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


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.


One and Two

One and Two

rt Double Stroller

By Sara Petersen

I am thirty-seven weeks pregnant with One. I rock gently back and forth in my wicker rocking chair, enjoying the lazy summer heat, and sipping my thoughtfully mixed smoothie. I squint at the remaining crossword puzzle clues. One nudges me in the lower left corner of my uterus, and I rub my hand along his bones, savoring our connection. I can’t wait to meet him.

I am thirty-seven weeks pregnant with Two. I gulp down 50 milligrams of Zoloft, preparing myself for the onslaught of hormonal leaps and plummets soon to take hold of my ravaged body. I swear softly as One dumps out the Lego bin for no real reason other than to delight in destruction. Two taps a foot or an elbow against me, safely cocooned in the warm darkness of my womb, and I absentmindedly smooth her knobbiness away. Only a few more weeks until all hell breaks loose.

My husband and I walk towards the hospital doors gripped in silent tension, like two people about to jump from an airplane too scared to discuss their fears with each other. It’s late. And dark. Brett rings the ER buzzer, as we’ve been instructed to do.

“Can I help you?” The gruff voice on the other end of the buzzer is anything other than solicitous.

“We’re here for the birth center.” Brett’s voice sounds cartoonish and alien.

“Who are you visiting?”

“No, I mean, we’re here to check in.”

“Who is that you say you’re visiting?”

I grip Brett’s forearm with insistent panic.

“There’s a baby – I mean – we’re having a baby.”


As we walk, the midday sun smiles beneficently down on us. Brett slows down his pace to keep up with my snail-like creep towards the main entrance. I stop every so often to lean over a car and breathe through a contraction coursing through my lower back.

“So if it’s a boy, we’re going with Arthur? We really need to figure out a top-three list at least.”

“Well, definitely Rose for a girl.”

“I don’t know about definitely.”

“Did you pack the Goldfish? I’m kinda hungry.”

I watch as Brett awkwardly clicks the massive carseat into place, sweating in the July heat. I wedge myself as close to the carseat as possible, and as soon as One makes the slightest mew, I shove my crooked pinky into his mouth.

“Hurry, Brett – I don’t want him crying!”

Brett slams the front door shut, and I stare at the huge, brick front of the hospital. We’re going home. But should we be? Shouldn’t we take some sort of parenting entrance exam first to ensure we’re really equipped with the knowledge and ability to keep a 6.7 pound infant alive?

Every blood vessel and breath and spark in my body is trained toward the jaundiced little being in the carseat, but I steal occasional glances through the windows, and wonder at the oddity of the outside world. People are just walking around like nothing’s happened, like everything is totally normal. Little blue houses blurring past, commerce, people walking with purpose. Where are they going? Dogs. Children. Oh god. Children. I have one.

I watch as Brett expertly clicks the carseat into place, and I join him up front, quickly clicking on NPR.

“I really wanna hear Fresh Air – she’s interviewing Cate Blanchett about that movie – Carol, I think it’s called?”

Two is still fast asleep when we pull into the driveway. I’m happy to be home.

One will only sleep if I’m holding him. My left wrist aches from being bent in the same harshly geometric shape, supporting the lower half of his swaddled body, for the past day, night, day before that, night before that, day before that. One will only sleep if I’m holding him. I want my arms back. I want my bed back. I want my mind back. I want to eat some chicken salad.

I put One down so I can shovel some chicken salad into my mouth. After 27 blissful seconds of physical autonomy, One whimpers. My heartrate accelerates, my stomach plunges, my cheeks burn. I slam the Tupperware container onto the chicken salad. I just want a few minutes, a little nourishment – can’t you just lay in your 500 dollar thing-a-ma-jig for two seconds?

Sometimes One cries in the car. But sometimes he doesn’t. I grab One, and nearly run towards the car. He’ll nap in the car! He’ll totally, totally nap! And once he gets a good nap, his mood will improve, and he’ll sleep better tonight, and sleep begets sleep, and I’ll sleep, and before I know it, I’ll have my life back.

I bump over the back roads, desperate for the smoothness of the highway. One grunts, whines, and each noise tightens the already taught muscles in my neck, turns my knuckles a whiter shade of white. I slam onto the gas as a light turns yellow. No way can I stop.

Two will only sleep if I’m holding her. So I hold her. Her flower breath flutters against my chest as I flip through Dorothy Sayers’ Busman’s Holiday. “We’ve got to laugh or break our hearts in this damnable world.” I fold down the corner of the page to gaze at the bright pink of the cosmos dancing with the brilliant blue of forget-me-knots.

I hear a little peep from below, and peer down at the soft brown cap of newborn hair. I pat-pat-pat Two’s small bum, and take another sip of my IPA. Brett’s out with One, and Two and I have spent the day rocking on the deck, napping, reading, and lounging. I kiss Two’s forehead.

I scream my Subaru down the road, anxious to reach our destination before One gets angry or sad or hungry or gassy or fussy or tired or over-stimulated. My cousin grins at me, attempting to inject some sense of proportion into my universe.

“Look at you – driving with your baby and your dog. About to take a casual stroll through the woods. You got this!”

I force a reply smile onto my pale, pinched face. I don’t have anything. And I certainly don’t have “this,” if “this” means leaving the house with one’s baby in tow without having an existential breakdown.

A half hour later, we return to the car. We’ve taken a stroll through the countryside, exercised the dog, and successfully extracted me from the walls of my house. No one has died.

I drive my Subaru down the road, listening to One’s explanation that the big T-Rex is the mama T-Rex and the small T-Rex is the baby T-Rex. I repeat it back, to assure him I’ve heard and understood him.

When I remove Two from her carseat and bundle her into the Ergo, she wails tiny impotent wails at being so man-handled. I shhhh and pat and bounce and comfort and offer pacifiers. We walk through the tall grasses and waving queen anne’s lace. Two is quiet. One’s toddler voice blends with the chatter of tree swallows.

Two begins to squirm, bobbing her face against my chest like a soft, ineffectual woodpecker.

“Hey buddy – let’s pull over here.” I hand One a granola bar and settle him under a tree.

Leaning against the sandpapery stickiness of pine bark, I nurse Two in the woods, relaxed with the knowledge that boobs can fix nearly all newborn problems. One munches his granola bar, tracing a stick in the velvety dirt among the roots.

We crest the final hill of our walk, and trudge towards the Subaru, which is resting in the afternoon glow. I clip both kids into their carseats, settle the dog next to me, and drive home. We’re fine.

Sara Petersen is a freelance writer based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She has written for BustHuffington PostScary Mommy, and Bustle. She blogs about children, pretty wallpaper, IPA, and friendship here. You can also check her out on Instagram and Twitter.













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.

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)

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

Doctors’ Rounds

Doctors’ Rounds

By Anna Blackmon Moore

StethoscopeAbout five months after giving birth to my son Ian, I noticed muscle pain in the front of my pelvis—tight discs of soreness just above my thighs and just below my hipbones that I could not stretch out or massage away. If I sat for long periods, the pain intensified, and I was sitting a lot, nursing Ian and then letting him nap in my lap. I watched him loosen his lips from my nipple and drift into sleep, or drift into sleep with his mouth wide open and his lips still latched, or sigh into my skin and grow still. Rather than put him down for naps in his crib, I stretched more often and started jogging again, assuming the activity would loosen my joints and strengthen my muscles.

A few weeks later, after a short, easy run through the park, Ian and I had a typical Nurse-n-Nap. He suckled for forty-five minutes and fell asleep for an hour. When he woke up, I kissed his hands until he laughed, scooped him against my side, and rose from the recliner. My hip flexors burned. I could barely straighten. Playing with Ian on the living room rug became impossible—no more Roll the Shaky Ball or Let’s Stand Up.

I went to my doctor, a GP in her fifties. She often wore flowered skirts that resembled vintage aprons; I always pictured her in a kitchen doing domestic, motherly things. During my pregnancy, when she’d treated me several times for hemorrhoids, I asked if she had children. “Oh, yes,” she said, pulling off a Latex glove and stepping away from the exam table where I lay on my side. “Two teenagers. It’s sort of tough right now.”

When I described the pain in my hips, she suggested physical therapy.

“You don’t want to take an X-ray?” I asked.

“The usual protocol is physical therapy first, then an X-ray if it doesn’t help. And until we figure out what’s wrong…”—she pulled a pad of referral slips from the pocket of her white coat—”I’d definitely stop exercising.”

“But I barely go two miles. And I love jogging.” So do my flabby thighs. So does my depression, which I additionally placate with Prozac.

“Jogging is probably making things worse.” She filled out a referral slip. “Stop for now. Go to physical therapy, see what they say.”

The physical therapist thought it might be tendonitis.

“How would I get that?”

“I’m not sure,” she said. “Hip flexors are kind of a weird place for it. Any injuries, any accidents?”

“No.” I was in my underwear, lying face up on the treatment table, my legs and torso covered by a paper sheet.

“Are you still nursing?”

“Yeah.” By then, Ian was about seven months old, eating spinach and beans and squealing for yogurt, but he still nursed. Between the writing classes I taught during the week and throughout the day on weekends, Ian and I Nurse-n-Napped once in the morning and once in the afternoon. When he twitched or cried out in his sleep, I touched his head so he knew I was there.

“Nursing can have all kinds of effects on the body,” she said. “It might get better when you stop.”

I stared into the ceiling. My hips were throbbing. “God knows when that will be.”

She laughed and started circling the ultrasound probe over the sore spots in my hips. I asked if she had children.

“A boy and a girl,” she said. “Nine and twelve.”

She clicked off the console and massaged anti-inflammatory ointment into my hips with her thumbs.

I returned three times a week for ultrasound, massage, and ice packs. I started doing the exercises she recommended. The pain worsened. On my sixth visit, she was on vacation, so I saw one of her colleagues.

“I don’t think it’s tendonitis,” the colleague said. I was on my stomach, knees bent, soles of my feet to the ceiling. She told me to raise my right knee off the table.


“That bad, huh?” She wore hiking boots and said she had an eight-year-old daughter. “Raise the other knee.”

I blew out a breath, tried to relax. “What is it?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “But you’re really weak, that’s for sure.”

I explained this new diagnosis to my therapist.

“That doesn’t make any sense.” She sat in her cushioned armchair, her legs crossed and her hands folded in her lap. I sat across from her. “You’ve exercised all your life.”

I pushed a throw pillow further down my back. Her couch was aggravating a new pain, deep in my tailbone. Sitting made it ache. Walking helped, but if I went more than half a mile my hips tightened to a burn. “I have an appointment with the acupuncturist tomorrow.”

She thought it might be bursitis. Throughout my pregnancy, the acupuncturist had treated me for hemorrhoids, anxiety, and the cavernous pressure of my son’s butt tucked beneath my right breast like an upside-down bowl. Sometimes I cupped my hand over his cheeks and patted them. Other times I pushed down on them to try and pop a few of my ribs.

“Between your bones and your tendons…”—she held up her hand as if holding a sandwich—”you have sacs of fluid called bursae. They can get inflamed. They can really hurt.”

I nodded.

“Have you had any accidents or injuries?” she asked.


“Still nursing?”

I nodded.

“That might explain it,” she said. “Nursing puts a lot of stress on the body.”

“Nursing puts a lot of stress on the body,” my dermatologist told me the next day.

I had made an appointment to treat the dandruff that had started to shower my shirts. He was examining my scalp through a lighted magnifying glass the size of an eye. He had a slim moustache and slicked black hair, a father of five. He’d told me once that he loved having kids. I wondered if his wife did. I wondered which functions she had lost with five pregnancies, five cycles of nursing.

He rubbed a patch above my temple with his index finger. “This is seborrheic dermatitis. You know how infants get cradle cap?”

“Yes.” When Ian was only a few weeks old, I had scraped scales from his scalp while he stared blankly toward his rubber duck.

“Same thing,” he said. “It could be hormonal. Pregnancy and nursing can really change the skin.”

“All the energy in your body is going to feeding your child.” I was back at the acupuncturist’s, lying face up on the massage table with my pants off and a heat lamp warming my feet.

“Other areas of your body are lacking. They aren’t getting as much energy, as much blood, as they normally would.”

I stared at a sparkly, New Age mobile.

“You’re working too, aren’t you?” she asked. She was fifty but looked thirty—tall and strong. She swam a mile three times a week and had no children.

“I teach every day this semester.”

She tapped a needle into my right hip and rotated it until I winced. “You’re putting a lot of demands on your body,” she said.

After a few weeks of acupuncture and no exercise, the hip pain improved. I could walk up to a mile. The tailbone pain, however—a ball of it right on my coccyx—was at times excruciating, and my scalp continued to shed. The shampoo the dermatologist prescribed was $106, and insurance wouldn’t cover the cost. Rather than buy it, I was rubbing vitamin E oil into my scalp three times a week and scraping off the scales with dull nail scissors.

“Your body might never be the same,” said my psychiatrist, during a check-in appointment for a Prozac refill. She, too, was a mother. Her daughter was sixteen. They had just taken a vacation together, hiking and camping in the mountains. “It’s something you have to accept and work with.”

I started putting Ian in his crib for naps, which left him wailing and sobbing before he fell asleep to the music of his mobile. I sobbed, too, for a while—I missed his flesh, his thin, wheaten hair, the curve of his nostrils, the length of his blinks when he woke. But I persisted.

The tailbone pain did not subside, and the pain in my hips kept me from sleeping through the night.

“I would see a chiropractor,” said the acupuncturist. I was on my belly with my underwear hiked up so she could stick needles into the crown of my butt.

“But the problem isn’t in my back.”

“They’ve helped me a lot in the past.” She dimmed the lights and turned on the music—ocean sounds with a harp. “That’s what I would do. Get a ton of acupuncture and see a chiropractor.”

The chiropractor asked how much Ian weighed.

“Twenty pounds,” I said. She pulled on each of my feet to stretch my hips and then walked around the table to my head. Her hands smelled like soap. “He’s about nine months.”

“It can take up to two years before the stress on your skeletal frame gets better,” she said. “First you have him stretching out your ligaments”—she cupped her hands around her belly—”putting stress on your spine, and then you’re picking him up all the time.”

She clipped my X-rays onto the viewbox. I was crooked. My right hip was higher than my left, and my coccyx was curved slightly to the right like a shortened tail. I looked like I hadn’t quite evolved.

“It’s actually not that bad,” she said, standing next to the image. “There’s no sign of arthritis at all.”

“Thank God,” I said. I’d been having visions of incapacitation.

“But your spine is out of alignment, so your hips are out of whack. You need adjustments.”

I lay on my back. She twisted my hips to the left, crossed my arms over my chest, and leaned onto me.

“Take a deep breath.”

She pushed. Nothing. She pushed again. I had been grading papers all day, sitting on my ass. My tailbone was a rock.

“You win the Tight Award,” she said, standing. Her children were grown; her daughter shared her practice.

“I sit a lot,” I said. “But I’ve always been active. I don’t understand why my body is such a mess.”

“It’s not uncommon,” said the psychiatrist. “Women recover at different rates.”

“Nursing releases hormones,” said the dermatologist. “It puts a lot of stress on the body. It can have all kinds of effects on the skin.”

“When I was getting trained,” said the acupuncturist, “my teacher had a baby. After the birth, she stopped working. Her mother moved in and did everything. It was completely understood that her only job was to nurse her baby. That was it. But in this culture, we can’t do that.”

“It will get better,” said the chiropractor. She put her hand on my shoulder. “I promise. Be patient.”

“Have you considered waiting before you have another child?” asked the psychiatrist.

“I’m thirty-six,” I said. “I don’t want to change diapers and breastfeed when I’m forty.”

“You could still wait,” said the therapist. “You have a depressive condition. It can make everything harder.”

“Ian needs a buddy,” I said. “An ally.”

“You still have some time,” said the chiropractor.

“But I want to get it over with.”

“I don’t blame you,” said the acupuncturist.

“How’s the physical therapy going?” asked the doctor.

“We can do whatever you want,” said the husband. He was lying on his back, lifting our son into the air. They were both laughing, balloons full of joy. Chris put Ian down on the living room rug and tossed his blocks into the playpen, high up into the air, one at a time. Ian watched the blocks spin and laughed again—loud roils of delight that made his belly shake while he heaved for air.

When Ian laughs, strangers laugh back. Despair retreats.

“Let’s get it over with,” I said. I was sitting on the sofa watching them, tightening and releasing my buttocks. Trying to straighten my tail.

“Having another kid is worth wrecking your body?” Chris watched as Ian reached for his tambourine, wrapped his fingers around the frame, and put a jingle to his mouth.


Chris looked at me, his hand resting on Ian’s foot. “Are you serious?”

I held out my left hand, let it droop, and shook it out. Holding Ian against my side all the time had caused some swelling; my wrist and thumb were growing rigid. I curled and straightened my fingers, tightened and released my ass, rubbed my right hip, scratched my head. Ian shook the tambourine and made a new sound.

“Yes,” I said. “Definitely.”

Author’s Note: While I have gotten treatment and relief from the tailbone problem, my hips are about the same, and Ian has been weaned for more than four months. A friend recently decided that I have Iliotibial Band Syndrome, which usually affects people in the knees. I have started lifting weights to strengthen my quads, which might help, at least until I become pregnant again.  

Anna B. Moore has essays and fiction in The American Scholar, Shenandoah, Native Peoples Magazine, and many other journals.  She lives in Northern California and is currently working on a novel.

Brain, Child (Spring 2007)

Now I Mother From a Distance

Now I Mother From a Distance

By Dina L. Relles

It is dark and still. The single lamp casts a warm glow on the orange walls. His tiny hand wrapped in mine; his chest rhythmically rises and falls with each breath, nearly lulling me back to sleep. I’m curled up in the rocking chair, my tattered gray t-shirt raised slightly, his warm body cradled around my soft, bare belly. He nurses.

I could hear a lone car drive by on 8th street. Otherwise, it feels as if we are the only ones in the world.

For most of his first year, my son would wake at 4 a.m. and cry out. Weary with the weight of months of sleep deprivation, I nevertheless traipsed into his softly lit room each time with meaningful purpose. To feed, to comfort.

Nothing changed when I went back to work. I would still nurse him before dawn and place him back into his crib for more sleep. Then I would start my day, fitting in a couple billable hours before the world awoke.

How I loved those 4 a.m. feedings. I never wanted to let them go. I savored the time alone with my son and the peaceful possibility of those early mornings. Years later, it’s still when I like to wake, when I write—my sacred, silent start of day.

But when my son was nine months old, I went away on business—a two-day stint to Dayton, Ohio for expert depositions. My mother came in from New York to stay with the baby. I’ll never forget receiving her call to my hotel room to proudly report that my son had slept through the night.

What I heard was that he no longer needed me.

Indeed, even when I returned home, he had weaned himself of that 4 a.m. feeding. Most mothers would be thrilled.

Why couldn’t I let it go?

Because this I knew. This was comfortable. These needs were simple, basic. I could do this. Even in my (light) sleep, my ears knew his cries; my body fed his without effort. I instinctively knew the rhythmic sway of midnight, the cries for company of 4 a.m., the subtle stirring of 6 a.m.

Some long for the sturdy that is One, the mischievous that is Two, or the inquisitive that is Three. For me, the newborn phase couldn’t go slowly enough. That time when you measure in days or weeks, not months or years. When my baby’s whole body fit snugly on my chest, when he was fresh and fragile. When a long walk outside was entertainment enough. When everything was new.

And so those early months of motherhood were filled with comfort and ease, like a favorite sweatshirt. I could have lived in them forever.

Now I’m in uncharted territory. Now we are five, and three, and 18 months—all at once. Now is dirt everywhere, monkey bars, and puddle jumping. Germs and lice. Now is impatience and bullies, bad influences at school, and requests for movies with too much violence.

Now is setting limits and testing them. Now is negotiating. Now is No! Stop! And Don’t Touch! Now is asking five times and still getting ignored. Now is a big boy bed that is too easily escaped. Now is defiant.

Now is discovery and fierce independence. Now is biking too far, too fast away from me. Now is hoping, with bated breath, that he remembers to stop at the corner. Now is skinned knees and gravelly palms.

Now there is a person I can’t wrap in a swaddle blanket and protect from the world.

Now I mother from a distance. My eyes working overtime to catch a fleeting glimpse as he darts fearlessly around the playground. Kisses must be invited. Embraces brief. Legs dangling.

Now is complicated. Now is uncertain. Curiosity about god and death. Now is more questions than answers.

The distance will only grow greater, I know. I recently met a middle-aged woman who told of her grown sons scattered around the globe—the closest lives clear across the country. I tried, hard, to imagine a time when my children wouldn’t be safe in their beds, under my roof. But I couldn’t. I can’t. Especially when it rains.

We want another.

Won’t we always? When will I feel ready to bid a final farewell to the early morning of my motherhood, with all its brilliant possibility, utter dependence, beautiful vulnerability?

But now. Now is “I love you” drawings and racing down the hall to greet me at preschool pickup. Sometimes letting me hold his hand. Now is discovering how his mind works. Learning who he is and seeing glimpses of who he will become.

Now is never still. Now is quickly turning into then. Now we are growing. Now we will figure out. Together.

Dina L. Relles is a lawyer, writer, aspiring doula, and mother of three sons. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The Huffington Post, Kveller, Mamalode, and Scary Mommy, and she writes regularly at www.dinarelles.com. You can find her on Twitter @DinaLRelles.

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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High Needs Mother

High Needs Mother

By Lynn Shattuck

LynnShattuck_blogAfter my first son Max was born, I wanted answers.

My little red-faced infant wanted to nurse every twenty minutes. He woke up six or more times a night. The ‘quiet alert’ phase that we had heard about—the one we had imagined our peaceful, silk-cheeked baby silently gazing at us while inhaling the landscape of our faces—was non-existent.

Long days dripped by in a haze of milk and tears—both of ours. Our pediatrician said it wasn’t colic; nursing soothed him. And Max didn’t save his sadness for just the witching hour—any hour of the day or night was fair game. In my attempts to ‘fix’ my son, I lugged him to osteopaths and homeopaths. I went on an elimination diet consisting of brown rice and carrots. I spent hours with him hooked to my breasts while I searched the Internet for solutions. For ways to make him happier. To make us both happier.

In my research, I came across an article by Dr. Sears, a leading proponent of attachment parenting. Dr. Sears described ‘High Needs Babies”—how they tend to sleep poorly and require constant holding and attention. The article suggested my son’s temperament as who he was, who he was born to be. Not something to fix. I was a bit devastated by this theory; if I couldn’t fix it, the tears and sleepless nights would continue. We were already utilizing many of Dr. Sears’ suggestions for calming our ‘High Needs Baby’—co-sleeping was the only way for any of us to get rest. I carried him in the Ergo so often, I felt like the skin on my shoulders was absorbing the straps. I nursed on demand—and the demand was high.

The only thing that really helped was time. Ever so slowly, our nursing sessions stretched out. After about sixteen months, Max finally started piecing together four or six hour stretches of sleep.

Max is four and a half now. He’s been weaned for a few years, and he usually sleeps through the night. But he is still intense. When he’s happy, he’s down-to-the-toes effervescent. And when he’s not—which is often— he’s a shrieking, writhing tempest of misery.

We have a daughter now, too. She smiles and laughs easily and often. Loud sounds don’t phase her, and she weaned with little effort. At 21-months, she still requires a lot of care. But her whole being vibrates with ease, with lightness. I sense that life is much easier for her than it is for my son.

Than it is for me.

You see, I’m a High Needs Mother.

Before my kids were born, I practiced extreme self-care. I went to yoga and dance classes. Twelve-step meetings and therapy. I took long, slow walks and attended a Unitarian church. I signed up for retreats and workshops. I did all of this to help me feel normal, which has always seemed much easier for most people than for me. Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert. Maybe it’s because I struggle with anxiety and depression. Maybe it’s because I’m what is described as a ‘Highly Sensitive Person.’

My husband and I vowed that when we had children, I would keep up my rigorous program. We promised we would support each other in doing the things we loved and the things that kept us sane and happy.

And then my son arrived.

And I was the only one who could soothe him.

A few months after Max’s birth, I went to a yoga class by myself. As I backed the car out of the driveway, I felt half giddy. I also felt half naked without my son.

At the class, I breathed. I tried to root my body on my yoga mat, to let the ground cradle me like I so often cradled my son. In between surrendering to gravity, my mind wondered how my son was. If he was screaming. If he would take the bottle. If he would nap. During the closing shavasana, I felt the sharp zing of my milk letting down; even my body couldn’t fully surrender to the time alone.

When my son was twenty months, we discovered my husband’s work would subsidize part-time childcare. We enrolled Max two days a week in a nearby daycare. I had wanted children, badly. So why did I need to be away from my son? How dare I ask other people to care for him two days a week when I wasn’t going to be filling all of that time with paid work? When I might use some of it to go to a yoga class or do laundry or lug my laptop to a coffee shop and write?

My guilt was huge, but my need for a respite was bigger. When I dropped my son off that first day, I came home, melted onto the couch and cried. When I finally peeled myself off the couch, I wrote Max a letter. In my home, alone, all I could hear was the hum of appliances. For the next several hours, my body was all mine. I felt guilty and blissful, free and lost.

With time, the guilt shrunk.

I hate that as a mother, I felt like I had to choose between caring for my child and caring for myself. Because really, I can choose both. I can teach my kids—by example, which is perhaps the most potent way of teaching—that they are worthy of listening to their own needs. To the quiet, sure voice that might tell them they need a break. To lie on a yoga mat and sink deep into their own body and breath. To wander through a cemetery, alone, slowly enough to read the names on the gravestones. To sit down and write about how they’re feeling, or to surrender to sweet sleep for an hour.

When I take good care of myself, I am more present for my babies. I can play air guitar with my son and orchestrate dance parties to Footloose. When I don’t take care of myself, I’m a stringy, soggy, limp wash rag of a mother. Slowly, over the years, I have been able to add more and more self-care back into my life. To come back to myself and meet my own needs. To meld the person I was before having children with the mother I became.

Over time, I learned that there was nothing wrong with my son. He just happens to be a lot like me.

Lynn Shattuck is a writer living in Portland, Maine. She blogs at http://thelightwillfindyou.com as well as the elephant journal and Huffington Post.

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.

The Baby

By Kate Haas

NevermoreOnce upon a midnight weepy, as I pondered, O so sleepy?

Over many curious volumes of oft-studied baby lore,

It was Leach–or was it Sears?–on whose pages fell my tears,

O, but naught could quell my fears or lift the burden that I bore.

Would sleep elude me evermore?


Of those authors I was wary in that fateful January,

For I’d scanned each separate page and had discovered no sure cure.

And my weary brain was yearning, my desire for sleep was burning,

Yet how soon would I be learning that I had another chore!

Would it last forevermore?


‘Twas then I heard a wailing–but perhaps my ears were failing,

O, perhaps the babe still slept, safe behind the nursery door!

Curses! No, I’d hoped in vain, he was crying (was it pain?)

And the question in my brain was, would he sleep? (He did before.)

Quoth the baby, “Nevermore.”


“Baby,” said I, “Child of trouble! Why should all our woes be double?

Why should both of us be wakeful on the Night’s Plutonian shore?

If you must awake, well fine, but the night is also mine.

All this nursing makes me whine–go back to sleep now, I implore!”

Quoth the baby, “Nevermore.”


Damn you, William (you too, Martha), sitting round your cozy hearth,

With those eight babes all a-slumber (and you’re no doubt planning more).

Your smug sleep tips leave me cursing (yes, we’ve tried the “father nursing”),

But the night is fast dispersing; O, how long will this endure?

Quoth the baby, “Evermore.”


Then methought I heard a noise–nay, a sweetly speaking Voice,

And it prophesied that soon these midnight troubles would be o’er!

If I heard the voice aright, my babe will someday sleep all night,

O, unspeakable delight! Will I no longer nights deplore

Quoth the baby, “Nevermore.”


“Voice!” I cried, “O Phantom friend! Do you say these nights will end?

Tell me truly, is there hope still for this babe I so adore?”

Then it foretold nights unbroken, when those wails would go unspoken,

When I would not be awoken. “Never, Phantom? Are you sure?”

Quoth the Spirit, “Nevermore.”


And on spoke the ghostly Seer, bidding me to have good cheer,

Yet it warned me of the Fate that for some parents lies in store.

“Someday this babe will yearn for knowledge; he will venture off to college,

And ’tis then you will acknowledge that you miss those nights of yore.

Yes, you’ll miss these hours awake upon the Night’s Plutonian shore.”

“Are you out of your frickenfracken mind?” quoth Mama,


Brain, Child (Spring, 2004)

About the author: Kate Haas publishes Miranda, a zine about motherhood and other adventures (www.mirandazine.com). Her essays have appeared in Nervy Girl magazine and online at Supple Mama.com and PhillyMama.com. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two sons.

Art by Penny Van Horn

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.

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