My oldest son was born in a regional hospital in a North West Massachusetts mill town, now a hub of modern art, but then the very poor neighbor of the picture-postcard perfect college town where we lived.
My late husband Peter and I had moved to the college town the year before. He loved it, and I saw myself edging towards an institution.
When Jacob was born, I hadn’t made friends my own age (26), though that would change a few months later when I met Mimi. Mimi’s husband, like mine, was a junior professor and she, like me, was a fish out of water with a new baby. Our two families fell into each other’s arms and remained locked in a loving embrace until, a few years later, we departed for Cambridge, England and they returned to LA, Mimi’s hometown.
An early manifestation of the bond between Mimi and me was our attitude to the maternity unit in which we’d each given birth. Like me, Mimi had been drawn on the pre-natal tour to what turned out to be the room for emergency deliveries, a sea of emerald-green tiles with chrome fixtures and flashing monitors. We both recoiled from the hospital’s pride and joy, a newly installed home birth room. As Mimi put it, it looked like home if you lived in a Howard Johnson’s Motel.
Jacob was born weighing 8.4lb. At first, the nursing went smoothly. He knew what to do and so did I. But then my milk came in. And it kept on coming. And coming. I felt like the sorcerer’s apprentice. Jacob would latch hungrily onto my breast. A jet of milk would shoot out. He’d pull away frustrated, choking and crying. I was beside myself.
This went on for a few weeks that felt like eternity. I tried to get advice – from the woman who’d run our pre-natal classes, and from new mothers in the mother-and-baby group I’d joined. But no-one seemed to take me seriously. Oh. You have too much milk…
So I took matters into my own hands. Literally. Before every feed, I went into the bathroom, stood in the shower, pulled out my breasts from my ugly, stretchy white nursing bra ‘embroidered’ with little flowers, squeezed very gently and sprayed. Hallelujah. It’s raining milk.
We’d had the bathrooms in our mock-colonial – an architectural style that absolutely doesn’t speak to me – house renovated. I’d gone over the top to compensate for the rest of the house, for all the other toy-town houses on our street.
The en-suite in our bedroom had veined terracotta marble on the floor and, on the walls, large cobalt blue hand-painted tiles with visible brush strokes. When I was awake enough to focus, I’d take aim – at a tiny white spot the painter had missed, a place where the brush tip had left a clear trace, or an especially intense patch of blue. And then I’d watch my squandered milk dribbling down the walls. My own personal shooting range.
I felt guilty, irresponsible, even deviant. But I’d solved the problem. Soon, Jacob was bigger, hungrier. Maybe my milk supply balanced out. Either way, I stopped shooting up in the bathroom between feeds. Life moved on.