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Got Milk?

As told to Riva Pomerantz

It took twelve years to tell this story. Twelve years of triumph and defeat, of ecstasy and misery, of tears and laughter and throwing up my hands in dismay only to clap them together in joyous applause. Twelve years of struggling to nurse my babies.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Nursing was the most natural thing in the world, said the High Priestess of
Nursing at the classes I eagerly attended while expecting my firstborn. It
provided the most wonderful food for babies, containing the perfect blend of
proteins, fats, and nutrients. There were, of course, (and here her voice
dropped malevolently) those women who selfishly threw back G-d’s gift
and refused to nurse their infants. But we smiling, nodding, mothers-to-be,
sitting in a sweaty room in Jerusalem,
we would surely do the right thing and nurse our babies, day and
night, for as long as they wanted.

“I nurse mine ’till they’re three years old!” she announced,
smiling gleefully. “They love it!”

We all clapped.

I listened to each of the six in-depth classes with rapt
attention, took copious notes, and duly held the limp ragdoll during practice
exercises. If mothers were neatly divided into two camps, there was no doubt I
would definitely be etched in the good leagues. I’d be a natural, a shining
star among the nursing elite. In my mind’s eye I could see the flocks of
novices who would come to drink deeply from my fount of experience as I
demonstrated a perfect football hold.

When my baby finally arrived, the midwife could barely
suction out her airways before I demanded she be brought to me. Everyone knows
that nursing in the delivery room is sacrosanct and the seconds were ticking
away. How else would we get off to a good start? Memories of my teacher, with
her serene voice and wispy, graying hair, rose up in me as I felt a lump in my

“I’m giving my baby the biggest gift,” I croaked to my
husband who had fallen asleep. And right from the start, I loved every minute.

Every hour. Every day. My goodness, every millisecond
this baby was nursing around the clock! I found myself parked in my rocking
chair, duly doling out G-d’s gift to Infantkind. But she was crying. Crying!
How could she possibly be crying after nursing 24/7? Wasn’t she supposed to be
deliriously happy from that perfect blend of proteins, fats, and nutrients,
like those chubby cherubs that adorned the walls of that over-heated nursing

It had to be gas. The doctor suggested a stomach aid,
strawberry flavored. My daughter ate it up. And she cried more. I nursed her
again. She continued to cry. Something was wrong. Hadn’t we learned there were
supposed to be stretches between feedings? Something like two hours? Three
hours? We weren’t even going ten minutes before she was hungry again. I
felt that squirming, gnawing little pit of fear in the bottom of my stomach,
but I staunchly stamped it down. I would be a prize nurser, just like
Nature intended. I would never subject my baby to anything other than
pure, unadulterated mother’s milk.

I drank malt beer. I took natural remedies. I ate an entire
package of alfalfa sprouts and you could smell the fenugreek exuding from my
pores a mile away. But my baby still cried, lapping up that colic remedy with
pathetic abandon. We crinkled plastic bags to distract her. We walked her for
miles in her stroller. We sang to her, we shook rattles in her face, and we
tickled her toes.

“I think she’s hungry,” my husband said, avoiding my eyes.
Deep down, I was scared he was right.

My pride finally toppled and I went to a lactation
consultant. Her latch was good. Her suck was excellent. So what was wrong? No
one was quite sure.

Again, I tramped to the doctor and wearily poured out my
heart. My baby had some mysterious, terrible illness. She cried all day and all
night. It must be digestive issues—we hadn’t used up more than a package of
diapers yet and she was already six weeks old! “Maybe an ear infection?” I
meekly suggested. The doctor eyed me coldly.

“Your baby is starving,” he said, pointing an accusing
finger. “Look at her — she’s skin and bones!”

I gasped. My baby? Starving?

“But doctor, I’m nursing her!” I cried. “Every minute of
every day!”

“Well, apparently, it’s not working,” he said, trying to be
a little gentler. “She’s terribly underweight.

“Don’t sacrifice your child on the altar of nursing,” he
intoned. “It’s irresponsible, unnecessary, and very dangerous.”


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