It Takes a Village

In Meg Wolitzer’s brilliant novel, The Ten Year Nap, there’s a scene where a bunch of NYC mothers are gathered in a cafe.  One leaves her baby with the others for a moment, and the baby starts crying.  To calm the baby down, the mother holding the baby impulsively opens her shirt and starts nursing to the horror of the other mothers.  Which is sort of like what happened today.

After my daughter’s open class at the deaf school, there was a meeting.  There are currently three nursing mothers in the elementary school.  One came in with two babies – her own, in a sling, and another mother’s, on her hip.  Apparently, the grandfather was supposed to be looking after the second baby while her mother was at work, but he ditched the baby with the sling mother.  The baby started crying.  She looked at me for awhile, but no matter who she looked at, she cried.  I don’t think it was me this time.

No one seemed to know when the baby’s mother would be back.  Some other mothers changed her diaper and tried to spoon feed her, but she wouldn’t stop crying.  Finally, the mother with the sling handed her own baby over to another mother and nursed the crying baby.

Perhaps I am outing myself here as a goody-goody Midwestern conservative mom, but I have to say that I was shocked.  The other mothers went on about the power of breast milk (the baby did finally calm down after that) and seemed totally nonplussed.  Even the baby’s real mother, when she finally showed up, seemed completely unphased by the whole thing.

Me, I would have been livid.

10 thoughts on “It Takes a Village

  1. last spring we were visiting friends when sasha had an accident. i was nursing tommy when it happened. he fell asleep just after and then yoshi and i took sasha to the hospital. it was a holiday so we waited a long long time. in the meantime, tommy woke up crying. friends tried to get him to stop, but he didn’t until one nursed him (she had a daughter about a month older). it didn’t bother me at all. *shrug*

    it would be odd if some stranger started nursing one of my babies, though.

  2. OMG- I am shocked.

    I also think this is totally unacceptable and I would of been pissed off- that said, I suppose if the mother of the baby was okay with it then good for her.

  3. Hmmmm, what would have made you angry?

    For me it’s a catch 22 isn’t it? I mean you don’t want your baby screaming and fretting but you don’t want someone else’s diet going into your baby either. I think if I knew the woman and knew that she was careful about her diet while breastfeeding I would be a bit grossed out but ok with it.

    I would have been livid at grandpa!

  4. Hmm. I don’t know how I would have reacted. It is definitely outside my comfort zone, but it’s more of an emotional reaction (for me) than one based on logic. Definitely not something I would agree to on a regular basis, but as a one-time situation like you described, I might be okay with it. I wouldn’t be thrilled, but I don’t think I would be angry, either.

  5. I thought that scene in the Wolitzer novel was incredibly powerful and touched on all sorts of taboo issues in the world of motherhood. My primary reaction, however, is this: what’s all the big deal about a fussing baby? Increasingly in our culture we seem to feel the need to “do” something. My child cried nonstop whether she was being nursed or not. I became a pro at pushing the stroller back and forth while looking at her purple face. She stopped when she stopped, not a moment before or afterwards, and sometimes I even had to just walk away.

  6. Hmmm. My daughter is adopted. My very good friend had a baby two months earlier. She and her husband knew of the benefits of mother’s milk for immunities for babies. Our baby was pretty small – according to US standards. My friend had lots of milk, so pumped a little bit every day and froze it for us to give some to our baby. I was very thankful to them. However, one time she said that it was getting hard to pump, and she wished she could just nurse our baby. We live too far apart for that, and, perhaps because I am a mom by adoption, with some insecurities that go with that, didn’t want our baby to have that kind of intimate experience with someone other than us. Does that make sense?

  7. When my children were in the NICU, I had to express milk all the time, and toward the end of their stay, I wasn’t producing enough, so they were given somebody else’s stored breast milk, with my permission.

    But nursing is a different matter, and I think that nursing another woman’s baby without her consent oversteps boundaries. First, there is the intimacy factor. Then, there is the issue of hygiene. This woman is nursing her own baby, too, so it’s sort of like letting another baby drink from your own’s bottle, right? As the mother of micro-preemies, I was very conscious of germs – and still am, to a degree. And then, you don’t know what the mother is eating or drinking. And then maybe the baby was on some sort of nursing schedule, which would have been thrown off by having another mother feed her.

    I’m sufficiently pissed off when someone tries to give my kids a snack at the playground without asking me!

    And it’s not like the baby had been abandoned. Everyone knew her mother would be along shortly.

    When I thought about the incident later, I realized that some of the Japanese mothers might have been appalled, but being Japanese they might have kept it to themselves.

  8. Well, Suzanne, you also would not have put your kids in a situation where they were being taken care of by a third-hand babysitter to start with. THAT is the sort of thing that drives me nuts, but some mothers are completely OK with it.

  9. this certainly brings up a lot of questions and feelings. if we had an understanding of the relationship between the mother and the nurser, i think that would clear a lot up. please let us know if you discover that.

    having said that, if the friends i’ve known, and shared pregnancy time with did that for my infants in a pinch, i would be grateful; a stranger, a little weirded out. and i have to agree with special needs mom. how long was the baby upset? how much did it interfere with what was going on? would the child have survived and possibly cried to sleep without it? was mom due in momentarily? in the end, did she have a problem with it, regardless of the shock of bystanders.

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