30 Jan 2012


(originally published in 2010)

In the last few days, it’s got stuck in my head to write about Mother’s Milk. You see, milk is nature and whatever is of nature, holds a special place in our unconscious mind. I am a firm believer in psychoanalysis. And in Nature.

I remember being very proud when during my 8th month of pregnancy I discovered these tiny “miraculous” drops on my breasts. I felt I was ready to receive and take care of my baby, that in some way, we were both connected and that my body was in harmony with my desire and with Nature.

I am re-reading what I just wrote: baby, milk, Nature, woman, desire, mother.....

These are considered “explosive” materials  in psychoanalysis as well as the lived reality of many women....

During my pregnancy, I had attended La Leche League meetings, read articles online, was thoroughly informed of the “bad” formula milk, the “evil” paediatricians and the money hungry maternity hospitals that hinder support for breastfeeding and encourage mothers to give formula milk. I also knew of the trend of mothers my age to “go back” to Nature and give the good old breast.
I witnessed mothers -“experienced” ones- taking out the tit (the word breast is not in the least appropriate to begin to describe the image before my eyes) and offering it to a fully grown child while wearing a self-satisfied “I am now conquering the world” smile. I was also the confidant or better the recipient of stories of women who “could not” breastfeed, who saw “no reason to wake up at night” or who opted for formula since that was the best way for the child (actually a newborn) to “get used to a schedule” (?!).

Really, I didn’t care to judge or support. That came second. What came first was a realisation that was larger than psychoanalysis, nay larger than life.. I couldn’t help but notice that milk is actually MILK! It is a big deal and it arouses anxiety.
When it is our turn to give milk as mothers, we give it mixed with the milk we received or did not receive as children from our mothers..... Am I telling you something you didn’t know?

For me, milk (i.e breastfeeding), was a way not to “lose it” (my mind, not the milk) as I was faced with “swallowing”  a 10 day ordeal of having my first newborn being in the incubator away from me. A first time mother, a new empty hug.  Imagining my baby lying alone in the incubator while I was struggling with my hormones, my fantasies of motherhood, my instincts and my expectations, waiting for this half hour of visiting time each day. I saw him tubed and crinkled moving his arms and reaching for someone in a sterilized environment. I wanted to break, literally break everything like an anarchist on fire....
So yes, it was the milk that saved me from turning into a sociopath. Every 4 hours I expressed whatever little there was in the beginning and I filled small bottles for the small baby to eat when he could. I imagined that my milk was magical and healing and that it would save my baby from the indifferent routine rounds of the doctors. He would drink it and he would fill up with my love, and then he would know that he had come in this world to be held by real arms, warm skin brushing against his.

I had really “worked” hard to make my embrace and my arms real and present for him... And so, when I heard grandmothers and aunts and older women say, “the baby is hungry, is your milk enough?”, I said, “yes the baby is fine and he will eat what is there, and he can eat all the time he likes”. I soon discovered of course that this “privilege” of having to answer to the anxieties of older women within the family was not only mine, but was rather the rule (at least in Greece) most new mothers experienced. We are strange creatures, us women. We can go back and forth in time with ease...

Milk is thus a big case. The "incubator" baby is now 6 months old and I decided as a working mother to combine the usual breastfeeding with formula giving. It is characteristic that in Greece we call formula milk “the  foreign milk”. So I gave him a bit of the “foreign milk” lest he sleeps for more than 3 hours in a row (if he sleeps- I sleep!). My experience was an “eye opener”. I felt so useless, betrayed and cut off from him that I couldn’t believe my reaction!
I was lucky enough to have self-scrutiny in auto-pilot. I realised that there was a narcissistic part of me that was breastfed along with my baby: I felt powerful and needed, but in reality I needed to have this experience through breastfeeding, I was hooked on him as much as he was hooked on me (very normally on his side). I finally took on board the fact that the first of many separations to come was imminent. I had to let this part of me go, allowing my 6 month old baby, his first symbolic separation, his first step towards independence. I had to let go of this part of me and not burden him with my own needs.

This for my constitutes the real MILK.

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