Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
By Roanna Rosewood, an excerpt
“This book needs to be read by pregnant or to-be pregnant women, to-be fathers, midwives, nurses, hospital administrators and, most especially, by doctors.” Dr. Marsden Wagner, former director of Women’s and Children’s Health at the World Health Organization.
With parenthood comes a lifetime membership to the parent’s club. As part of the club, I can immediately, without needing reason, strike up a conversation with any member. “How old is your son?” “Ohhh boy, look at him crawl!” “How do you get him to eat yams? Mine doesn’t like yams.” It’s insta-friendship. Where before I thought parents were the odd ones, now I realize that non-parents are the ones who just don’t get it. They can’t. There is no way to understand how all-consuming and identity-changing being a parent is without becoming one.
Invited to join a small moms’ group, I find myself, for the first time in my life, spending time with a group of women. We meet once a week. While our children play together, we talk about parenting. It’s fun to compare notes and to watch Avram interact with other babies.
But these women don’t just talk about parenting; they also talk about womanhood and feelings. I do my best to divert the conversation back to something feeling-free: recipes, the weather, the merits versus dangers of binkies, the abundance and consistency of babies’ poop-anything but feelings. Sometimes this tactic works. Other times, they smile indulgently at me and, without missing a beat, continue their conversation.
When they talk about birth, my throat swells and my eyes burn. To hide my reaction, I find things in the other room to occupy my attention. I know that each of them birthed naturally. If I told them about Avram’s delivery, they would be kind and supportive. But I don’t want kind and supportive. I prefer tough and unconcerned.
When they talk about birth, my throat swells and my eyes burn. To hide my reaction, I find things in the other room to occupy my attention.
With this weekly women’s group, most of my social time is now spent with women, but I still relate more easily to men. Had I expected having a child would change that? Maybe. Would birthing naturally have changed it? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s naive to think that something as commonplace as birth would change the true north of my compass.
Breastfeeding does soften me, though. I hadn’t expected to like it at all. What could be fun about sitting around having one’s breast sucked? In a word: oxytocin. It pumps through my system as Avram pumps milk from me. Ferocious at first, he works to get the milk flowing. Once it does, everything else fades away; there is only the two of us. He looks into my eyes, moaning “mmmmmm” in satisfaction. Doped with love, we are as high as two stoners on a binge, delighted to do nothing but explore each other. He ever so gently touches my face, investigating my mouth with his fingers. I caress him back, ruffling his unbelievably soft hair, watching the roundness of his cheek as it pumps my milk into his body. This is the best.
I hadn’t thought much about breasts until now. They had been average-sized oranges that willingly flopped along with me without comment. Now heavy, melon-sized protrusions, each one bigger than Avram’s head, they have their own agenda. To start with, they leak. I might glance down while ringing a customer up on the register to see two round wet spots on my shirt. This can sometimes be prevented by pressing hard into my nipples with my palms – a maneuver that becomes so habitual that only when I receive a strange look do I remember the grocery store isn’t the best place to grope myself. And when my breasts tingle – look out, I need to nurse now! There is no stopping the tingle flow. I drop whatever I’m doing and head home to Avram, who, across town, like magic, started fussing the moment the tingling began.
Ben’s parents come to visit. When my father-in-law, seated on our couch in our living room, asks of our nursing, “Can’t you do that somewhere else?” I half stand to leave the group conversation and nurse in another room. But the cover of my mother-in-law’s glossy fashion magazine, lying on the coffee table, offers reason to pause. A woman is on the front. Her lips pout, her eyes have a dopey expression, and her breasts are more exposed by her minimalist top than mine are while nursing. Why should the sexualized breasts displayed everywhere in this culture, from beer ads to magazine covers, be acceptable while mine, feeding my son with the best nourishment in the world, are hidden away?
Ben’s parents come to visit. When my father-in-law, seated on our couch in our living room, asks of our nursing, “Can’t you do that somewhere else?” I half stand to leave the group conversation and nurse in another room. But the cover of my mother-in-law’s glossy fashion magazine, lying on the coffee table, offers reason to pause.
Deciding that other peoples’ discomfort is not my problem, I respond: “Perhaps you’d prefer to focus on the breasts in that magazine while I nurse.” In my defense, I say it sweetly. In his, he leaves the room without further protest.
Until this exchange, I had never been much of an exhibitionist. Now I see that my breasts are more than entertainment for Ben; I recognize them for what they are: powerful super food makers. Where I used to modestly cover them, now, regardless of my surroundings – airport, restaurant, park, or grocery store – when Avram is hungry, I feed him openly.
Why, even though it’s widely accepted that “breast is best,” are bottles still the norm? Determined to normalize breastfeeding, as part of my personal protest I walk up to strangers, Avram contentedly nursing in my arms, to ask them random questions: “Excuse me, do you have the time?” “Any idea where a grocery store is?”
I watch as they struggle to contain their reaction, to not let their eyes drift to my exposed breast. I don’t do it to make them uncomfortable. I do it because I want to live in a world where women and their babies are not ostracized to bathrooms to nurse every two hours.
In exquisite detail, Roanna holds nothing back in this powerful birth memoir, plunging the reader deep into the intimacy of this ancient rite of passage. A book that will bring you to tears—from sadness and joy—often on the very same page. Part memoir, part manifesto, this is a must read for anyone who has given birth, will give birth, or who loves someone who will give birth.