motherhood, reading
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Verbena Bonariensis

Verbena Bonariensis 2

Sweet Peas

It was mid-October and her breasts were leaking and they were hard as rocks and her nipples hurt; one of them was cracked and bleeding…Helen unbuttoned her blouse and Gabrielle latched on fast and her other nipple squirted fine threads of milk all over the kitchen table…Gabrielle snuffled in and sucked hard and the other breast was dripping fast and there was a drop of blood, bright red, on her other nipple and it slipped down her breast.
from February by Lisa Moore

Milk seeped into Kate’s clothes and sweetened and soured her chest and the cleft between her breasts every time she heard her baby cry, as soon as he cried. Milk wet her shirt when she sat own alone near her bedroom window and saw the exposed brown grass in the yard, rents in the snow, when she read some item in the newspaper about a child falling out a window, or saw a commercial for long-distance dialing on television…Her breasts let down and her uterus cramped sharply, turning like a small animal inside her, contracting in its nest. When her eyes got wet, her breasts performed, as though she wept milk…She wept food and he grew on sorrow.

from MotherKind by Jayne Anne Phillips

Seeing one’s own experience reflected in words is its own particular nourishment. I’ve spent half of the last seven years nursing a baby or toddler and so these breastfeeding scenes give me a particular pleasure of recognition and companionship. They seem to me rare in their physicality, their honesty, their intensity. I don’t remember reading anything like this before I had children, but then perhaps I simply wouldn’t have noticed.

I’ve been playing with some of those rich and delicious words — colostrum, engorgement, latch, let-down — to see if I can make a poem of them. Often, I come back to the words of the breastfeeding counsellor we met before T was born, If it hurts, you’re not doing it right. Well, yes and no. But mainly no. I think I’d have been better prepared by examples like this, examples that show you can move from a difficult, painful start — even that a difficult painful start might be natural — to something that’s nourishing to both mother and child.


I read and loved February a couple of years ago; looking back in my notebook at the pages surrounding this quote, I see we were also trying to decide whether to have a third child. It’s a wonderful novel which I wholeheartedly recommend (additional children purely optional). I’ll write more about MotherKind, which I’ve just finished, soon.


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