Come on, little bunny. Here we go. Want some milk? Let’s cuddle and drink, OK, Tessie?”
I lay next to my 5-month-old daughter, cooing to her, murmuring softly, gently coaxing her to nurse. Ever since the cursed day two months earlier when I had let her try a bottle, she had no time for this breast nonsense. They call it “nipple confusion,” but she wasn’t confused. She was 100 percent certain that she only wanted bottles.
I hadn’t expected this. I had only been worried that she’d never take a bottle, because that’s what the books warned about, and I was going back to work soon. Now her enthusiasm for her new mother—the little plastic container mother—was breaking my heart. I was trying so hard to win her back; I set the stage for the seduction each feeding. The lights were low, the music was soft and I had a pillow to support my arm so I wouldn’t jostle her too much. I visualized waterfalls and oil gushers to get the milk flowing. I had recently taken to hiding a bottle of breast milk, nearby but out of her sight, before breastfeeding attempts, just in case. I’d coax her for a minute or two, and if I couldn’t get her to nurse, she’d still get fed quickly. Sometimes she gave in to my breast appeal, and I’d practically weep with gratitude as she nursed fretfully.
What was so great about that bottle? I had plenty of milk, the perfect temperature, in a soft, malleable container; and better yet, I loved her. Love and food, in one package. I stroked her skin. She kept her eyes averted. Then, without warning, my Mother’s Instinct kicked in. That magic power that surpasses the doctor’s advice, the friend’s suggestion, the grandmother’s wisdom. In one stunning flash, I got it.
“Do you want a bottle?” I whispered.
The reward was instantaneous. Her eyes flashed up to meet mine, her whole body wiggled with joy. Never breaking eye contact, she began to make little hooting sounds. For a moment, I was frozen in shock; she was communicating with me! And she knew the word “bottle!” And I could give it to her! It was right here, hiding under the bed!
I scrambled to get the beloved bottle, happily jostling her. As she contentedly gulped her breakfast in my arms, I remained shocked; shocked that she recognized the word “bottle,” that she must have wanted it so badly … and most of all, shocked that it took me so long to listen to her.
I never tried to nurse her again. I continued to pump breast milk for her bottles for five more months—because, well, it’s hard to let go of the idea that breastfeeding is mothering. It’s hard to let go of a lot of ideas about mothering. I really wanted mothering to be all about giving everything you have in you to your child, because that I can do. It was hard to learn that mothering also is about letting another person have her say ... even if what she’s saying is that she doesn’t want everything you have in you.