When that happens chez nous my mother-in-law can be counted on to say something along these lines:
"Oh, you've spied the old milk cart, have you?"
"Uh oh. Grandma's not good enough now that you see the chuck wagon creaking 'round the corner."
Or, my personal all time favourite: "You've heard those old tin milk cans rattling around over there, making a din, have you?"
She's got a million and one ways of putting this. Her analogies always conjure creakiness and hard-scrabble utilitarianism. They reek of unpleasantry, necessity, lopsidedness, antiquity and inelegance.
Whenever she doles out one of these gems, my husband and I laugh raucously about it in the car on the way home. I love my mother-in-law dearly. I know she wished she could have breastfed her kids and she supports me fully. But her lack of experience with breastfeeding and the cultural milieu she is a part of makes the whole business seem kind of bestial, antiquarian, and unseemly to her. I get that. She's doing her best to put up with something that makes her uncomfortable. And so the way she talks about breastfeeding is very practical and mildly offensive. But just mildly so. I'm not offended, though. Her zingers, in fact, bring me great joy.
There are two reasons for this:
Firstly, the way she describes my baby's breastfeeding relationships with me, their mother, is so diametrically opposed to the way I know my babies would if they could that it kind of draws attention to how wonderful breastfeeding is.
See, anyone who has met the adoring gaze of a breastfeeding baby would use other adjectives. It's obvious to me that to my babies I'm less like an "old milk cart", pulled by a faltering horse, then, say, a whee-zippy ice cream truck playing Beethoven's Ode to Joy. And I'm quite certain they would describe my breasts not so much as "old" as fulsome and abundant. Neither, I believe, would they say my bosoms tend to "rattle around" so much as they nurture and sustain. And I'm less like a chuck wagon, catering to a bunch of scurvy-plagued prospectors with some gopher-chili and pickled goose eggs, as I am a beautiful life-giving goddess with a halo of radiant love and sweet milk flowing from my very body into their gorgeous little cherubic bellies. Her excessively prosaic language draws attention to how emphatically poetic breastfeeding is. And it makes me laugh.
The other reason her zingers bring me joy is because they remind me how normal and easy breastfeeding has become. It wasn't always this way. I started out as anxious, sore, and hang-uppy as any new mom.
I remember forever ago when my firstborn was brand new and breastfeeding wasn't normal to me. I was tentative and nervous and modest and sensitive about it all. I was upstairs with my newborn when I heard my husband field a knock on our front door. It was the Smiths, a family of five. Mama Smith had, at that point, been nursing for about four and a half years.
"Where's the new baby?" they asked.
"Oh," said Hubby. "She's upstairs with Betsy. She's nursing."
I could hear the meaningful glance he gave them all the way up the stairs. It meant that me and the baby were doing something intimate and private and perhaps sacred, but certainly not normal. It meant they should probably sit down, hush, and be solemn until I came down the stairs. But they didn't pick up on the meaningfulness of that glance at all. They didn't notice that he said nursing in italics. And they joyfully clambered, all five of them, up right into my bedroom where they, all five of them, crawled onto the bed with me to coo an sigh over my nursing infant. Because nursing was so normal to them, they wouldn't have dreamed of waiting for me to be "done nursing." A mother and her new baby are attached, mouth to breast, and don't much come apart. It's true.
|My beautiful son at the breast|
Now I've been breastfeeding for 4 and a half years and I've got the family of five who just expects a new mom to be nursing. We wouldn't dream of being timid and hushed and respectful around someone just because they are breastfeeding. We are our boisterous selves and we offer water and encouragement and food you can eat with one hand.
My mother-in-law reminds me how lucky I am to have had such great support and luck with my breastfeeding. She reminds me how awesome and normal breastfeeding is. Being called a creaky old milk cart makes makes me think about how gorgeous breastfeeding really is. It makes me think about how important the way I feed my babies is and how it's no big deal all at the same time. I'm reminded of how it has become such a pure pleasure to pick up that crying baby on grandma's lap and to calm and nourish her. There's just no extra weight attached to the act at all. There's only the weight of that baby in my arms.