Sometimes a nursing mother needs a good euphemism.
As my milk came in after the birth of my first child, so did a torrent of questions. My midwife, who’d been up all night helping me give birth, answered the first 200 or so with good humor. But when I asked her how I’d know when to wean my baby, then only an hour old, I could tell she thought I was getting ahead of myself.
“Oh, you’ll know.”
She rubbed her eyes, yawning. “I don’t know. When he embarrasses you by demanding it in a supermarket.”
“Asking to nurse? With spoken words?”
“Yup. So you better come up with a code word.” Then she picked up her birth bag and walked out the door, leaving my husband and me alone with our mysterious bundle. He stared back at us—blinking, flailing and looking about as ready for speech as the family cat.
Anyway, I wasn’t so sure I approved of code words. I’d read everything I could about parenting, and I knew the experts favored teaching kids the proper words for bodily parts and functions. Eager to comply, I decreed that there would be no “No. 1 and No. 2”. No down-theres or wee-wees or Johnsons. And no boobies. We were a modern family. We were sexually liberated. We could be lactationally liberated, too.
Sitting in another midwife’s office three weeks later, I lifted my shirt, looked boldly into my son’s eyes, and asked him if he would like to nurse.
“‘Breastfeed,’ actually” said midwife No. 2. “‘Nursing’ is a euphemism.”
“Well, a generalization, at best.”
I’m a writer. I guess I should have known that.
As the months passed and the gurgles my son made sounded more like words, my resolve faltered.
Finally, I caved. “But not boobies. Or milkies. Or anything ‘ees.’”
Then it came to me. “Jakey, say ‘mother’s milk.’”
We had our code word. It was a good thing, too: Not only did he breastfeed past the age of speech, but Jake nursed on into the age of humor, unlatching only to deliver the punch line of a knock-knock joke.
Our “momo” was such a perfect word. To the uninitiated, it was a mumble. “When we get home, we’ll momo…”
“Momo time, momo time, momomomomomo time …” He could yell it in a supermarket until he was blue in the face. Those midwives were uncanny smart.
But sometimes I wondered if it really mattered. I was pretty unflappable. Was I even capable of being embarrassed by a public breastfeeding reference?
I got my answer in my son’s fourth summer. We were sitting outside watching some teenagers skateboard. As the sun beat down, one of the boys pulled off his shirt and threw it to the curb. “Nice momos,” my son said.
“I see your momos.”
The boy smiled, a little puzzled.
Then he looked back at Jake. “Same to you, kid.”