men / without milk stains on their shirts

Last year at this time, I was nursing a two-week-old and trembling, tossing, turning with anxiety instead of sleeping. A friend sent me a poem by Kaitlin Hardy Shetler, who asks if Mary breastfed Jesus and struggled with a painful latch. My phone shows I screenshot it at 3:17 a.m.

3:17 a.m. is a time stamp familiar to those nursing newborns and grinding their teeth into the night guard they wear, familiar as well to those lying not sleeping nearby. I saved the poem because I felt it saved me.

Six hours later I took this photo:

It wasn’t the only milk stain photo I would take in those upended first weeks.

And yes, visits to a lactation consultant can help, but the reality of nursing can look very different than the paintings of a serene Madonna.

Did Mary have to configure concoctions of pillows?

Here’s the full poem, with link below:

sometimes I wonder
if Mary breastfed Jesus.
if she cried out when he bit her
or if she sobbed when he would not latch.

and sometimes I wonder
if this is all too vulgar
to ask in a church
full of men
without milk stains on their shirts
or coconut oil on their breasts
preaching from pulpits off limits to the Mother of God.

but then i think of feeding Jesus,
birthing Jesus,
the expulsion of blood
and smell of sweat,
the salt of a mother’s tears
onto the soft head of the Salt of the Earth,
feeling lonely
and tired
hungry
annoyed
overwhelmed
loving 

and i think,
if the vulgarity of birth is not
honestly preached
by men who carry power but not burden,
who carry privilege but not labor,
who carry authority but not submission,
then it should not be preached at all. 

because the real scandal of the Birth of God
lies in the cracked nipples of a
14 year old
and not in the sermons of ministers
who say women
are too delicate
to lead.

– Kaitlin Hardy Shetler

LIFE HACKS—BABY EDITION

  1. Read Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother. Then read it again.
  2. Listen to The Birth Hour podcast—it will make you marvel at the variety of labor stories, and the astonishing empowerment of birth!
  3. You don’t have to change a wet diaper in the middle of the night—just a poopy one. Our doula tried to tell us this, but we didn’t listen until our baby was like seven months. What a difference.
  4. Oh—get a doula.
  5. Take a trip with your newborn at 4 weeks, 8 weeks, even 12 weeks old—they’ll sleep almost all the time, and you can sightsee (albeit through sleep-hazed eyes).

  1. Don’t try to lose the last 10 lbs. of “baby weight” if you’re breastfeeding—the baby needs you to keep eating and drinking plenty so you can keep up the milk factory. Or to quote my friend, “Eat like a linebacker.”
  2. Tulip-hem/open-front nursing shirts from Motherhood Maternity will be your sole wardrobe for the next year. Sans bra.
  3. A midwife and a birthing tub can be your two new best friends. (The model of midwifery care was light-years beyond typical OB-GYN care. It was like the difference between lighting a candle & sinking into a couch…vs. napping on the divided seats at the airport.)
  4. Be Team Green! Don’t find out the sex of the baby in advance. The surprise at birth is 100% worth the agony of waiting. Plus, you won’t have to suffer through endless blue baby shower gifts, or endless pink.
  1. Don’t register for a changing table. Change the kid’s diaper on the floor. Stick a puppy pad under them and you’re good to go. You’ll feel the need to wash your hands like three different times by the end of each changing, and what will you do with the baby then? The floor prevents baby from…falling to the floor.
  2. Read Magda Gerber’s book Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect, or anything by Janet Lansbury—ditto Lansbury’s podcast Unruffled. You know all those things other parents do that annoy you? You don’t have to do them! It’s a miracle.
  3. Haakaa silicone breast pump! Lightweight, portable, perfect! You stick it on one breast while you’re nursing from the other. No cords, no batteries. You can score so many extra ounces this way—I stopped using a regular breast pump! But on that note:
  4. Elvie breast pump if you have to work outside the home! These cordless gals tuck into your bra and let you pump while driving, walking, or preaching (okay, I took them out for preaching, as they would have made my congregants wonder if I’d gotten implants—they are a tad large—and they light up like Fembots).
  5. Don’t give up on breastfeeding at 6 weeks when you want to, or 3 mos. when you want to. You’ll finally hit your stride by 6 mos., and then you can do hardcore things like nurse in the middle of a waterfall in the mountains of NC or on a chilly beach in Alaska:
  1. Write down, or do a voice memo of, all your memories of labor & birth before too much time goes by. Before any time goes by. In those bleary and weepy first few days, jot down whatever details come back to you—put them on your Notes app or in a journal, just somewhere you can access it at 2 p.m. or 2 a.m. These are unbelievably priceless.
  2. Yes to a maternity photo shoot (though you will be tired). Yes to labor/birth photos—ask your doula to take them. And yes to a newborn photo shoot (though you will be tired). 110% worth it.

  1. For those who want to keep some semblance of a spiritual practice amidst the new normal of chaos—open your holy book and set it on the table beside your nursing chair. Glance over now and again while nursing, and try to commit a verse to memory. (My current verse: “You have put gladness in my heart, / more than when grain and wine and oil increase” Psalm 4:7 BCP—so chosen to remind me to be GLAD!)
  2. They tell you to take Ibuprofen for the recovery pain, but hello? It makes you constipated! The last thing you need is a herculean effort to push anything else out down there.
  3. The cliché is true: It goes by too fast. Savor it.
  4. And finally, the real secret to happiness in your new life as a parent to the world’s most precious kiddo: Only have one.
  5. **edit** Had to add one more I just thought of. You don’t need to heat the milk. Or the formula. Or the purees. They will drink/eat it cold. Trust me.

currently listening:

birth-center-waterbirth

The Birth Hour podcast. It is a judgment-free zone. I marvel at how every single woman’s birth story is different. They’re different from other women and they’re different from child 1 to child 2, 3, and more.

Of course I have daydreams of how my own birth story would go. I picture being in the peaceful room of a birthing center, no IVs stuck in my arms or monitors strapped to my belly. I picture the baby being brought immediately to my chest (okay, if the cord is tugging, then maybe just my abdomen). Of course I hope for euphoria. Counting on those natural hormones….