear that I need time? Just an hour to myself. Even less.” To shower. To go to the bathroom. To write. To be alone. To do nothing.

He gives at times, but I’m in an extreme state, overworked, exhausted, and I pity myself for having no family around, for spending one of my only free hours in counseling, during which I worry if my son’s alright or if he’s crying. For wondering when it will get easier, if it will get easier. Though my body is healed, so they say, I still take my frustration pills and share stories of highs and lows with a kind woman who lets me cuss and cry, who lets me lay down on her couch and then get back up a bit more refreshed. The tiny blue pills, and the tiny moments in these sessions, like my tiny boy, hold a power that magically changes my perspective.

I lift my pen and look down at my son’s eyelids, like shells of pearl. How could such loveliness have come from me? From within me? And for me to learn from, watch grow, and raise?


“He’s an angry baby.” The doctor’s judgment and conclusions, just days after his birth, made before my son was even given a chance, echo in my head. If only I could show that doctor now. If only I could show him my nine-month-old’s sweet laughter, his smiles and peaceful face. Each time I give more and more of myself to see my son’s contentedness. When people comment, “What a happy baby!” I want to give myself the credit, I want, out of all my selflessness, to at least be selfish in owning the fact of my son’s happiness. I want to tell them how I’ve given up showers and manicures, trips to the hair salon and gym – I trade all of this to wear him, hold him, feed him, play with him and tend to his requests. Will it all pay off in the end? When he’s grown, will he carry on without a therapist? Will he feel independent and safe?

I try to find the courage to imagine a sibling in his life. But each time a moment of good passes, a sleepless night returns, a cry in the five-minute car ride sends chills down my spine, making me realize that for nine months I’ve completely forgotten how to breathe.


I gasp and drop my pen. A slight sting pierces my breast, my son’s growing teeth biting down. I try to rock him back to sleep, shoving my other breast toward him for just another tiny moment alone, not truly alone, but at least silent, for more time to write. But he purses his lips, hits my shoulders with his hands.

“Ok, you’re up.” I say.

I look down and he smiles, four teeth showing now. I set down my journal and, like most things in my life, my thoughts remain half-complete, unfinished and hanging. My life is a series of interruptions: showers stopped, split ends hanging from my head. Like an orgasm ending too soon, a plate of dessert dropped on the floor, a plug pulled from my body – I feel taunted, stuck between on and off.

As he wakes, my eyes focus. I am broken from my memories, taken out of the hospital and back into my bedroom. I unfasten him from me, set him down. He stands with his hands in mine and we walk together, his chubby feet shuffling across the floor. Our bodies rock from side to side, like a boat lilting back and forth. As I steady him, I imagine for a moment that the tiny life between my hands could believe I am a steady anchor.

Using writing in all forms as an essential and gratifying outlet for her busy mind, Jessica Latham writes regularly for Mothering Magazine. She is assistant editor of Yukei Teiki Haiku Society, a Japanese poetry journal, and her work has been featured on NPR’s local station, in Literary Mama (forthcoming) and various poetry journals. Learn more about Jessica’s work at www.rowdyprisoners.com.

Bedsharer’s Lament

Bedsharer’s Lament

By Olivia Campbell


If only you’d given birth to the kind of babies you can lay down anywhere after they fall asleep, and they stay asleep.


With a finally passed-out 17-month-old on your shoulder, you have to slither into bed as gingerly as you can: waddling on your knees like a penguin to the middle of your mattress, turning around and then laying back as slowly as possible—utilizing all the core muscles you have left after having two kids (sit-ups being absent in your recent memory) while sliding him carefully down your arm and onto his pillow—if you’re lucky, your arm won’t get stuck underneath him. Your precious 23-pound wrecking ball has already slept soundly on your shoulder while you peed and brushed your teeth with one hand, so you are feeling pretty confident about tonight’s sleep potential.

About 20 minutes after you both get all settled in (you know, long enough for you to be lulled into a false sense of sleep-security), it happens. At first it’s only rolling and writhing. You hope he will calm back down because it is dark and you are both under the covers. Exhausted after a day at the office and then chasing two wild boys around while your husband works late, you only have the energy left to offer a banal butt pat, served alongside a robotic “shhhhhh.”

He’s wiggling faster now, tossing and flailing as if his limbs are willing him to wake. He groggily requests “meh” as he pokes a finger into your chest. You quickly oblige, hoping the soothing act of nursing and resulting full belly of milk with lure him back to sleep, as it has so many night before. No such luck. First he turns so his feet are underneath him, then straightens his legs and sticks his butt high into the air. Next, he side-steps closer to you and slides both legs up along your top arm, until finally his straight, stiff body is planking across you at an angle: feet on your shoulder, mouth on your boob, nursing away.

After feasting on both sides twice, he sits up and alertly assesses his surroundings. Your greatest fear is realized. He was only taking a late-evening nap. Hey Ma-ma, 11:30 p.m. is playtime, get with the program! Don’t let him shake your stoicism; just pretend you’re asleep. That will work, right? Undeterred, he pokes a determined pointer finger deep down into your pillow a few inches in front of your nose and slides it slowly along the pillowcase toward you. His aim is to gauge the openness of your eyes, but he misses and stabs you in the cheek.

Realizing that “Da-da’s” absence significantly increases his play area, he begins rolling up and down your husband’s pillows giggling fiendishly, as if he’s on a lush grass-covered hill deep in the throes of springtime. Next comes flash dancing—quick bursts of running in place that crescendo in purposeful falling and artificially loud laughter. Then BLAMO! Out of nowhere, a sharp kick from a 5½-inch foot scrapes mini-razor toenails across your cheekbone. It retracts back quickly and then lands a heel squarely on your nose. It’s going to be a long night.

If only you’d given birth to those babies you can lay down anywhere after they fall asleep and they stay asleep (you know, the kind all your friends seem to have?). It was with your first son that you discovered the ultimate frustration of spending an hour dutifully walking your baby to sleep in a zombie-like stupor, only to have him wake up the minute you peel him away from your body and begin the slow decent toward his crib. You accepted that slithering into bed with a baby on your shoulder was your only chance for sleep.

Because of the severity of the potential danger that has been indelibly—if undeservedly—linked to bedsharing, some find it difficult to even admit. And those that do admit to it don’t dare confess to it being less-than-ideal at times, for fear of adding to its negative image. Most nights, it does feel like the best choice of all child-sleep-situation options available to you, but—like most aspects of parenting—it can be awesome at times and unbearable at others. It’s not all snuggles and Mr. Sandman.

You too are guilty of perpetuating this lie; your smug boasting to coworkers now hangs stale in the back of your mind, mocking you: “Bedsharing is so great! You know, we just love it! It’s the only way I get any sleep with a nursing baby.” You don’t remember sounding that nasal or superior. You felt so confident and convincing, proudly declaring your rebellious sleep situation. Now that you think about it, they clearly saw straight through you. C’mon, they see the dark circles under your eyes and hear the yawning.

“We couldn’t even have our son in the same room with us at night!” a friend admitted. “I was so not prepared for the amount of noise babies make—the grunting and snoring—I would never get any sleep if he was in our room, let alone our bed.”

“You co-sleep too?” your boss confessed with excited relief. “The twins sleep with us in our king-size bed because the one just loves to nurse. He uses me like a pacifier.” She waited many years to finally have children. She wants them close to her. Since she works full time, nights are the longest stretch of time they have to be together, but she doesn’t often admit to bedsharing. She definitely hasn’t told her pediatrician. You haven’t either, you know. If we can’t even broach the subject with friends, family or healthcare professionals without worrying we will be seen as someone who knowingly puts their child in danger, how can we have any hope of an open discussion of guidelines for safe practices and suggestions for making it more mutually enjoyable?

“They are getting so big now,” she continued. “I feel like it’s time to kick them out because they are taking up so much room, but I don’t know where to put them since they are used to sleeping with people.”

Yes, once you start sharing a bed with an infant (or two) you eventually end up feigning sleep while dodging kicks to the face from a 2 ½ -foot-tall bully; shouting “GO TO SLEEP!” as hope for the solace of slumber anytime in the near future slips further from your grasp. Recognizing the seriousness of your tone, your son collapses and curls into a ball next to you like a shamed puppy. Slowly, the nighttime ninja begins slinking down toward the foot of the bed on his stomach, disappearing under the comforter. Off the bed to freedom. Once he touches the floor it will be over. He will be running around the living room until 2 a.m. flipping the light switches on and off. You scoop him up and firmly lay him down next to you, forcefully inserting the comforter under his armpit. He senses you mean business and is momentarily peaceful. Eventually, the squirming begins again.

You remind yourself that not every night is like this; that you can only truly appreciate the thrill of your baby’s soft late-night cuddles and smiling early-morning awakenings after experiencing the agony of an errant flailing arm shocking you awake at 3 a.m. by backhanding your eye so hard you see only brilliant white. Like his brother before him, he too will soon have a bed of his own. You will once again revel in the decadence that is whole nights of deliciously uninterrupted sleep … unless you decide to have that third kid, anyway.

Olivia Campbell is a writer, dancer and mom of two feisty boys whose articles on parenting, health, natural living and dance have appeared in The Daily Beast, Mothering Magazine and The Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts Quarterly.

Photo: salon.com

The Accidental Lactivists

The Accidental Lactivists

By Mira Saxena Mother Breastfeeding her newborn baby

The Breast Whisperer was at our door. It was day two home from the hospital after the birth of my first child, and no amount of reading or lactation class preparation could have readied me for the elusiveness of “the latch.” I had a small coterie around me: my parents, my husband, and squirming in my arms, my baby daughter. My father let her in, the city’s number one Lactation Consultant; she brought a “hospital grade” breast pump with her into our daughter’s room.

Having recently abandoned any sense of nursing bashfulness in front of my father, I struggled to hold my baby while balanced on an inflatable donut pillow on the seat of the glider chair. I hoped, in my sleep deprived haze that someone in the room would take notes on how to use this new machine.

After a natural birthing class, my husband and I had decided to go “all in” with exclusive breastfeeding for as long as I was able. But the “alwaysness” of breastfeeding on demand had been staggeringly exhausting. My own mother was sympathetic to my plight, but she had never used a breast pump herself, and didn’t have tips to share.

The first night at the hospital after our daughter’s birth, my husband sat alone on a glider, in the hospital nursery, chatting with the nurses and letting our baby suck on his thumb (a technique suggested by our birthing instructor). She fussed in his helpless arms but he held firm, telling the nurses we didn’t want to introduce formula, or a pacifier, for that matter, while I caught up on a few hours sleep ready to try again to nurse as dawn arrived.

Learning to breastfeed was difficult. Repeated tries with an improper latch had left me so sore it was painful to continue trying, but I tried with my Medela pump to extract enough milk to keep my supply from dwindling. For those few days prior to our Lactation Expert visit, my husband learned to feed my milk to our tiny one with a hooked syringe and, again, his thumb in between my attempts to let her nurse. She was like a small baby bird drinking from a beak.

That afternoon, the Breast Whisperer explained how to use the new, mint green contraption, which we then rented for a few months—it looked harmless, in all its pastel glory. Soon I was in the groove, producing an ample supply of milk.

Fear of the painful latch, however, threatened to thwart even my best attempts to breastfeed. I tried to tolerate my daughter’s nursing, even as I was nursing my own raw anatomy, with my husband crouched at my side. He tried to distract me by reading poems of Wallace Stevens. Those tender moments are some of my most cherished parenting memories.

My own dad was a different story. With my husband at work, my sister living overseas and my mother traveling, my retired father volunteered to come over every few days and spend time with me and the new baby—he’d hold the baby so I could pump, sit with her while I ate or keep her company while I got some much needed sleep.

When our daughter was five months old, a hurricane blew through town, knocking the power out in our suburb. We had decamped to the city for a few days, where luckily, there was still power. But most of my hard won milk was in our freezer at home. Fretting over the spoiled milk, my husband drove back in the horrible weather—with a cooler—and he brought back the milk stash, on ice. My knight in rain-soaked boots.

It’s easy to look back on these mammary memories now, sometimes in amusement. I didn’t know about thrush, how a nursing mother’s diet could affect the baby, about hand expressing or clogged ducts. So much is thrown at women at the critical juncture of birth and feeding, and there aren’t always supportive people around who advocate not to give up.

Lucky for me, the two most important men in my life kept me going until my daughter and I hit our stride and became a super breastfeeding duo. These amazing Dads taught me that sometimes men are the silent force behind the woman, stepping in when needed. I nursed our daughter until she was two and a half because of their early encouragement. Even though she was no longer the tiny infant, the glider was our favorite spot during those final years of nursing. It was also the place where I could reflect on the love that came from an early bond we all carefully nurtured, and created together.

Mira Saxena has read many an issue of Brain, Child with a sleeping baby in her arms. She writes often on parenting and motherhood and lives with her husband and two daughters in Washington, DC.

The Boob Tube

The Boob Tube

By Susan Vaughan Moshofsky

boobtube“Your nipples are inverted,” the nurse announced as she eyed me. Sitting in my hospital bed the day after I delivered Rachel, our first child, I hoisted each gargantuan breast into position to help our daughter “latch on.” At one day old, it seemed she’d sprouted teeth. I gritted mine through each brief breastfeeding session.

“You’ll need these,” the nurse explained as she handed me two clear, plastic nipple shields. Shaped like three-inch-diameter spaceships, their purpose was to help draw out my nipples, she explained while stuffing the little ships inside my nursing bra. Pre-pregnancy, I was a full-breasted woman. Now, I was practically a size 46 GGG: Wonder Woman without the waistline. At least with those qualifications, I knew I’d have no trouble breastfeeding.

Or so I thought. On my second day in the hospital, the nurse worried that Rachel was getting little, if any, milk, so she suggested formula supplementation. I refused, determined to succeed. New mom though I was, I knew that supplementing was the Dark Side. Would prevent bonding. A sure-fire way to shave off a few IQ points. A failure.

“Try tea bags,” one nurse suggested. I looked at her quizzically. “It helps with the pain,” she explained. Several cups of tea later, I dutifully applied the cooled tea bags to my nipples after each abortive attempt at nursing. After the tea bags grew cold, I replaced them with the nipple shields to make my introverts more extroverted. Another nurse demonstrated the “football hold,” but even that didn’t help. A few friends who visited shared their breastfeeding advice. “Oh, I could never get that close to my child if it was nursing time,” one friend reported. “My milk would let down all over the front of my shirt.”

Another asked, “Don’t your breasts hurt just before it’s time to feed your baby?” I rolled my eyes. They hurt all the time. Now I knew: breastfeeding is the female peeing contest.

By the third day, I had to admit my failure to the nurses, my OB/GYN, the pediatrician, visiting friends, and extended family. Could being discharged from the hospital help? Surely, breastfeeding would be more natural in the privacy of my own home.

But I was wrong about that, too. After a few more days of painful, home nursing sessions broken only by applications of cold tea bags, icepacks to the chest, and wearing the plastic spaceships, it was clear I would not be invited into the LaLeche League.

When Brett, my husband, insisted we call the doctor, sure it shouldn’t be this hard, our pediatrician warned that if Rachel didn’t have enough wet diapers, we should bring her in to his office. There, the doctor suggested we supplement with water until my milk came in. But a couple of days later, she seemed even hungrier—and angrier. And nursing hurt more than ever. It was time for formula and a lactation specialist, the doctor explained.

The specialist prescribed a Supplemental Nursing System, a contraption designed to stimulate milk production. The largest part of the device was an eight-ounce plastic bottle suspended upside down from a white, cordlike “necklace.” Two 1/16-inch surgical feeding tubes dangled from the neck of the bottle, each tube taped to a nipple. Rachel would nurse “normally” (if one could consider this getup normal) but would get formula from the tubes as her suckling stimulated milk production to such proportions that the contraption would soon no longer be necessary. Being rid of this “boob tube,” then, became my goal—every feeding, every day, for three long months.

Parenting books had pronounced nursing such a convenience: one could meet the baby’s need at any moment and in any location! Not with the boob tube! Before each feeding, I had to sterilize all parts of the apparatus by boiling them in a pot, fill the bottle with formula (after preparing that), remove my shirt and bra, dangle the bottle around my neck, get out the tape, tape a feeding tube to each nipple, grab Rachel, now purple-faced and screaming, from a helpless-looking Brett, hoist up a nipple, and finally, position her so she could latch on—over seven or eight times a day. No discreet feedings for me! I went almost nowhere unless I was guaranteed a private room.

After a few weeks with the boob tube, it appeared Rachel was taking less formula each day, but the lactation specialist felt we weren’t progressing quickly enough. To further stimulate milk production, she prescribed three-times-a-day hookups to a mechanical breast pump. Why not? We certainly weren’t entertaining guests under these circumstances! My life at the time was drinking tea so I could put the used tea bags on my nipples, wearing the Amazon-woman nipple shields, and looking like a permanent ad for a 48-hour bra. Add the seven or eight 45-minute boob tube feedings plus the thrice-daily breast-pump sessions, and I felt real sympathy for cows in dairies.

To pass the time one night while hooked up to the breast pump, I watched the movie “Frankenstein” with Brett. I felt like a freak myself, sitting on the couch, the funnel-shaped cone attached to my breast, and the hum of the pump’s motor muffling the creature’s roar in the movie. During a commercial, I reached proudly for the milk container to show Brett how much I’d produced (two ounces of milk after two hours of pumping!!)—and clumsily knocked it over. I watched helplessly as the precious liquid spilled onto the carpet. I know what it means to cry over spilled milk.

Desperate to reclaim any vestiges of self-respect I still had at the time, I vowed not to become some bathrobed slob, hair in curlers with nothing more to say at the end of the day than, “I fed the baby today, dear.” Though that’s all I did, I took pains to get dressed every day before Brett left for work. Then I’d boil the boob tube, prepare the day’s formula, and wait for Rachel to wake up so I could begin the arduous task of feeding her.

One morning I put the boob tube into the pot as usual, started the water to boil and headed downstairs to get dressed, but it was so cold, I decided to climb back into bed for just a few minutes. It had snowed the night before, and the heat hadn’t come on yet. Rachel was still asleep; the chilly house was peaceful and quiet. My plan: get warm under the covers while the boob tube was being sterilized, then run back upstairs and perform the morning feeding once the house had warmed up. Three months into this project, the lactation specialist now estimated Rachel was getting 80 percent of her nutrition from my breast milk—only 20 percent from the formula in the boob tube! With only 20 percent to go, I was determined to make the grade. But weeks of sleep deprivation pulled me into a deep slumber.

I woke to the smell of smoke. Racing upstairs through a gray fog, I rounded the corner to the kitchen, expecting flames. Instead, a black cloud billowed from the pot glowing on the hot burner. Grabbing the pot’s handle, I shoved open the deck door and sank the pot into the four inches of snow outside. I flung open every door and window and darted downstairs to find Rachel sleeping, oblivious to the danger.

I ran back upstairs, worried about the pot sitting on our wooden deck. It had melted all the snow it sat on. I looked inside the pot for the boob tube: nothing. Thinking the contraption had fallen out of the pot in my hurry, I retraced my steps but again found nothing. The boob tube must have melted; the black smoke, its cremation.

Without the boob tube, I couldn’t give Rachel enough breast milk. All my efforts would be wasted! I’d have to get a new device! And with the delay the snow might cause, I’d never get to the 100 percent point now, if it had ever been possible.

I squinted into the pot as if to find some insight. There, etched indelibly into the now-distended bottom of the pot was the word “Medela,” the brand name of the boob tube, and all that was left of the three months of turmoil.

Now it was clear. If ever I’d needed a sign to set me free from the prison of straps and tubes, free from the dread of hearing Rachel’s cry to be fed, this was it.

I reached into the cupboard for the formula and the one bottle we owned, feeling such relief. No more boob tube! No more hermitlike seclusion, sequestered away with Rachel and this odd contraption! I could now feed her with the bottle I’d been avoiding all along. Freed of the boob tube and the terrible mother-guilt that prodded me to exceed the limits of reason in my quest to properly nourish our child, I began to enjoy feeding her. No more wasted bonding time getting her “hooked up.” No more purple-faced, screaming baby. No more days measured by ounces, caught up in a competition with no winners.

Author’s Note: While I’m proud that I tried to breastfeed our daughter, it took burning up the boob tube to show me that motherhood is not a competition. I didn’t need to jeopardize my bonding with my baby just to prove that I could breastfeed, as if I were in some kind of Mom Olympics. Being freed of the boob tube helped me start that bittersweet journey of motherhood—that letting go of what I think is best to make room for what is truly needed.

Susan Vaughan Moshofsky is a mother, teacher, and writer who lives with her family of five in Portland. Her work has appeared in Brain, Child, Huffington Post, The Oregonian, and Seattle’s Child.

Motherhood is Gross

Motherhood is Gross

What is Motherhood? is a Brain, Child blog series, with original posts from our writers, and reposts from some of our most favorite websites and blogs, all answering the universal question—what does motherhood mean to you?

By Rachel Pieh Jones

stinky diaper 1Motherhood is gross and it starts in the bathroom when you pee all over your fingers even though you are aiming at a little white stick. Next comes the projectile vomit, your own, that some call morning sickness but is actually preparation for having a baby, who will vomit on you. Before pregnancy we barfed in private, now we are barfing in Laundromat garbage cans, potted plants lining suburban streets, and the parking lot outside Babies R Us. Breasts bloat and leak mysterious cloudy discharge and the baby has not even arrived yet.

We mothers used to be fairly modest, meaning we didn’t drop our pants for just anyone. Now, in the doctor’s office, we will pee into cups and spread our legs for whoever asks, hoping they will give us good news. If you are pregnant in France, you will also take off your shirt and bra so the doctor can check your pinched vaginal nerve. This only happened to me once and yes, motherhood means we now say things like ‘pinched vaginal nerve.’

Giving birth is excessively gross. My daughter asked if she came out my belly button. When I told her she came out my vagina, she said, “I came out your bagina? Eeeewww!”

Eeew is right. We sweat and swear and turn blisteringly red and lose things called mucus plugs but not from our noses and poop on our babies’ faces (tell that to your teenager). We cry from pain, exhaustion, overwhelming love and adoration (the poop has long since been washed off and the baby really is adorable now). There is blood and discharge and excess IV fluid. There is now yellow discharge from our breasts that seeps, then we wake one morning and find the seeping has miraculously turned to a shower of purplish white milk. And there is a human attached to our nipple, sucking on it.

The grossness of motherhood strips all pretense of fashion and style. We wear breast milk stained shirts and jeans with booger streaks at toddler nose level, right around the knee. We lug suitcase-sized totes with garish safari animals or cartoon characters. We pretend spit-up blends in with the pattern on our shirt. Drool coats every surface from our car keys to our hairbrush.

Mothers pick noses. With our bare fingers. And we feel accomplished when we successfully remove that offensive green slime. We swoop up small people and smell their butts. Depending on the result of these smell tests, we will wipe poop from those butts. We wipe poop from backs, even from shoulders when things have gotten out of hand. We wipe poop from car seats and strollers and highchairs. We scoop turds from bathtubs, the ones that won’t fit down the drain. In Somalia we wipe diarrhea with our hands. (That also only happened to me once.) We catch vomit with our bare hands to spare the child or the upholstery.

We pick up dropped pacifiers and lick them off. We use our teeth to clip baby fingernails. We admire goopy boogers and accept them onto our own fingertips so they don’t end up crusted to the car door. We tell our kids the dead frog they found on the street is cool and later we pull it out of their jeans pocket while doing laundry. We unroll crunchy socks. We comb for lice.

Motherhood is also gross when it reveals deep-rooted selfishness like when the kids think they are fighting over the last can of root beer this side of the Atlantic Ocean but you already hid it in the back of the cupboard for later, when they are sleeping or choking down vegetables. Or when you slide the hands of the clock forward ever so slightly each night so that bedtime is still 7:30 but it is really 7:10. Motherhood reveals the gross habit of grudge-keeping when we say, ‘I told you seventeen times to keep the Legos off the stairs.’ It reveals pride and envy when we compare our children and our habits to other mothers and their children.

Motherhood is gross because it sends us blubbering into Kleenexes when we stop to truly feel the soft, pudgy cheeks pressed against our own and we hear peals of laughter and snorty giggles that drift in through screen windows on balmy summer evenings. Eyeliner turns to black streaks and our noses start to drip during melodramatic television commercials.

Motherhood is gross, and courageous women dive into this murky world of fluid and smell and creatures and mysteries with antibacterial wipes in our back pockets and the unspoken hope that today will finally be the day no one asks us to admire the size of the log they left in the toilet.

The grossness of motherhood reminds us every day that our kids are not always kind, peaceful, or wise. And neither are we. In this disgusting world of motherhood, our weaknesses sneak up like poop on shoulders and our colossal capacity for love capsizes all façade of propriety. Bring on the gross.

Rachel Pieh Jones lives in Djibouti with her husband Tom Jones (not the singer, though he thinks life might be more interesting as a musical) and three children. Raised in the Christian west, she used to say ‘you betcha,’ and ate Jell-O salads. Now she lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas.

Illustration by Christine Juneau

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Weaning Ella

Weaning Ella

By Jill Christman

spring2007_christmanMy daughter Ella was just over two on the morning of her last breastfeeding. She’d stumbled in from her own room around five a.m., as usual, scrambled up into our bed, and latched on. Humming and suckling, she slipped into sweet sleep. Most mornings, this was the method by which my husband and I got to be those rare parents who sleep until eight.

This morning was different because I needed to catch a flight, without Ella, to interview job candidates for three days at the Modern Languages Association Conference in Washington, D.C. I’d never been away from Ella for a night. Not ever. I lay awake and watched Ella nurse, feeling sick with love and the specter of our separation, touching the tiny droplets of sweat on her soft temple, watching her jaw pumping out the rhythm of our bodies together.

My husband Mark and I had decided that this forced separation would be the perfect weaning window, and I knew chances were good that this would be the last time she and I would lie together like this: cuddled, content, sleepy and sleeping. I must have drowsed off myself because the next thing I knew the morning news was mumbling in my ear and the clock glowed six thirty. In that alarm clock moment I did what I had always done when I needed to get up without Ella: I slipped my finger between her lips and my nipple to break the suction, held a gentle pressure under her chin until her sucking wound down and her mouth relaxed. And then I got out of the bed.

In the dark, on the way across the room to the shower, I realized what I had done. I had failed to mark the last time as the last time. Standing frozen in the warm stream of the shower, I felt as if that moment should have been something more. What should she and I have done? Lit a candle? Whispered a prayer? Shared a promise?

Think of all your last times in love. Did you know they were endings? The end? This time, so rare, I had known, and I had let it slip away.

*   *   *

On the plane to D.C., my heart was breaking and my seat belt was broken. The buckle clicked, but when I leaned forward, the whole mechanism slid easily along the nylon strap. No resistance. No help at all in a crash, but then again, who are we kidding? Nonetheless, I notified the flight attendant, who couldn’t get the darn thing to clamp either, and then there we were, a whole plane waiting on the tarmac because of my seat belt. I dismantled the thing and put it back together. It worked! The mechanics were cancelled, we took off on schedule, and the flight attendant offered me a free drink for my heroism.

I didn’t want to be on that plane. I wanted to see my baby. I ordered a Jack and Coke. Why the hell not? I wasn’t nursing, after all. I wanted this high-noon cocktail to feel liberating. Instead, I deplaned with a big, fat headache.

*   *   *

We met with the job candidates in my gloomy hotel room. By day, I dressed in a loose jacket to hide breasts that grew larger with every interview, and at night, when all of the candidates had gone, I peeled off my professor clothes and climbed naked, a mother again, into the shower. I needed to express milk—enough so I’d fit into my clothes, not enough to encourage production. She’s not here, I told my body. Give it up.

Ba ba is our family word for breastmilk. Months before I found myself in that dim hotel shower, wet and weeping, I read a sidebar in a parenting magazine that had made me smile. A recent study out of Australia reported that nursing toddlers say their mothers’ milk is “as good as chocolate” and “better than ice cream.” No wonder Ella was crazy for ba ba. Sweet goodness and a cuddle with mom. That’s some soda fountain.

Standing under the warm stream, I lifted my hands up under my breasts and they felt like full IV bags, liquid heft. What a waste to squeeze it all away, I thought, but I did. I did.

*   *   *

After three days in D.C., I was afraid to go home. What would we be now?

On the plane, I obsessed over our reunion, and all the possibilities scared me. Maybe she would run towards me, short arms flailing, demanding to be nursed. My husband and I had discussed this, of course, and he had been firm. He knows my weaknesses.

“You will say no,” he told me on the phone. “You weren’t here. It was hard. We’re not going to do this to her again.”

This made sense. But I wondered about the other end of the spectrum. What if she’s mad? What if she feels abandoned? What if she doesn’t want to see me?

When I pulled up in the car, Ella was waiting at the glass storm door, leaping intermittently. I watched her press her face and both palms against the glass and jump, a haze of breath and nose smear. From the driveway, I could see she didn’t plan to punish me for going away. Instead, she was all over me with hugs and stories. In those first happy hours, she said nothing of ba ba. I was enough.

But there was a bedtime ritual yet to be performed, and part of it was going to be missing.

After a bath with four rubber ducks, I dried her in the frog towel and got her into footie pajamas. My heart was in my throat. Ba ba time. “Hold me,” Ella said. “Mommy, hold me.”

“How about a book?” I said with forced cheer. “Do you want to read a book with Mommy on the couch? And then Daddy will read you some more books in the big girl bed?” I heard the false notes ringing from my lips, and I knew she could too. Ella’s two, but she’s no fool.

The book-reading on the couch went fine: My Opposites. Mis Op-puestos. “Ooh,” I said. “Look! The green snake is lo-o-ong. En español, largo. Can you say largo?” Her pronunciation was surprisingly good. I sounded like a parody of a bedtime parent. When the book was over, we headed back to the bedroom. I was as cheerful as Christmas morning, but Ella was onto me. She dug her heels into the area rug beneath the dining room table.

“I want some ba ba,” she said. Mark and I made eye contact. This is what we’d been waiting for. “I want some ba ba.”

I threw my head back and laughed (a friend of a friend had mentioned this technique and in this moment I had nothing better). “Oh no,” I said, still laughing, “You don’t want ba ba. You’re a big girl!”

Mark repeated my message, smiling at Ella, and then directed his expression to me and hissed, “Redirect! Redirect! Don’t come in the bedroom. You’d better just stay out.”

By now, Ella was on the floor, sobbing. “But I needba ba,” she countered. “But I needba ba.” At this point, nobody was saying anything just once.

I walked to a part of the house where I could not hear the screams. My breasts were aching. By the time I returned, maybe ten minutes later, the sounds were muffled. Reading sounds.

Mark appeared triumphant about an hour later, rubbing his eyes.

*   *   *

At seven the next morning, Ella scrambled up into our bed. She flopped on her belly and turned her face toward me, breathing softly. Her breath smelled like sweet corn. I fluffed a pillow to keep her head up with my head, not in the habitual place, breastside. I rubbed her back and hummed. This seemed to make her happy. But then she flopped around. “I need you to change my diaper,” she said. “And then it will be seeping time.”

I did. It was not sleeping time.

“I need Something,” she said, capitalizing the something A. A. Milne-style.

Mark watched us through a cracked eye and chose this moment to intervene. “Do you want some water? In your sippie cup? Are you thirsty? Here you go.” If he hadn’t been supervising, would I have folded? Would it have been our little secret? I still wonder who was weaning whom.

Ella slapped the cup away. “No. I need Something Else.” Amazing. She couldn’t seem to remember what she wanted. She couldn’t seem to remember what those dark, early morning moments had been for throughout the first two years of her life. But we could see her mind working. Redirect. Redirect.

“I need Something Else.”

Mark gave options. Juice, soy milk, Kix.

She rejected them all and turned to me, half-remembering. “Roll over,” she demanded. “Roll over.”

Since I was facing her, I started to roll away, obediently, a woman without a plan.

“Noooooooooooooooooooo! Roll over! You need to open up the ba bas.” She pulled on my heavy black shirt. “You need to open them up!”

*   *   *

And so it went—a cycle of remembering and forgetting until time did its work and made nursing a vestige of babyhood, an artifact, something that happened “last night”—Ella’s umbrella term for all things gone by.

Later on the first full day of my return, Ella had seemingly forgotten about nursing again, and we made oatmeal cookies. After the margarine and the sugars, I reached up to turn on the KitchenAid, and without being told, Ella put her hands flat on the countertop and said dutifully, “Only Mommy or Daddy can touch that machine.” I wondered: If she can forget breastfeeding, the nearest and dearest thing she has known, after only five days, how can she remember anything at all? How can she hang onto something I’ve told her maybe twice about a mixer, and not be cognizant of the soft keystone of her young life?

In the weeks after D.C., even though I could reach out and touch her whenever I wanted, I missed Ella. I missed my baby. The relationship changed—it had to—once the nursing was over. I cuddled her, and she let me, but it wasn’t the same. I had nothing to offer her that was mine and mine alone to give.

That can’t be true, can it? It felt true.

We held back from each other, doing a kind of dance to avoid physical closeness that might remind us of what we once shared. I keep trying to figure out what this feeling was like—this stage on the letting-go continuum between giving birth and dropping her off for her first day of school—but since Ella is my first child, I can only compare this shift in intimacy to the end of a romantic relationship. Not a messy, dirty breakup, but the kind born of time and change—the kind you both know has to come. Okay, so you talk and talk and talk. It’s over. This is it. This is the best thing for everyone. But his stuff is still in your apartment, the hide-a-bed couch is a back-breaker. This is a time of transition. You agree he can stay for three more weeks until the lease starts on his new place. He can even sleep on his side of the bed, but he can’t roll over onto your side.

But you know how many moles he has on his back. You know how he likes a swirl of honey in his coffee, but not the whole spoonful. You know he’ll never replace the cap on the toothpaste, even if it’s a flip top designed for recalcitrants like him. You know everything. But you can’t touch him when he’s feeling sad about leaving. You can’t, because if you do, well, there you go, you’re back in it, and you’ll both have to begin the separation all over again.

This is how Ella and I felt, and I know her well enough that I can speak for her, too. Here’s the difference: She wasn’t leaving. Not yet. For now, she’s not going anywhere, and we need to figure out what our new intimacy is going to look like. We need to figure out what replaces what we’ve lost, what we’ve grown beyond. This can be exhausting.

A week after my return, this involved a turkey and hummus sandwich with the crusts cut off at 3:30 a.m. A picnic. The next day, I sighed and said to Ella’s babysitter, “I don’t want her to think that this is what we do—we wake up in the middle of the night and have picnics! But she was hungry. She ate the whole sandwich. I can’t just let her be hungry.”

The babysitter laughed. “Well, she was having midnight picnics before, wasn’t she? It was just a different caterer.”

In nursing, Ella and I had located each other. Seconds after the doctor tossed her onto my belly, she rooted around and found what she needed. Knowing nothing but what I’d read in books, I followed her lead. Here you go, Baby. Here you go. Shhhh. Since then, we had known no other way of being.

But motherhood is about letting go—first from our bodies, then our arms, then our sight, then our homes—and then? Weaning falls hard on this spectrum, forcing me to see the life Ella will live far beyond me, where she will learn to find her own sustenance, her own comfort.

I have never seen a child of mine grow up. I am starting to see what it looks like.

Jill Christman’s memoir, Darkroom: A Family Exposure, won the AWP Award Series in Creative Nonfiction and in 2011 was reissued in paperback by the University of Georgia Press. Recent essays have appeared in Barrelhouse, Brevity, Fourth Genre, Iron Horse Literary Review, River Teeth, and many other journals, magazines, and anthologies. She teaches creative nonfiction writing in Ashland University’s low-residency MFA program and at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, where she lives with her husband, writer Mark Neely, and their two children. Visit her at www.jillchristman.com.

Brain, Child (Spring 2007)

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Failing at Feeding

Failing at Feeding

By Paige Schilt

0-23Over the past forty years, I have achieved a number of failures. I’m not married to my first husband. I never became a tenured professor. I can’t play the guitar. However, none of these disappointments has the same sting as the failure to breastfeed my son for the recommended minimum of six months.

It comes back to me, as undigested humiliations tend to do, whenever I hear a conversation or read an article by a mother who’s reluctant to wean at one year … or two … or three … I couldn’t do that, I think, and my cheeks get hot and my stomach feels like I’m at the top of a rollercoaster.

My baby is now a hale and healthy tween, so why should breastfeeding still have such power over me?

In “The Case Against Breastfeeding,” Hanna Rosin argues that, in certain “overachieving circles,” a woman who doesn’t breastfeed for at least six months falls into “the class of mom who, in a pinch, might feed her baby mashed-up Chicken McNuggets.”

I recognize Rosin’s overachieving mom and her nugget-happy counterpart from the rogue’s gallery of maternal stereotypes. Like the welfare queen and the soccer mom, these familiar characters speak of race and class without naming social inequality. Like the stroller-pushing celebrity mom and the trailer park teen mom, these heroes and villains mark the boundaries of acceptable maternal behavior.

As an educated, middle-class white woman, I came to parenthood well-versed in breastfeeding literature and poised to join the golden circle of good motherhood. However, as a lesbian mom-to-be, I understood the instability of my status. Plenty of people would judge me for bringing a baby into a family structure that was (to quote Justice Scalia) newer than “cell phones or the Internet.” In their eyes, my desire to create a queer family was just as irresponsible as a woman who fed her baby McNuggets. Thus, before the first drop of milk dripped (or failed to drip) from my breast, the pump was primed for maternal shame.

 *   *   *

When Katy and I brought baby Waylon home from the hospital, my breasts had swollen to the size of grapefruits.  Our friend Ann, mother of three, ordered me into the shower to relieve engorgement. Then she tucked me into clean sheets and placed Waylon against my side like a fragile football.  As I struggled to connect his eager mouth to my nipple, Ann regaled me with stories of her own nursing days:

“I could shoot my husband with a stream of milk from ten feet away!” she crowed.

I doubted that I would be able to perform feats of milky athleticism. I am an angular person. I have a pointy nose, bony clavicles, and small, sharp breasts.  Prior to pregnancy, I could just barely fill a size 34A bra. I have never had the sense of abundance that I imagine to be the birthright of women with ample bosoms.

As the days passed, I nursed Waylon in every conceivable position at every conceivable time of day. A stack of books about breastfeeding towered at the side of the bed. When I wasn’t gazing at his sweet, round moonface, I was balancing a book on my knee and studying the sensation of “let-down,” when the baby’s sucking stimulates the milk glands to release milk in a steady flow.  Is this it? I asked, second-guessing every twinge and prickle.

At night, while Waylon slept beside us, I whispered secret fears. It’s not working.  He’s not getting enough. Katy tried to provide comfort. “You’re getting the hang of it” she said. “These are normal fears.” she said. “If he were hungry, he’d let us know.

Indeed, Waylon’s cries were insistent but moderate. He slept long hours for a newborn: five or six at a stretch. When he was awake, he had a habit of furrowing his brow and making his mouth into a little “o,” like a tiny Zen master.

But when I looked at him, he seemed to be shrinking in tiny increments that were discernable only to me.

At his check-up, Waylon had lost three ounces. I confessed my concerns to the pediatrician and was personally escorted across the medical center to the breastfeeding specialist, as if I posed a flight risk.

The nurse escort kindly offered to carry my diaper bag.  I trailed a few feet behind her, clutching Waylon to my chest and schlepping his empty infant carrier with my free arm.  With every step, the carrier bumped against my leg, making my progress slow and lurching. When the nurse stopped to wait for me, I was humiliated and yet strangely relieved. Now that my incompetence was known to the world, help would surely follow.

 *   *   *

The lactation specialist was a white-haired hippie named Robbie. Her office was festooned with calico quilts and needlepoint aphorisms about the joys of motherhood. She assured me that lots of babies have trouble latching on and invited me to nurse Waylon on her homey couch.  I obediently demonstrated a variety of holds.  In each position, Waylon sucked enthusiastically at first and then lost interest.

Robbie connected my breasts to the hard plastic cups of a breast pump.  She set the machine on low, then switched it to medium, frowning as she watched my milk dribble out. Finally, she asked permission to turn the wheezing machine all the way up. After 30 minutes of vigorous pumping, during which I mourned the perkiness of my modest bosom, she switched the machine off. I had produced a paltry four ounces of milk.

While Robbie outlined a detailed plan of frequent pumping between feedings, her helper fed Waylon a bottle of milk mixed with formula. I felt panicky, out-of-control. But this was no time to raise political objections about the medicalization of motherhood. Waylon sucked down the formula like a starving man and cried for more. After days of private calm, he was publicly ravenous.

 *   *   *

My doctor prescribed pills to increase my milk supply. For some reason, they had to be ordered from an Internet pharmacy in New Zealand.  I did not quibble, nor did I torture myself with Google searches of possible side effects.  I ordered that shit, whatever it was, and I took it religiously.

As per Robbie’s instructions, I pumped four times a day and nursed Waylon in between times. With the help of the mystery pills, I might, on a good day, produce eight ounces of milk in one sitting. Other moms had freezers full of eight ounce bottles.  They swapped stories about leaking milk in meetings, rushing home from errands to relieve their aching breasts with blissful nursing.  I nodded my head like I knew what they were talking about.

The new mother support group met at a member’s house, a quaint little cottage that had grown a two-story addition on its rear end.  The cheerful hostess greeted each woman in the foyer and ushered us down a long passageway into her earth-toned living room.

I claimed a spot on the gleaming wood floor and arranged Waylon’s toys on his play mat, hoping he wouldn’t be crabby or restless.  I knew that breast would be the pacifier du jour, but Waylon was increasingly accustomed to the bottle, which delivered milk quickly and reliably.  At three months, he had become a picky, impatient nurser.

I hadn’t yet decided whether to divulge my breastfeeding struggles, but I was encouraged by the mood of barely concealed desperation. Above the hummus and olive tray, the air was heavy with expectation—as  if, at any moment, the conversation would change from car seats and diapers to something very raw and poignant.

My sisters! I thought.

Then somebody opened the floodgates.

He hands her back to me whenever she’s fussy!”

“I left him alone with Bobby for three hours, and he watched television the whole time!”

“I just don’t know how long I can go on like this—he acts like he doesn’t know how to do anything.”

He sleeps through the night! While I’m awake with the baby!”

Husbands. The angst that I had sensed below the surface was about husbands!

My internal sensor hovered between alienated and smug.

I was disappointed to be outside of the conversation and yet glad not to share this particular problem. My wife called herself the “lesbian baby whisperer.” She prided herself on the ability to soothe Waylon to sleep. She had changed her schedule to stay home with him in the mornings, so that I could go back to work. The fact that I was pumping and supplementing with formula meant that we could split the feedings. When Katy gave Waylon a bottle, he snuggled against her chest and gazed into her face.  His fist clutched a lock of her long hair.

*   *   *

At four months, I drank Mother’s Milk tea until I felt like fenugreek was oozing from my pores. I tried relaxation, meditation, and visualization.  I ate more.  I ate oats and barley. I tried in vain to sleep more.

At the pediatrician’s office, a nurse quizzed me about Waylon’s eating habits.  “Still breastfeeding, right?”

I nodded vigorously, even as a lump formed in my throat.

“How many ounces a day, on average?”

I did the math out loud and quickly added, “I have to supplement with formula. I don’t have enough milk.” My voice sounded like a squeak.

The nurse made a note in Waylon’s file.  I wondered if she believed me, or if she was writing me off as a shirker. “Well,” she said, “breast is best, especially for the first six months. It builds his immune system.”

“Yes,” I said, “I know.”

Originally I had planned to nurse for at least a year. Now the nurse’s six month minimum loomed in my mind, an imaginary milestone that would save me from being a total fuck-up.

Then, at five and a half months, I got a cold.  It wasn’t a particularly terrible cold, but I felt so tired that I decided to skip the half hour of pumping that I usually did just before bed.  The next morning, when I woke up, my breasts weren’t engorged.  I nursed Waylon as usual, but—as I still wasn’t feeling good, I decided to skip the mid-morning pumping session in my office. Freedom felt so great that I skipped lunchtime and mid-afternoon too. When I nursed Waylon that night, he was restless.  I could tell that only a little milk was coming out, so I switched to a bottle. After months of feverish effort, I didn’t have the energy to keep going.

Thus it was that breastfeeding went out, not with a bang or a whimper. The failure I feared had come to pass, and I was surprised to feel relieved. Occasional bouts of shame were balanced by the knowledge that my connection to Waylon was sweeter, less stressed. We developed a ritual called “skin-on-skin,” where Waylon would lie on my belly or Katy’s belly to cuddle.  As I stroked his back in small circles, I could feel the good maternal hormones, the happiness of breathing as one, the touch that was helping my baby thrive and grow.

A month later, I was talking to my young friend Lynzee. She and her six-week-old baby were living with Lynzee’s mom. In order to provide for the baby, Lynzee had recently returned to work as a cashier at Home Depot. “How’s breastfeeding going?” I asked.

As soon as the question was out of my mouth, I regretted it.

“Well…” she said, looking away, “breastfeeding’s hard.”

Surely there is someone who knows how to give a breastfeeding pep talk without shaming the recipient. I just haven’t met her yet. In my experience, the laundry list of things-you-could-try can easily become a litany of reproach. For a moment, I felt tempted to launch into a speech about infantile brain development and good antibodies. But I stopped myself.

“Yeah,” I said, “I know.”

Paige Schilt is a writer and activist from Austin, Texas. Her blog, queerrocklove.com, chronicles the adventures of a gay, transgender, rock-n-roll family raising a son in the South.

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This Sucks

This Sucks

By Kelly Feinberg

Pink Breast Cancer RibbonSometimes it happens so quickly, so seamlessly, that I’m not even conscious it is happening. I’m standing in line for a smoothie and a sweet potato muffin at our local co-op, say, and I go to unsnap my wallet only to realize my eleven-month-old son has pulled my hand up to his mouth and is sucking on my finger. Or I’m talking to a stranger who has stopped me to compliment my baby’s big brown eyes, his welcoming smile, and suddenly I’m aware of a line of drool sliding down my wrist. Embarrassed, I try to pry my finger out discreetly, but this kid’s had a mean suck since the moment of his birth. And it’s not a quiet, discreet suck either. When he takes my fingers to his mouth, it’s like they are his own and he’s just enjoyed a satisfying meal of barbequed ribs. There are sound effects and facial expressions. Whenever I try to take back my dripping digits, the result is often a sharp tug to his clamped little jaw or a loud popping sound and a spray of saliva. These are not mothering moments I’m proud of, so I often let the sucking continue while trying to make a quick getaway, mumbling something about teething.

When our son was about six to nine months old, my husband and I justified the whole finger-in-mouth arrangement because we believed Ari, who showed no interest in a pacifier, needed to suck on our fingers to ease the pain of incoming teeth. “Those poor little gums!” we’d soothe while rubbing the hard ridges that signal incoming teeth. Yet now all four front teeth are securely in, our son has grown into an accomplished eater, and still, as he reels toward his first birthday, his desire to forcibly take a finger and work on it like a peppermint stick only increases in fervor.

In part, I blame Dr. Sears for getting us to this point. If we had known that his advice to slip a finger into a breastfeeding baby’s mouth while transitioning to sleep would get us to this point, I don’t know if we would have taken it. My newborn barely napped during the day. Was it really that bad to let him soothe at my breast while sleeping? In the middle of the night, I never tried to release my baby from my breast; I just slept peacefully and soundly through nighttime feedings and (what was often) all-night nonnutritive sucking. I even enjoyed it. So why did I need to trade breast for finger during the day? We love Dr. Sears’ parenting philosophies, but we’ve pored over many of his parenting tomes and we just can’t find the next step—how do we now get our fingers back? I’m not the nervous, first-time parent type, but I have to admit, I’m starting to get worried.

When I’m able to step back and understand Ari’s sucking as an emotional need rather than a reflex or developmental stage, I feel tired, more than just from lack of sleep. I feel the weight of all that’s happened in the past five months, nearly half of his young life. When Ari was only seven months old, I was forced to wean him from exclusive and happy breastfeeding when an enlarged milk duct turned out to be cancerous. Due to my age, treatment needed to be swift and aggressive, involving a bilateral mastectomy. One day I breastfed Ari on demand, wore him wrapped tight against my chest, and slept with him skin-to-skin; the next day I mixed bottles of formula to hand over to my husband and moved to the other side of the bed, out of reach. Between the pain of weaning and recovering from the surgery, it was a good three months before I could swoop my baby up into my arms again and hug him close.

Through all of this, the Aerobed stayed inflated in the nursery as friends and family arrived in shifts; I simply couldn’t be alone with my baby. On top of it, right when I was really healed, my husband left for a month-long research trip and our presence in Ari’s life reversed again. Daddy was now out of reach, and Mommy was the constant. This might explain why “I need to suck on a finger sometimes,” which had always been directed at the closest warm body, has evolved into “I need to suck on Mommy’s finger at all times.”

Over the last few months, how I feel and how I react to my only baby’s favorite pastime depends a great deal on my own physical and emotional state. Pad over to me in the morning after a decent night’s sleep and a cup of coffee, and I’ll gladly let you lay your sweet little face against my leg for a quick sucking session between block play and a game of hide behind the curtains. Keep me up from two a.m. on by rolling over constantly and arm wrestling my finger to your mouth until it feels raw like a skinned grape, and I’m not so generous. I may snap and say things aloud I’m not proud of like, “Why don’t you suck on your own finger!” or “Do you want to sleep in your crib?” It’s not the questions themselves that I’m ashamed of really; Ari has been known to suck his own finger on occasion and he loves his crib, gladly taking his afternoon nap there every day, stretched out on the soft polka-dot sheets. It’s the angry, desperate tone I use when I get to the point where I’m offering ultimatums to an eleven-month-old that bothers me.

When the ultimatums during a night like this don’t work—as of course they don’t—I may do something drastic to avoid more relentless sucking during morning nap. Something crazy that I would be ashamed to share among the home-birthing, baby-wearing, attachment-parenting set I aspire to be a model member of. Something like, oh, maybe pulling a gardening glove printed with tiny watering cans over one hand like some deranged Michael Jackson impersonator in order to deter the relentless suckerfish. When the glove gets in the way of Ari’s mouth, he lets loose a terrible sobbing cry; his chubby baby fists pinch and swipe. When wrapping him up and wearing him doesn’t work (his reach is impressive and he doesn’t mind wrenching my wrist to get fingers into their proper angle), I try to soothe him in different ways that I remember from my days working in a daycare. I rub his back and swirl his soft baby hair, I shush him softly, I put on the new lullaby CD his grammy gave him. Over and over I say the mantra I’ve been whispering since I first held him in my arms. Mommy’s right here. Mommy’s right here with you. But to him I’m not really there. Not all of me anyway, not the part he wanted and needs to feel secure and to drift to sleep. Ultimately, I pull the glove off when I realize that we’re both crying, that we’re both feeling angry and desperate and out of control. I give him my finger and together we give in to much-needed sleep.

*    *    *

The hardest part about parenting a baby with an intense sucking need, whatever the cause, is other people’s responses. There’s obvious and unhelpful advice like “Have you tried a pacifier?” and “As long as it’s only occasionally…” There are the judgmental sideways stares from the childless woman on the small commuter plane (she visibly and audibly expressed her displeasure when I sat next to her), and there are the sympathetic and depressing half-smiles of other women in the waiting room of my breast surgeon. Most of the time, I’m sure, I have only imagined a public response that I then internalize and fret over the next time Ari grabs my hand. I have blushed hot from embarrassment while Ari sits in my lap at a restaurant, sucking away while I try to finish my dinner, and I have ended conversations with neighbors on my own front porch because I felt exposed, as if it wasn’t my finger in my baby’s drooling mouth, but instead my full, naked breast leaking milk down his chin.

And what if it were? Didn’t I breastfeed this same baby on a ledge, crowded with midday shoppers, overlooking a public market? Didn’t I pull up my shirt and offer my breast at a baseball game, just off the path on a hike, sitting in a hard plastic chair at Target? Then, I felt important breastfeeding in public, a champion of all things natural and best for my baby. Now I just feel sad. My finger is a poor substitute for breastfeeding, and my baby and I both know it. It is evident in his continuous, never-satisfied suck and in my impatience.

One day, while I’m chatting online with a friend who doesn’t think she wants children (and who isn’t keen on hearing what other people think about someone else’s parenting choices), I mention that Ari continues to suck on my finger. Christi was one of my first caregivers after the surgery: a nursing student, longtime friend, and someone I admire for her intelligence and fearlessness. “I’m just so worried that Ari’s going to be screwed up because I had cancer,” I type. “There was a two-year-old in my toddler class once who made herself throw up the whole time her mom went through chemo. What if this never goes away?”

Christi’s answer is humorous at first and I appreciate the chance to laugh. “I sucked my thumb until age twelve and I’m fine,” she writes. But then she adds that we’ve all been through a lot as a family. “You’re doing a good job,” she reassures me in that small text box at the bottom of my screen, “an unbelievable job managing it all.”

I read her instant message—filled with typos as our notes back and forth always are, we’re so eager to talk to one another—and I just feel better. Maybe that’s all I need, that stamp of approval, that understanding of our particular situation that I can’t get from a Dr. Sears book or from a stranger who happens to be sitting at the table next to me in a restaurant. If I can just let go of the feeling that I failed my son when I stopped breastfeeding him and that my body failed me when it fed cancerous cells, then I wouldn’t worry about what we look like in public.

If anyone asks why my one-year-old is permanently attached to my hand, maybe I should just tell them the truth—that I’d prefer to be breastfeeding but can’t. That breast cancer sucks, that weaning a baby before you’re both ready sucks, that not being able to hold your next baby to your breasts sucks, and that being hard on yourself for your parenting choices sucks, thanks for asking. And then I’ll go back to adoring that little boy in my lap who only knows how wonderful it is to suck; how dreamily soothing and simple.

A note from Brain, Child EditorsKelly passed away on Friday, May 14, 2010, about three months after writing “This Sucks.” The essay won a 2010 Pushcart Prize posthumously.

Brain Child (Spring 2010)

Choosing Gloria

Choosing Gloria

By Claire DeBerg

Art Choosing Gloria 1-1I have heard it called liquid gold. I would call it liquid love. Or perhaps liquid life. Life juice, maybe. Holy juice? Juice of the Divine? Certainly the small yellow swirl tipping out of the bottle was worth more to me than a rare metal. That liquid, now flowing in a water treatment plant somewhere in the middle of Iowa, was my first expressed breast milk.

The nurse, her rough hands dry from over-washing, had come slowly to my hospital bedside—suspect of me, a new, able mother placing her baby for adoption. She picked up the bottle from my side table, pretended to hold it to the light of the window (though it was an overcast midmorning) and frowned. She continued her judgment of my situation by theatrically holding the bottle high above the sink and pouring down my achingly expressed milk, giving the bottle a one-two tap to make sure it was empty. I physically shook as she spoke the next words to me without catching my disbelieving eyes: “That wasn’t enough.”

It wasn’t enough? It wasn’t enough that I would, in the next day, be giving my child, a child I carried and cared for, to other people to raise? The nurses had been warned about my choice—our hospital room and situation was on high alert. Staff had been told to keep their comments on my child’s beauty and goodness, about the miracle of birth, at a minimum, if at all. Not only had I endured nine months of being a young, poor, single pregnant woman, but I was being set apart yet again. So why not let me give all I had—even if it seemed not enough? What would have been enough for this woman? What is enough for any of us?

My request for a breast pump to be immediately available after birth was questioned, but it arrived, and for 45 painful and strangely alien minutes I watched my red and scarred nipples being sucked and pulled by this machine on wheels standing at attention next to my bed. At the time I was confused about the lack of streaming milk, thinking I’d done such good work during my pregnancy that the milk would all but gush out. Instead, my breasts were weighted and taut. For all the suction and mechanical coaxing, only a few heavy yellow drops emerged and gathered at the base of the bottle. The two breasts together perhaps made a tablespoon of colostrum which I carefully closed up in the bottle, certain not to spill a drop.

I hadn’t been inundated with baby books while pregnant, knowing this new life was not part of my plan of marriage, home, babies, dog. So I wasn’t preparing for the ins and outs of what it would be like once the baby arrived and breathed on her own. The pregnancy side of birth I knew—it was the baby part I knew nothing about and invested little energy with those details, as my plan to finally be baby-free was what I looked forward to. The few pregnancy and birth items I checked out from my local small town library were passable, charting for me the stages of a fetus’s growth from conception. Like huge flipbooks, the pencil-drawn babies grew and grew and grew until the super gives her eviction notice. One item I clung to—my last loving act for my child before I said goodbye to her—was the importance of this first milk: colostrum.

Colostrum, the strange word, one I still think must be describing an Indian banjo, was a holy juice. This yellow, creamy milk is available for only the first few days of a baby’s life. The wonder of our bodies makes this then and only then until the “milk comes in,” and then the body changes again and gives a different sort of milk—basically whatever the child needs. So, with the nurse’s turn of her wrist, into the swirl of the sink went a dose of antibodies; a daily immunization; vital proteins that help babies pass that first dark, sticky, tar-like excrement; vitamins; calcium—and my heart.

I had found that there are breast milk collection centers where a woman can donate her precious and valuable breast milk. Milk banks. Perhaps Milk Investment Centers. Milk City. I called the nearest breast milk bank and explained my situation—I was due to give birth to a child whom I would place for adoption, could I please give my milk away, too? The desire to purge myself of all memory of being a heaving woman with child was overwhelming. I wanted to give my baby and my milk. So I acted and found the parents and found the bank. The woman I spoke with was kind, trained to speak with mothers in difficult situations since some donors to milk banks would be those women having lost a child to death. She gave me detailed instructions on sanitation and expressing and transporting the milk at certain temperatures. I asked twice to be sure that my milk would help a child live. The woman assured me that this life-giving substance, unlike anything else on earth, this creamy, light drink of nectar was like liquid gold. Premature babies, babies who’d lost their mothers, twins and triplets and multiples, all of these babies would get milk from this bank.

I had planned, though, to be with my baby two days before saying goodbye. I wanted to give her this warm part of me, my antibodies, my last protection before I placed her in the giving basket I had prepared. Bringing her tiny head to my chest made me ache. She rooted all over my gaudy pink and flowery hospital gown, desperate for my breasts. In the womb, my child had sucked so hard on her hands she had caused red, angry blisters to form, which turned into scabs and then open wounds as she continued to suck over the blisters. I was alarmed when at the last hard push she emerged milky and wet and bleeding from the hands. Her primitive impulse to suck was abundantly apparent.

How could this be happening, I wondered. Though now, as I write and revisit this moment, perhaps it isn’t as devastating as it then seemed. So some breast milk went down the drain. So what? It wasn’t like my baby was born with three arms or no earlobes. At the time, however, with the revolving door of my hospital room ushering in the social security secretary asking what this baby’s name would be or whether she should contact the adoptive parents, the hospital social worker who let me know she was available anytime if needed to discuss this most loving and difficult of decisions, my lawyer with updates on relinquishing my parental rights, the baby’s nurse telling me my baby wants to be held all the time in the nursery, my nurse explaining how she placed a baby when she was 16, the baby’s doctor handing me his card in case I changed my mind, my midwife crying with me as we talked through the labor, my family bringing me flowers and supporting my wishes, my church friends passing around the baby not sure what to say, food service, cleaning staff—with chaos in my environment, and all the pictures I kept taking to remember my child, with uncertainty in my head and longing in my heart for something different, I think it is okay that the pouring out of my first breast milk hit me especially hard.

Colostrum doesn’t last forever and no matter what I did, I wouldn’t get it back. The thoughtlessly wasted breast milk, the judgment of my supposed bad job of pumping—this is how I finally looked at my choice of adoption. Adoption is forever and I would sign on the dotted line, and wouldn’t get my baby back.

My focus on keeping this baby healthy was of utmost importance— though at times I was overtaxed with guilt and let tremors of grief wrack my body. I wanted, ultimately, for this child to be an impeccable gift to the new parents—a package so amazing and pure you’d want it for your own. If I were planning on being my baby’s mother, I would have brought her to the light of my breast as soon as I eased her out of me. But I knew the bond that could be formed; I knew the love line that would grow from watching my baby nurse at my breast. So, instead, after the bright arc of pain from contractions ceased with one gentle push, my midwife bundled my daughter, handed her to me, and I cuddled her on my chest. I wasn’t sweaty or wincing—just confused and floored with the insane and gorgeous idea of humans growing in other humans.

The months of waiting gave me time to prepare for saying goodbye in the healthiest way I knew how. Finding my baby’s parents was a task unlike any other. I felt the rush of consumerism and comparison-shopping and weighing risks and benefits. Folders of potential parents began piling into a luminous tower beside my computer. At first I meticulously read each profile, looked deep into their pictures, tried to get a sense of a family from eight scrapbooking pages. And then the skimming began since I’d grown cold to the idea of investing all my mind’s energy on who would best parent my child. i opted out of the family whose traditions centered on making over 500 cookies for every national holiday or birthday. I couldn’t bring myself to get excited about the extremely conservative religious family with two children of their own already. I felt terrible, of course. Here these people desperately wanted to love and raise a child and I desperately didn’t want the life I’d created, so it would seem any of the profiles were perfect. But I had high standards and wanted a family that fit my mold. Only two weeks before I gave birth did I find my baby’s family. I hadn’t known I would have a girl—the answer to the gender question was quietly slid and sealed in an envelope after an ultrasound.

While I pumped that first morning of being a birth mother, I called the eager and overjoyed family I’d chosen and said, “I gave birth to your daughter this morning, but I don’t know her name.” Sophia Grace was the name given to her. Sophia was angry. She was not interested in the bottles of formula offered to her and spit angry, staining liquid from her mouth. I caught her twice sucking her arm, drawing blood, but finding no colostrum. What Sophia doesn’t know and what I hadn’t shared with anyone until a year after I gave birth to her was that on the morning planned for the Giving Ceremony, the early morning, the 4:00 a.m. morning when darkness is hinting at lifting, I sat her down for a serious talk.

Sophia didn’t sit well, actually, so I propped her up with a pillow on my bed so she could face me. She slept through most of our conversation—a private conversation just between us. Twice Sophia winked open one of her slate-blue eyes and watched me crying and talking to her—her brow pensive. A nurse had come to check on us, wondering if I wanted a break from being awake (I hadn’t slept at all since I only had 48 hours with my baby). I told Sophia all I had needed to say, and then I got up and put the “Do not disturb” sign on my door and got busy setting up my tripod and camera. The morning light was perfect— golden, awash on the plain gray walls of my hospital room. I looked in the mirror for the first time since labor and brushed my hair, tried out a smile. Complications of the birth made standing longer than two minutes a dance with faintness, so I sat in the rocking chair I had positioned in the light and breathed. Once calm and sure of my choice, I picked up my baby and started the timer on my camera. There are less than 10 seconds before the shutter exposes the film and takes the shot, and in that short time I sat in the rocking chair with my daughter, renamed her Gloria, and gave her my breast.

Author’s Note: Choosing to be my daughter’s mama was a singular moment of my transformation into my new, powerful self. I wrote this soon after the experience, though I’ve kept this story close for 10 years. I was reminded of it when I gave birth to my son, Harold, at home last year and he nursed like an old pro at 7 minutes this side of the womb. As he nursed that first, deliciously thick colostrum, my grip on this essay loosened and here it is, offered now with open palms. Since Gloria and I first met those 10 years ago, we’ve been creating a beautiful, hilarious, good life as mother and daughter. While pregnant with Harold, I shared some of this story with her. We had tears during the sharing, but now she quips to me, “Mom, I’m so glad you kept me.” Agreed, agreed, agreed.

When Claire DeBerg isn’t writing snappy copy for her commercial writing business or managing content and timelines as editor of the magazine, Timbrel, for Mennonite Women USA, she is eating an ungodly amount of peanut butter right off the spoon, prepping for a modeling shoot, unschooling her pre-teen, playing a Chopin piano prelude, or nursing her baby. She’s put over 3,200 miles on her legs after training for and running seven marathons but now she needs to pit some miles on her fingers and finish writing her novel. She always adores her littles and her darling husband, Darren, and occasionally adores her hairy Airedale, Velvet.

To read more Brain, Child essays on adoption, purchase our adoption-themed bundle.

At The Pump

At The Pump

By Alexandria Peary

winter2009_pearyI’m lying on my side on hospital sheets low on thread count and high on antiseptics. The nurse presents me with my baby, a big-nosed reddish sleeper, while the progressive-seeming lactation consultant with dangling goddess earrings looks on. I am supposed to model different positions, and we are to see how well the baby latches on.

I fumble around, one breast angled out of the hospital gown, trying to arrange the baby around my still-engorged belly. All the while, I’m thinking, When else is it expected that one go topless in front of total strangers? This pink asterisk of my nipple seldom sees so much air.  It’s just assumed that a woman can seamlessly make the transition from a society of keeping covered to a place where she’ll be told to pull out her breast so that others can assess how good she is at using it.

“I guess I need a refresher course,” I tell her after a half minute of moving my breast like a joystick. I explain that it’s been two years between babies.

As the lactation consultant reviews the “football hold” and side-style feeding, I pretend to go along with it and make the motions. I feel like someone attempting reform, promising to eat healthfully but just waiting for the expensive diet coach or hawk-eyed spouse to leave the room to heave myself into the Godiva chocolates.

My breast actually aches—but not for my baby. No, it aches for its first postpartum bonding with the pump.

I’m just waiting for the lactation consultant to leave the room so my husband can dig out my breast pump, hiding beneath a pile of clean underwear in one of my bags. I feel like I’ve snuck a lap dog into the hospital. Although this baby’s waters broke three weeks early and I was unprepared, my hospital bags unpacked, I still managed to instruct my harried husband to find the breast pump. After my insurance card and meditation CDs, my Purely Yours was next on the list of crucial items.

Why don’t I tell her the truth? I wonder. That I don’t plan on breastfeeding at all? That I’m a full-time pumper? By the time this baby is six months old, I’ll have pumped (a conservative estimate) for fifteen days straight, and when I say “days,” I mean fifteen twenty-four-hour-day days.

For my first child, I pumped for seven months, and I’ll probably pump for nine months for this baby, which means I’ll have spent about 576 hours at the breast pump between November 2007 and August 2008. Like T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock, who could measure out his life in teaspoons, I can measure my time by the books on tape I’ve listened to while at the pump.

For my first daughter, I splattered many a tome with breast milk, including War and Peace. For this daughter, I’ll have listened to the thirty-six tapes of Gone with the Wind in less than a week and a half. And I’ll also have listened to so many John Grisham and suspense books that the plotlines will become as obvious to me as the pattern on a plaid shirt. For Christmas this year, my husband and I will treat ourselves to a deep freezer, the type people use for spare apple pies and sale-flyer pot roasts, which I will completely fill with tubes and storage bags of milk by the beginning of February.

My milk will spilleth over, filling this huge upright freezer, plus a waist-high freezer, plus the one in the fridge. The milk will come in a variety of shades of yellow, like paint samples chosen by someone who wants to redo her living room but can’t decide which shade she likes best. The sunflower yellow-orange of early days nearest to colostrum, the flat yellow after carb-laden meals, and the pale skim milk when I had salad for lunch.

*     *     *

I became a mother who loves pumping more than breastfeeding when Sophia was born two and a half months premature and had to be tube fed during her lengthy hospitalization.

The medical community expects that a mother will stop breast pumping once her preemie leaves the neonatal intensive care unit. After all, it’s the baby accustomed to the bottle who is supposedly prone to “nipple confusion,” not the mother. You’re not supposed to fall in love with your breast pump, to mourn the end of your relationship with the machine, as I did when I had to return my hospital rental. You’re not supposed to feel that the last time you turn the knobs is as sweetly sad as the last time another mother nurses her baby.

The first time around, breast pumping meant I was able to do something constructive for my severely premature baby. Pumping was something that I alone could do, not the extensive staff of expert doctors, nurses, or therapists. It was a continuation of my pregnancy—it had that same privacy, that same power to help someone grow. Every time during that confusing summer that I pumped at two in the morning and again at four, I was reminded that I could do something right to counter the irrational guilt I felt about my pregnancy’s early end. I could fill the freezer in the NICU ward as well as the one in her second hospital; I could inundate them with my milk until they told me to hold off. Pumping was a symbol of hope—of the future when Sophia would be freed from the hospital.

With this second child, Simone, born healthy, it’s different. Pumping will become a way to increase the thickness of the rolls of fat on her stubby legs, to build on her natural good health. Like my mother covering the dining room table with an excess of food, pumping will allow me to see the abundance of yellow gold that my body produces, the food that will be Simone’s sole source of nourishment. I filled the NICU freezers, and now I can fill the freezers at my own home. Pumping will also allow me to continue pursuing my doctorate, to be away from home for extended periods of time, and to share with greater equity parenting a newborn with my husband. If it weren’t for the circumstances of Sophia’s premature birth, I would not have known the benefits of full-time breast pumping.

Given all these rock-solid reasons for pumping, why don’t I tell the truth in my hospital room? Well, even with the amount of supportive cheer pumped into the air by the maternity floor staff, I can sense that my preference for pumping will be challenged. I’m the anti-poster child for the La Leche League—or at least that’s how I feel around other mothers. (My three-year-old daughter will have watched so many pumping sessions that she will point to my chest and ask where mommy’s “breast pump parts are,” referring to my breasts.)

A belief in full-time breast pumping is not popular among the mothering circles I travel in—the liberal, critical thinkers, rather than the commercialized versions of parenting seen in most magazines. While it’s true that no one has ever said to me outright that I’m wrong to feed my breast milk to my baby from a bottle rather than directly from my body, the message is in the air. It’s present when another woman tells me how disgusting frozen breast milk looks or tastes. This strikes me in the gut, as though someone had unplugged the huge freezer holding the evidence of all the hours I’ve pumped.

No one ever says how beautiful—how maternal—the image of the woman at the breast pump is.  On the box of the pump I own, a woman in a business suit sits at her desk looking robotic, as though she could just as easily be hooked up to her adding machine or laptop as to her breast pump. She’s certainly no goddess-like woman cradling humanity.

And no poster celebrating breast pumping will be seen above the OB/GYN examination table. And yet I fantasize about such a poster, a Madonna-like figure in blue robes sitting with a breast pump (you pick the brand) attached lovingly to her chest, beaming and beatific. For I am just as dedicated to pumping as another mother would be to nursing. I, too, become irritated when someone impedes me (with a class held longer, with a lingering conversation, with bad city traffic) from feeding my baby—that is, from pumping every three hours.

No one will come into the hospital room after I give birth and ask me about my pumping plans. I won’t readily find an extensive support group or service for the breast pumping, so if the pump suddenly fails because of a microscopic slit in valve, I may think it’s a problem in my milk supply and give up.

After giving birth, a woman is frequently asked whether she intends to nurse. The seemingly benign question hangs in the air. Once the desired response is supplied—Yes, of course!—it’s as though a curtain is parted from around the patient’s bed. The beaded chains rattle, and the patient is allowed entrance into the land of golden good mothering. Until the moment the question is answered, however, there’s the distinct possibility that the woman will end up on the other side, that of not-so-good-mothers, a landscape of pollution, television, and cheese-flavored snacks.

Breast pumping gets only half of that good-mother equation right. You’re making the milk, but you’re denying your child of the psychological benefit of your closeness, a benefit provided, the true believers insist, only through nursing.

My baby daughter seems not to have received that message. She’s oblivious to any concerns about her way of dining and happily “tops” bottle after bottle of my breast milk with a little smile on her face. And although our way of feeding the baby means my husband is frequently the one who is up at two in the morning, he feels he’s had more opportunity to bond with his daughters than most dads whose partners breastfeed exclusively.

And when he asks why I worry so much what the lactation consultant, my relatives, or the nurses think of my pumping, I have an unexpected answer. It’s not that I particularly care what people think of me. It’s that I’m protecting my pumping from them. I don’t want my breast milk to be contaminated by their conservative attitude—an unacknowledged contributor to centuries of others telling women exactly how to be women.

If I can just get out of the hospital with some pumping initiated, I will be free to do as much pumping at home, at the office, and in the car as I like, with no one to judge me except the occasional female acquaintance or relative. I won’t have to answer the phone when the nice lactation consultant makes her several follow-up calls in the week after I return home. I can sit at the kitchen table with two-year-old in high chair, a two-day-old in her bassinet, and a breast pump churning at my chest as the consultant’s voice fills the answering machine. I can surround myself with the maternal trinity of child, baby, and breast pump.

Author’s Note: While writing this piece, I discovered at iVillage.com a whole online community of mothers who exclusively breast pump. Like me, these women have experienced personal and professional blessings from exclusively pumping. I’m still pumping, several months after I had expected to be done (in fact, I’m pumping while I type this sentence), but I’m at the tail end of it. I’m trying to deal with the sweet sadness that comes from the prospect of ending.

Brain, Child (Winter 2009)

Alexandria Peary is an Associate Professor and the First-Year Writing Coordinator in the English Department at Salem State University. She is the author of two books of poetry, Fall Foliage Called Bathers & Dancers (2008) and Lid to the Shadow (2010). The latter was selected for the 2010 Slope Editions Book Prize. Her work has appeared in The Denver Quarterly, New American Writing, The Gettysburg Review, jubilat, Massachusetts Review, Fence, Crazyhorse, Spoon River Review, Verse, Literary Imagination, and Pleiades. 

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.

Tandem Breastfeeding

Tandem Breastfeeding

By Christine Gilbert

0-3I have a secret. I’m still breastfeeding my three-year-old son, along with his three-month-old sister. They call it tandem breastfeeding, but they might as well call it shameful-secret-of-mommies-who-are-doing-it-wrong because that’s exactly what it feels like.

My husband and I have become adept at maneuvering around the major obstacles, hiding the fact from my Ob-Gyn while I was pregnant, since our first doctor said we had to stop immediately because our toddler was stealing nutrients from the unborn baby (not everyone agrees with that and she was fine). Not telling our son’s dentist because when he was six-months-old he said we had to wean from our night feedings or risk cavities, which we didn’t do, never mind his other advice of wiping down his teeth with a wet cloth after each session. Whispering to my son when he mimes for my breast in public, “not now sweetie, when we get home.”

In the hospital, the day after my daughter was born, I covertly breastfed my son while the nurses were away. I didn’t know what their policy was, but I couldn’t face finding out. I sat in the reclining rocker with my newborn on my lap and my son stood next to me and suckled from the breast I held at his mouth. It was a quick furtive gesture to let him know he was still mine and I was still his.

My attempts to keep a low profile have slowly become futile, as my son, the late-talker, has overnight gone from giving me dreamy moon eyes when he wants to feed, to shouting at me from his car seat, “Mama! Boobie! Booooooobie! BOOBIE!”

At a recent beach picnic, I had to out myself to my childless friends and pre-empt what I knew would come after my son went swimming. “So, we’re still breastfeeding. Both of them. Both.”

I didn’t wait for a reaction, I lobbed it at them like a warning, a simple instruction: Please do not freak out about what you’re about to see today. We know. Trust us, we know.

You see, I’m not a lactation-nut. I’m aware that breastfeeding isn’t a magical improvement over formula nutrition-wise and I have plenty of friends who chose formula for medical or convenience sake. I get it. For me, I liked breastfeeding because it seemed especially loving and tender, something that was missing from my own childhood, something I wanted so desperately to give my son. From my pre-baby perspective, two years sounded about right, but as two rolled around, my son was still so little, and barely talking, so I let it continue. Three months later I was pregnant with my second, but for the first two months I didn’t know, so when my breasts started to change, I thought there was something wrong with my body. It became painful to breastfeed, just a gnawing discomfort I couldn’t pinpoint. Fed up with it, I decided to wean my son.

For a week, I tried everything to get him to feed less: distractions, hiding from him, saying no, letting him cry a little, putting him off until later. None of it seemed to work; instead, he would wrap his legs around me, trying to hold me in place to try to catch up on all the feedings I had put off. Still as the pregnancy continued, my breast discomfort grew more intense, and I began to feel desperate. I put lemon juice on my nipples for three days in a row. He kept feeding. I switched to vinegar. He winced but suckled anyway. I gagged so hard at the smell that I finally realized perhaps I was pregnant, confirming it the next day with an over-the-counter test.

Once I knew I was pregnant, it was clear what was going on. Like many women, my milk supply was drying up from the pregnancy hormones. I had new hope. Perhaps this entire weaning thing would now resolve itself. My milk would go away and my son would just lose interest. I removed all restrictions on breastfeeding and just let him feed on request, knowing that at any point he could self-wean. I tried to relax and enjoy these last few sessions we had together.

My milk dried up completely at the four-month mark of my pregnancy, yet he persisted. It became increasingly uncomfortable, but something in me shifted: this was our last time together before the new baby came. He would lay with me so peacefully, the only time he wasn’t running around the house, and he would look into my eyes. He would curl around the swell of my baby bump, and his little sister would gently kick him while he fed. I would talk to him about the baby, while he melted into the bed next to me, and I would push back his hair from his sweaty forehead.

“There’s a baby coming. She’s in my belly. Can you feel her moving?”

He would nod. He wouldn’t let go. He wasn’t getting any milk, but this ritual, this habit of ours was still important.

Two days after the baby was born, my milk came. Milk glorious milk, where there had been none now my cup overrunneth. My son was in heaven. His face got fuller in the first month, and he slept more deeply. There were moments when both children wanted the breast at the same time, and while I tried to defer to the youngest member of our family, sometimes I’d feed both of them at the same time, breastfeeding my newborn on my side in the primary position, with my toddler draped over my back and hanging on to me as he fed up-side down. Whatever works.

Three months out and things have settled down to a manageable routine. I’m beginning to feel twinges of wanting to stop again, wishing he would just outgrow this stage, that he’d let me off the hook from what I know will be stand-off. I could just go to a hotel with my newborn, I think. A week away would solve it. It wouldn’t even register in the long-term-damage-I’ve-likely-done-to-my-son. And then he comes home from the park with his father, crying. I rush out to the gate to see what’s wrong.

“I’m crying,” he says to me as I scoop him up.

“I see that, why are you crying? Are you sad?”


“Why are you sad?”

“The boy… “

And he breaks into sobs again.

“That’s okay, I’ll make you feel better.”


“Yes, boobie.”

And I think to myself, maybe at four, maybe four is a good age to wean.

Christine Gilbert is the writer behind almostfearless.com and is currently working on her first book for Gotham/Penguin about learning languages (Arabic, Mandarin and Spanish) with her kids. Her writing and photography has appeared in the BBC, Esquire, Lonely Planet and Rough Guides.

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.

My Five-Year-Old Daughter Still Has A Bottle

My Five-Year-Old Daughter Still Has A Bottle

IMG_1037My five-year-old-daughter has a bottle of milk every night. Should I say my five-year-old-daughter still has a bottle of milk every night? Many people would add the modifier—and I can’t fault them for this. I haven’t made even one attempt to wean her from that ritual. No surprise, our shared attachment to her bottle stems back to her babyhood.

One of the biggest adjustments I had to make as a fourth-time mom but first-time adoptive mom was to become comfortable with the bottle’s primacy.

I’d breastfed the three children I gave birth to and while I hoped to encourage some comfort nursing that didn’t work out. I had considered the possibility of a concerted attempt to breastfeed the fourth child. Yet, I decided against that effort. It was unlikely I’d ever produce enough milk to sustain and I didn’t want to take hormones to feed a baby I might not take home. I pumped in anticipation of her arrival a handful of times, but with three older children to care for–ages five, nine and 12–I couldn’t put the effort in that would be required to maybe just maybe encourage the milk along for real.

My firstborn had a tight frenulum—that’s the little flap of skin under the tongue—and so his suck action didn’t bring the milk in very well, which meant I had to pump in order to keep production up. I’d pumped eight times a day for ten months. I knew from pumping. A fourth child isn’t a first child and I understood what that sacrifice looked like and felt like and how little room it would leave for the other children. Even a lesser commitment would take from all the rest that needed to happen to adjust to our family of six, so within a few days of our daughter’s homecoming when she was just two days old, I let go of the Supplemental Nursing System and the pump. With some ambivalence, I sought to embrace the bottle.

The bottle offered unexpected gifts. My husband and the big brothers could feed daughter and sister. I found emancipation from the minute-to-minute responsibility that a breastfeeding mother of a newborn has, which allowed me to remain much more present to the active, older kids than would have been the case. Adoption presents a more sudden and jarring adjustment to parenting a newborn than parenting a newborn post-pregnancy. Not only was my body unprepared to feed her, my sleep wasn’t interrupted beforehand in the same way—although anxiety performed that sleepless duty quite well. Without the belly, there aren’t kicks. Without the belly, there aren’t a million and one conversations with strangers about what’s to come. Without the belly, the mom is not pulled by gravity to a slower mode. Without the belly, there isn’t a sense of getting to know one another. And so, the baby is a shock. The bottle cushioned that transition in ways I couldn’t have anticipated, especially for the five year-old unseated from baby status; he’d hold her and feed her and reckon with all that had just shifted. He was tender and ponderous and loving.

This was all well and good until she turned one. Then, the pediatrician encouraged a cup. I refused her suggestion. “The brothers nursed at least two years,” I told her. “She had a huge disruption right after her birth. I like the snuggling with a bottle and so does she.” The pediatrician demurred. Over time, I’m sure she assumed we’d stopped and I certainly didn’t bring up the fact that while the many bottles have dwindled to one at night, except sometimes she has an extra when she requests one, that nightly ritual ensues, albeit not in our arms.

In so many ways, she’s mature beyond her five years. Her three big brothers’ influence mean all kinds of bigger kid and teen ways waft into her consciousness and result in nuggets like “people wear bras to kiss,” as seen on television or “Beyoncé starts with ‘B.'” At the same time, she’s small, our baby. Although she doesn’t remember her birth and although adoption seems to remain a little fuzzy and confused and even fleeting in her consciousness, I know it’s all there, the confusion, the loss, the sense of wanting to feel anchored—and comforted. For all the time I may have wondered whether bottle was somehow less than breast, I’ve come around to view comfort as comfort. Comfort doesn’t have to come in one specific way to count. I’m glad she can have a bottle at five to help her unwind from the day. I don’t think I have to fix or change that. In fact, I’m reassured by it, too, not the milk, but the appreciation for her ease.

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The Last Hurrah

The Last Hurrah

By Katherine Ozment

The Last Hurrah_ArtI am in the dressing room at Schwartz’s Intimate Apparel in an affluent suburb of Chicago. There is nothing intimate about the place. Signs in the front windows blare “Girdle Sale!” The overhead lights are a bright, unforgiving florescent, and the round, middle-aged woman with a bad dye job who greeted me at the door is now telling me to take my sweater off.

I used to be shy about my body, but nearly nine months of regular prodding and pulling and palpating by my obstetrician have excised whatever sense of modesty I once had. I remove my sweater without pause, and I am not even bothered when she stares directly at my chest for several seconds. “Okay,” she says as if she knows everything she will ever need to know about me. Then she disappears behind the click of the closing door.

I have come to Schwartz’s at the direction of several friends, none of whom know one another, but all of whom have babies and are thereby connected through the great ethereal web of mother wisdom. Before you get pregnant, you know nothing of mother wisdom. You see babies in strollers, but you don’t think about what brand of strollers they are or how they were chosen or if the cup holders are any good. You go about your business. And then your pregnancy test comes up blue and you begin to realize how little you really know.

The wisdom is given in small bits, like pearls, at first, but soon you realize there are entire categories of knowledge you must acquire now that you’re with child. I’d long since bought the Snap-n-Go, the Pack-N-Play, and the castle-themed saucer. I’d signed up for prenatal classes and swept a whole row of instruction manuals off the bookstore shelf. Now it was time to get down to business. It was time to buy the nursing bras.

My friends had told me that Schwartz’s was the place to buy nursing bras. The nursing bra Mecca. The nursing bra bomb. So here I stand, facing the mirror in the dressing room, trying to see what the saleswoman saw.

My stomach is an enormous orb, my skin stretched beyond what any Thanksgiving feast–or my wildest imagination–could ever yield. My satiny black bra pulls tight across the top of me, seeming to cordon off my ever-growing breasts like police tape.

In the midst of my reverie, the saleswoman returns, several bras clutched in her hands like caught fish. She stands in the doorway staring through thick-framed glasses, and it takes me a moment to realize that I am to continue disrobing, strip-poker-like, while she watches. Obediently, I remove my black bra. She instructs me to lean forward, and as I do, she whips a particularly thick, textured, flesh-colored thing around the front of me, pulls it taut, and latches it together across my back. I feel lassoed.

I look up and see my grandmother. No, it’s me, but my breasts are trapped like objects never to be viewed or even thought about. I feel mummified.

“Hmm,” I say, afraid to offend her. Maybe I’m supposed to look like this. I caress the top of the bra, as if contemplating its beauty and functional appeal. “Maybe something a little smoother,” I say. “I kind of like my bras smooth.”

“I know you do,” she says, as if she has known and disapproved of me all my life.

She reaches down and scoops up a smooth, white Olga. “Try this one,” she says. It’s a brand I wear in more normal times, and it feels better. The only difference is that this one has these two little snaps on either side of my breastbone for the baby’s easy access. I touch one of the snaps and try to casually undo it, but I feel her watching me, and I can’t get the snap undone. I pretend instead that I’m just scratching my breastbone.

“This one’s the wrong size,” she barks, grasping the material beneath my underarms and pulling it snug. I let out a small shriek, but she doesn’t seem to hear it. She is out the door again, leaving me to ponder my bloated reflection once more.

She returns with the same bra, this time in a 38D. A 38D! All my life I have wondered what it would feel like to wear a bra so deep into the alphabet. Long years I have dabbled in petty A’s and B’s, always curious if I would feel more beautiful, more womanly in a D-cup. But as she hoists me into it and explains that I’ll need the extra pockets of space for nursing pads, my visions of taut bikini tops and sexy, skin-tight sweaters disappear.

Still, it’s a good bra, so I tell her I’ll take it.

“Whew, that was easy,” I think. “I’ll be home in time for The View.”

But then, as if tossing a verbal hand grenade into the dressing room, she asks, “Do you have your nightgowns?” Like having one’s nightgowns is a matter of course equivalent to having one’s underwear. I don’t want to tell her that I usually sleep in sweatpants and one of my husband’s T-shirts. Women who come here wear nightgowns. They have robes. Probably even slippers.

“No,” I confess. “I don’t.”

“I know just the one,” she says. “Have you seen the ‘I Love Lucys’?”

I cannot even imagine what she is talking about.

“They’re just what you’re going to need,” she says, leading me to a rack of long, flannel nightshirts emblazoned with oversized, cartoon-like pictures. One features Lucy and Ethel stuffing chocolates into their mouths. Others are adorned with animals, some with Victorian footwear. But the one she has picked out especially for me is a virtual extravaganza of Oreo cookies–Oreos stacked on top of one another, Oreos dunking themselves in tall glasses of milk, Oreos floating free on a pink-and-blue-striped background.

“This is what you’ll be needing now,” she says.

What I’ll be needing now? And just what is going to happen to me now? I’m going to have a baby and suddenly need to wear cartoon-cookie-emblazoned sleepwear?

“I was thinking of something, you know, a little smoother,” I say. And then, “Something a little sexy.”

A small smile appears on her lips. It tells me that she thinks she knows more than I do about all this. That what I will really want will be that Oreo cookie nightshirt and I had better just get used to it. Still, without protest, she turns and marches to the back of the store. I follow her and watch as she pulls several nightgowns from a rack along the wall.

All the gowns she shows me are variations on a theme–floral prints with about five buttons down the center of the chest, topped with a tiny satin bow. They flare out at the hips and end somewhere just below the knees, and I can’t help thinking of the cotton A-line nightgowns I wore as a little girl.

It dawns on me that there isn’t anything sexy here. I think back to some of the items I noticed upon entering the store–plastic flower-dotted shower caps, “easy-to-fasten arthritis bras,” the flagrant “Girdle Sale!” sign–and I realize that this is the place you come when sexy is no longer the priority, when breasts aren’t so much erogenous zones as nutritive vessels. It occurs to me that my body has left the make-up counter. I am in the cereal aisle of my life.

“Maybe pajamas,” I offer.

“We have those,” she says, turning to the circular rack beside us. She riffles through the “large” section as I stand mute. She pulls out a cropped aqua-and-white gingham set. I can tell by the way her face lights up that it is a favorite of hers, and there is something so pure about her love of it that I wish I could love it too. The sleeves are cuffed in blue satin, and I think how easy my life would be if I could just be happy lolling around the house in gingham pajamas with blue satin cuffs.

“This is what you’ll want,” she tells me, and though I want to believe her, I know that she is wrong.

“I don’t think it’s my color,” I say.

She begins to flick the hangers across the metal bar with sharper motions, and I fear she’s losing patience. The next set she pulls out is similar to the previous one, except the top of this one is a tent-sized, button-down expanse of purple. The pants are purple-and-white gingham, slashed vertically at the ankle, for what purpose I cannot imagine. (Cowboy boots?)

“I think I’ll just take these instead,” I say, gesturing to a pair of flannel bottoms and a tight, scarlet top the likes of which I haven’t worn since high school. It is an impulse purchase, and it feels as it should: daring and wasteful and wrong.

I can tell she disapproves of my choice–that a tight, sexy top is not what the baby will need from me. But the baby’s not here yet. Except for taking my prenatal vitamins and trying not to drink, smoke, or sniff glue, there’s not much I have to do. For now I am free. In a few weeks, my son will come screaming into the world. The pain of that moment, and the joy, will transform me. I will enter the ranks of this woman. The knowing glance and the tone of self-assurance will be mine. I will look back on all that came before as if it were one big keg party–a frivolous, three-decade-long affair in which caring for others was easy because their very survival didn’t depend on it.

But I’m not there yet. I still have some time. And so, tight scarlet top in my grasp, I hand over my credit card and seize the day.

Author’s Note:  I wrote this essay when I was eight months pregnant and consumed with all things baby. The original ending was different. At the time, I had no understanding of what it would mean to be a mother, so I ended the essay with some pat image of buying a pair of blue baby booties in addition to the other things (which I did). But later, when revising the story, I realized that buying that tight red top at the end of the comically tortuous trip to the nursing bra store was my last gasp of reckless independence. At the time, I had no idea what was about to be lost–or gained.

Brain, Child (Winter 2005)

Katherine Ozment is a freelance writer and contributing editor to Boston magazine, where she also writes a weekly parenting blog. The baby boy she was pregnant with when she wrote this essay is now ten years old, stands up to her shoulder, and has two younger sisters, ages six and two. More of her writing can be found at katherineozment.com