COLUMN: The Triple Goddess Trials:
Goddess of Milk and Honey
“Mommy, I ate ice cream as a baby, right?”
The half-mumbled question came as I was watching my daughter polish off her night-time snack at our kitchen counter.
“Noooooo. You didn’t eat ice cream until much later. You know that!” I teased. “You nursed.”
“From your boobies,” She cupped her hand to her mouth, her stomach already shaking with laughter, savoring the five-year old hilarity she now finds in any mention of “private” body parts. But soon she started to frown, staring at my chest as though she were studying a map –then looking down at her own, her eyes fixed in thought.
“I don’t think I’ll do that mama,” she admitted with a serious shrug.
In the beginning breastfeeding was not at all easy for me. I remember meeting the lactation nurse on her obligatory visit the first day of my daughter’s life.
“Heeeeyyyyy, how you doin’ my new momma? You look goooooood!”
The nurse, the kind of person who brought a rush of wind and sunlight into the room, might have said the same words to every mother in the entire hospital, but it didn’t matter to me. I beamed as though she had just hung an Olympic gold medal around my neck.
Not because I felt like a “winner” I assure you, but because having just taken a nose dive into the great lake (with no land in sight) of utter unknowing–all positive reinforcement resembled another hand stretched out–another flash of orange glimpsed—another finger looped through a wobbly life preserver.
That nurse would answer my five billion and one questions patiently. “Like this?” I would ask over and over again as she demonstrated the “cradle hold,” “the football hold,” and even the “cross cradle.”
I confess to you reader, that I wanted this encyclopedia of knowledge in the shape of a woman to stay in my room all day every day—and maybe come home with me too because she made me laugh in the midst of my least favorite feeling—having no idea what to do.
The Case Against Breastfeeding
In the April 2009 Issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Contributing Editor, Hannah Rosin published an article called “The Case Against Breastfeeding”.
The title was a bit misleading, which Rosin herself later admitted in a podcast on the Atlantic’s website, Mother’s Milk. In fact, the author isn’t arguing that breastfeeding is bad (Rosin herself was still breastfeeding when she wrote the article) but rather that breastfeeding is not as good as we’ve been hearing.
However, the title worked like a charm in provoking a predictable polemic and media uproar, with a surge of traffic in the blogosphere, including a post from the American Academy of Pediatrics who expressed concern over Rosin’s “omissions.”
In her article, Rosin described breastfeeding itself as “an instrument of misery that mostly keeps women down.” And on one level, she’s right. Because the fact is that breastfeeding is an enormous expenditure of time and energy requiring multi-faceted sacrifice (personal, professional, nocturnal, etc.) not to be matched by the most zealously “equal” of partners. What’s more, breastfeeding has joined the ranks in recent years of fiber and calcium and all that is marketed as “good for you” in the doctor’s office, so the pressure is on.
In her popular blog, “Domestic Disturbances,” Judith Warner, New York Times contributor and author of The Mommy Wars soon chimed in agreement with Rosin in a column she entitled “Ban the Breast Pump” where she declared Rosin a (seemingly laudable) “heretic” who might “roast in the hellfire of mommy-fire vituperation.” Warner prayed for the day women would only read about breast-pumps in history books.
But I worried about the methods through which Rosin chose to prove her point in the article, not by attacking the overarching belief system and business and government policies that are stacked against women and biology, but with her portrayal (and perhaps selective choice) of those who pay the highest price and do the most juggling in the work and family zone–women.
Rosin’s selective playground research of shallow women who sneer when she whispers the word Similac are Barbie-like playground villains or as Rosin puts it: “urban moms in their tight jeans and oversize sunglasses [who] size each other up using a whole range of signifiers: organic content of snacks, sleekness of stroller, ratio of tasteful wooden toys to plastic.”
Of course, I’ve seen that that kind of behavior on my own playgrounds—there is judgment about whether woman should breastfeed or not breastfeed too long, or if families should co-sleep, (and if I can digress, who came up with the term “co-sleep”? What are parents and children, business partners?) eat and even play. I’ve found myself on surprising sides of many opinion fences, but thankfully they all eventually bore me—a distraction from that which really matters.
But I need to mention for the record of playground research that I’ve met a number of open, intelligent, funny, genuine women who wanted to talk about pursuing their Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree or how they came to work with homeless populations or why they started painting in five-minute increments (while their baby naps) or why their baby cracks them up and I really valued all of these conversations—because talking about recipes or the Military-Industrial-Complex or wild diaper changing chases reminded me that while we were often faced with different situations, we are not alone.
And that’s my main problem with Rosin’s article. Although she claims to advocate “for” women, she doesn’t’ seem to have much positive sentiment or respect for women as contributing members of society in the language she uses.
Yes, there are breastfeeding Stalinites and in my experience, uncomfortable silences about women who breastfeed “too long”, yes there is bitchiness and gossip, but if Rosin’s article aims to buck the real forces “keeping women down” I just don’t get her tone.
“My mother friends love to exchange stories about subversive ways they used to sneak frozen breast milk through airline security (it’s now legal), or about the random brutes on the street who don’t approve of breast-feeding in public,” scoffs Rosin.
Um, you lost me. Let me get this straight…Breastfeeding moms should not dare to complain about the rudeness and expressions of disgust (prompted, it’s true, by a split-second nipple sighting on a once beautifully pristine park bench!) directed at them. As a liberating alternative, they should choose to supplement with formula?
Maybe it was somewhere after she cites modesty as a reason not to breastfeed, somewhere after ridiculing an entire profession of lactation consultants (legitimizing with a professional title crucial support). Somewhere after brushing over decades of legal reform and lobbying for breastfeeding rights, in between podcasting her sympathy with husbands who find themselves forever turned off by the sight of their wives with breast-pumps as the Madonna/ Whore complex begins to take on plastic proportions! Somewhere in the midst of reading Rosin’s article, I began to wonder, where’s all the real support for women—and the next generation of mothers?
I’ve watched the podcasts and I value the questions Rosin has raised. I think she is sincere in her wish to help other women, so I had to wonder why, at least in the article, she incited a (painfully tired) opinion three-ring circus where women will predictably take sides against one another (based on their feelings of being attacked from many different directions, per chance?)—rather than introduce a new tone to an important conversation and amp up the pressure for real societal change.
And, should I meet her at my local playground, I would have to ask Rosin, is our greatest hope, is the modern doorway to liberation really to be found in a little extra formula?
Or is it a red herring?
The Eagle Has Landed
Scene: a deserted corner of an undisclosed office parking lot.
Time: 8:05 on a rainy autumn Tuesday morning.
First off, let me state upfront that you caught me at a bad moment. But please don’t call the police even though I am alone, sobbing and unbuttoning my shirt in my car at the very far end of the parking lot.
Readers, forgive me, I just dropped my four-month-old daughter off for her first week of daycare. My throat is numb and dry and I know it’s lame, but I am too sad and empty inside to even speak.
I do not go into the building to find some Kleenex. (Risk running into my manager? No. Way.) Instead, I reach for my nursing pump “back pack” as though it were a delicious beer to crack open on a hot day.
You see, I can’t go inside the office yet. There is an un-trainable eagle that recently took up residence in my body. She sits on her mountain ledge, alternating between my shoulders, and when so moved (every two hours or so) she spreads her wings behind my lungs, all of my veins rising in her collective wind—until that giant bird digs its claws and lands—and the pressure hardens into strange ever-changing muscles, after which I am flushed with warm (and apparently deeply nutritious) milk.
I do not feel the first glass of wine rush described to me in some corner pile of my breastfeeding “research.”
My oxytocin burst (wouldn’t you know it?) has a ridiculous amount of irony. Okay, at times I might be speeding 80 miles an hour down Euphoria Highway, but get this! I’m also directly behind a tractor trailor violating every environmental hazard on the books. My sciatica sucks. I’m frustrated with my stupid aching back and shoulders from nursing nursing nursing all day and night and actually everything hurts and I’m thinking, oh please not again, it’s 3AM and I’m so freakin tired. How long do I have to do this?
How can I get out of this?
Because this is the moment that almost always takes me completely by surprise. The eagle lands again. From my throat to my chest to my belly, inside my elbows, I feel a strange deep tingling when I watch my daughter’s tiny face comes to rest in the crook of my elbow. Automatic waves of love come oozing out of my pores like a hundred waterfalls, every one of which I am falling down and down. It is then that I taste my child’s hunger as though it were my own, and in those few brief moments I am paralyzed, humbled, and swollen with awe.
You might say that I’m undergoing a crash course in mother love.
But I will never stop arguing that this is only one of so many shades of love—the bottom, the top, every pigment of which I’ve perhaps only partially glimpsed. So please don’t ask me if I have chemical proof or if I think such moments are only available to biological mothers or breastfeeders or those of the xx chromosome configuration. Those questions don’t seem worthy of any time to me.
Besides, what do I know? If “traditional” motherhood were ranked on a scale of 1-10, I’d only make it to five or six on a good day. At the choice between writing an article or playing with a newborn baby, I confess the former preference. Cake recipes make me uneasy. Felt, brownie-patches, and scrapbook collages all scare me in equal measure.
All I know is that I have been lucky enough to give birth to my daughter.
The Egyptian Goddess, Renenet
She has worn the face of a cobra, a lion, and a beautiful woman.
Ancient Egyptians believed that when Renenet, goddess of luck, crops, and plentiful breast-milk, bestowed each child’s ren—or their secret-name-soul—they would benefit from the protection of the Goddess who made her enemies crumble to pieces with a single glance.
You may agree that there is a place inside of you that can never be physically touched. Not by a surgeon. Not by a mortician. Not by a lover. A quickening in your veins at sunset, a strange deep appreciation of glittering night stars that waken the breath and flex the muscle of what can only be called your soul, the seed which the Egyptian goddess Renenet might have long ago planted inside of you.
But within this transaction, where a mysterious cloud of implacable soul might fortify a child’s tender skin, a deep hunger (with the power to unleash further abundance) was also planted. In that hunger, the bravest might later come to know themselves. But first, the infant’s desire would be to know through smell and taste the being who brought them into the world—their mother.
But there was a big catch in her blessing. To enunciate the soul-name she lavished upon babies and young children proved disastrous for the named, for there were too many enemies (who had perhaps already lost their souls) who couldn’t wait to subvert the same ancient life source, the same energy that imbued flowers with color, season after season.
And though she prevailed over crops and fertility, Renenet’s abundance could not be obtained with prayers or even the most diligent of research. Rather, the benediction of her luck, the deepest avenue of her plenty depended wholly on one’s ability to fully appreciate that which they could never see or utter—the smell, the taste, the vast flavor of the unsayable.
Studying for Motherhood
While I disagree with the tone of Rosin’s Atlantic Monthly article, and the sensationalism of the title, I couldn’t agree more with her criticism of the culture of motherhood—and modern parenthood in the United States. In fact, I found myself applauding Rosin’s irreverence when it came to the marketing of motherhood.
“The problem is that we are used to being sold or buying into the right behavior,” points out Rosin.
When I was pregnant and my daughter was newborn I trolled books and websites (and I read them all because I wanted to be a good mother, right?) that ended up making me feel lonely, confused, panicked and dirty.
I did not feel excited about matching nursery furniture and/or stroller systems.
Natural parenting and “attachment” websites stressed me out.
Even thinking about the smell and lighting inside Babies-R-Us made me nauseous.
There was something so falsely clean about too many of the articles where noone ever seemed to have any faults (just one tiny naughty streak, please…). And motherhood itself seemed to be painted as the only destination rather than one of so many potential bridges and lessons that can make life richer and harder.
Back to Work
There are of course limits and downfalls to every shade of love. Show me the thinker who finds the heart an easy place to navigate and I’ll show you a liar or a fool.
Because, back in the parking lot as my milk is starting to “let down” on my first day back at work, my heart is not only in my mouth, but running wild now, all at once rushing in puppy-like circles from my eyes to my toes, and dragging along with it my thoughts, of deep instinctive, protective care and worry.
The place where a kind and lovely woman waved goodbye to me only moments ago no longer seems very friendly. I envision my baby girl ignored and forgotten in the corner crib of a thoroughly researched and interviewed daycare center. What if I forgot something? What if she needs me and I am not there for her? What if I can’t pump enough to feed her for tomorrow?
However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that at the very moment that I am musing about the fundamental nature of motherhood and remembering the crazy love that swept over me as I nursed my child at 3AM earlier that very morning, after I wipe away tears, I begin dropping the f-bomb without a blush. You see it’s not as easy as you think to construct and, ummm, employ an Aveda breast-pump charged from the lighter outlet in my car.
So I “pack up” and hands-over-heart, sprint towards the door, my “backpack” swishing behind me. When I finally get to the door of the nearest private conference room it is 100% locked. To open it, I will need permission from human resources. I assure you that I am beginning to care a whole lot less what anyone thinks of me.
But, I need to confess something else. After I track down HR, after using the pump for 15 strange minutes of relief, I begin to feel a deliciously childish “parents just rolled out of the driveway” kind of feeling.
I’m thinking about how wonderful (there is no other word) it will be to have my morning coffee and bagel with only minor interruptions. To chew, savor and swallow without balancing and/or bouncing a squirming loud baby against my bruised hips. And I’ll be honest, until lunch (when I will drive to the daycare center and breastfeed my beloved infant) I’m envisioning the deep satisfaction of focusing on a few delightfully single minded and emotionally predictable projects (oh calm lovely cubicle—without any trace of spitup!).
The Final Measure
I have a fantasy where I run into Hannah Rosin at my local New Jersey playground. I see myself flagging her down from across the swings and perhaps tripping over wood chips to say hello. Would she have all three of her kids with her? What would I say? How would I address my ambivalence about her piece? Would I be audacious enough to ask her to point out who on my playground might be the formula-hating, tight-jean, sunglass culprits?
I would certainly commend Rosin on her imitation of the ignominious breast pump aired in her podcast. Maybe, in the spirit of the moment, we’d conjure up the image of a new dad sneaking away from an important business meeting in order to use his breastpump.
After we cut through the pleasantries, I’d ask her about the surge of web traffic elicited by her article and podcast series. I’d wonder aloud if she really had to call her article, “The Case Against Breastfeeding”? Isn’t there a bit too much nuance contained within the piece (and certainly her podcasts) for such a declarative title? I mean I get it. I know that sensationalism sells magazines, but it seems an unfortunate choice.
At this point, my daughter will be shrieking and tugging on my arm for me to watch her on the monkey bars (“you always talk to everyone, mommy,” she would familiarly accuse) so I’d end in a rush as usual.
But I’d simply have to tell Rosin that her article’s final paragraph (which seemed very much a case for breastfeeding) really surprised me and made me think:
Breast-feeding does not belong in the realm of facts and hard numbers; it is much too intimate and elemental. It contains all of my awe about motherhood, and also my ambivalence. Right now, even part-time, it’s a strain. But I also know that this is probably my last chance to feel warm baby skin up against mine, and one day I will miss it.
My daughter is almost six and I’ve come to realize that it’s not only impossible but disrespectful to number crunch all of the health benefits that can be attributed (or not) to our breastfeeding days. Maybe I’d have gotten more sleep and been in a better mood, if I’d given her formula. Who knows? Maybe that would have been “better” for her.
I still don’t regret my choice. The way I see it we all have our smaller selves (show me the man or woman without opinions and snide remarks) and our larger vision and goals (for which we must rise to the occasion and immediately put all other matters aside) like greater support and respect for mothers and more compassion in general. When I remember that women and children make up the large majority of impoverished demographics all over the world, it strikes me that there is a deeper more expansive battle worth fighting here.
When I see my daughter still waiting for me to catch her on the monkey bars, I feel the same swollen tenderness that usually leaves me with my mouth open. The kind of feeling that at its’ most elevated comes with sharp unexpected claws. And provides deep but unseen unspoken nourishment in every cell.
In 2006, Kimberly Nagy founded Wild River Review with Joy E. Stocke; and in 2009, they founded Wild River Consulting & Publishing, LLC. With more than twenty years in the field of publishing, Nagy specializes in market outreach and digital media strategies as well as crafting timeless articles and interviews. She edits many of the writers who appear in the pages of Wild River Review, as well as clients from around the world.
Kimberly Nagy is a poet, professional writer, and dedicated reader who has interviewed a number of leading thinkers, including Academy-Award winning filmmaker, Pamela Tanner Boll, MacArthur Genius Award-winning Edwidge Danticat, historian James McPherson, playwright Emily Mann, biologist and novelist, Sunetra Gupta and philosopher Alain de Botton.
Nagy is an author, editor and professional storyteller. She received her BA in history at Rider University where she was influenced by professors who stressed works of literature alongside dates and historical facts–as well as the importance of including the perspectives of women and minorities in the historical record. During a period in which she fell in love with writing and research, Nagy wrote an award-winning paper about the suppression of free speech during World War I, and which featured early 20th century feminist and civil rights leader, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.
Nagy continued her graduate studies at University of Connecticut, Storrs, where she studied with Dr. Karen Kupperman, an expert in early contact between Native Americans and the first European settlers. Nagy wrote her Masters thesis, focusing on the work of the first woman to be accepted into the Connecticut Historical Society as well as literary descriptions of Native Americans in Connecticut during the 19th century. Nagy has extensive background and interest in anthropological, oral history and cultural research.
After graduate school, Nagy applied her academic expertise to a career in publishing, in which she worked for two of the world’s foremost publishers—Princeton University Press and W.W. Norton—as well as at Thomson, Institutional Investor Magazine, Routledge UK, and Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic.
Kimberly Nagy in this Edition
AIRMAIL – LETTERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
AIRMAIL – VOICE FROM SYRIA
ARTS – ART
ARTS – FILM REVIEWS
ARTS – MUSIC
ARTS – PHOTOGRAPHY
The Triple Goddess Trials: Fire in the Head: Brigit’s Mysterious Spark
The Triple Goddess Trials: Introduction
The Triple Goddess Trials – Meeting Virginia Woolf at the Strand
The Triple Goddess Trials: Me and Medusa
The Triple Goddess Trials: Aphrodite and the Lightbulb Factory
The Triple Goddess Trials: Goddess of Milk and Honey
The Triple Goddess Trials: Kali’s Ancient Love Song
ASHLEY – Renee Ashley: A Voice Answering a Voice
BELLI – Giocanda Belli – The Page is My Home
BOLL – Pamela Tanner Boll: Dangerous Women: An Interview with Academy Award Winner Pamela Tanner Boll
DANTICAT – Create Dangerously- A Conversation with Edwidge Danticat
CHARBONNEAU – A Cruise Along the Inside Track: With Le Mobile’s Sound Recording Legend Guy Charbonneau
de BOTTON – The Art of Connection: A Conversation with Alain de Botton
GUPTA – Suneptra Gupta – The Elements of Style: The Novelist and Biologist Discusses Metaphor and Science
HANDAL – Nathalie Handal – Love and Strange Horses
KHWAJA – Waqas Khwaja: What a Difference a Word Makes
MAURO: New World Monkeys: An Interview with Nancy Mauro
MORGANSing, Live, & Love Like You Mean It: An Interview with Bertha Morgan
MOSS – Practical Mystic–Robert Moss: On Book Families, Jung and How Dreams Can Save Your Soul
OGLINE – BEN FRANKLIN.COM: Author & Illustrator Tim Ogline explains why Ben Franklin would be a technology evangelist today
OLSEN – Greg Olsen – Reaching for the Stars: Scientist, Entrepreneur and Space Traveler
PALYA – Beata Palya – The Secret World of Songs
SCHIMMEL – Moonlight Science: A Conversation with Molecular Biologist and Entrepreneur, Paul Schimmel
SHORS – Journey into the Male & Female Brain: An Interview with Tracey Shors
von MOLTKE and SIMMS – Dorothy von Moltke and Cliff Simms: Why Independent Bookstores Matter, Part I
WARD – On the Rocks: Global Warming and the Rock and Fossil Record – An Interview with Peter Ward, Part One, and
On the Rocks: Global Warming and the Rock and Fossil Record – An Interview with Peter Ward, Part Two
WILKES – Labor of Love: An Interview With Architect Kevin Wilkes
LITERATURE – MEMOIR
LITERATURE – POETRY
LIVE FROM THE NYPL
Fountain of Curiosity: Paul Holdengraber on Attention, Tension and Stretching the Limits of Conversation at the New York Public Library
The New York Public Library at 100: From the Stacks to the Streets
Paul Holdengraber: The Afterlife of Conversation
That Email Changed My Life: Rolex Arts Initiative. Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet Tracy K. Smith Celebrates Rolex Arts Initiative
First Editions / Second Thoughts — Defending Writers: PEN and Christie’s Raise One Million Dollars to Support Freedom of Expression
ON AFRICA: May 4 to May 10 — Behind the Scenes with Director Jakab Orsos: Co-curated by Award-Winning Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Page is My Home: Giaconda Belli – Nicaraguan Poet, Writer and Public Intellectual
Georgian Writer David Dephy’s Second Skin
The Power of Conversation: David Grossman and Nadine Gordimer – The Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture
NEW FROM WILD RIVER BOOKS – Brief Eulogies at Roadside Shrines
Daring Collaborations: Rolex and LIVE from the NYPL at the New York Public Library
Wild River Books Announces the Stoutsburg Cemetery Project: The Untold Stories of an African American Burial Ground in New Jersey
Wild River Books: Surprise Encounters by Scott McVay
Wild River Review and Minerva’s Bed & Breakfast Presents – “BITTER” Writing in a Weekend: How to Write About the Things We Can’t Change
ALLEN – Quarks, Parks, and Science in Everyday Life: Filmmaker Chris Allen’s Documentary Where Art Meets Science in a Vacant Lot
HOLT – Rush Holt: An Interview with Rush Holt
MANN – Boundless Theater: An Interview with Emily Mann
Keeping Time: A Conversation with Historian James McPherson