I am still mortified, almost two years later, by what I said to that newly-pregnant young college student. I was at a dinner with my husband for the guest speakers at a university’s pre-professional writing conference. Tom was the corporate drone representative. Our dinner companions were poets and fiction writers and essayists. And the newly-pregnant daughter of one of the distinguished guests. She and her husband were excited about the baby, but he was much more talkative than she. I’m afraid I let my own recent experience of natural-ish childbirth and my innate inclination to argue overcome common sense and I said a lot of things that probably frightened/discouraged/overwhelmed her. Our friend (the one who had invited Tom to the conference) tried to stem the debate over doctor versus midwife and I couldn’t stop myself from one last prod: “Well, you are going to breastfeed at least, right?”
If I could go back in time and duct tape my own mouth shut (preferably before my first response to her husband’s opinions), I would.
Now it is not-long-enough later, and my baby is weaned, officially: this time it is really true. It has been three days since our last “last” nursing. Our nursing chair is now the reading chair. Instead of patting my breasts and asking for “nur-ning,” at naptime, Molly leans happily back against my chest and looks intently at the books. The literal has become the metaphorical.
My body is, again, and permanently now after four children, exclusively my own. My mind is still not my own. What I cannot give in milk now I give in words and images and story.
Where with nursing I was able to give them all they needed from my own body, with stories I rely on others. Authors and libraries and illustrators. It is still me: my eyes reading the words, my mouth speaking the sounds, my lap cradling and my arms embracing, but the words are usually someone else’s.
And yet, or to twist the metaphor back, I must recommend nursing to you, if you have ever had any interest or desire or passing of thought of what it might be like. It is wonderful! I have loved it so much! There is nothing quite like it, as I am sure there is nothing like walking in the Lake District or practicing yoga in an ashram in India.
I must recommend it, I cannot be stopped, just as I would recommend to you my favorite novel. (Have you read The Blue Castle yet? How about some Annie Dillard? Emily Dickinson?) Perhaps my favorite novel is not translated to your language yet, or it is on hold at the library for somebody else. If so, I am so sorry, and I do not (of course I do not) disparage you for choosing a different book. Just be kind, I beg of you, when someone admits they’ve named all of their children after characters they found in the pages of their own favorite books. — And when someone you know reads their favorite book in public.