Wednesday, June 11, 2014
A Milch Maid: Being Food
Nursing is pretty cool, like those dreams where you finally discover your latent magical powers. I've read enough fantasy novels that I have a lot of those dreams. Like this, say:
Now spin a silver thread of milk / And out of it a baby knit. / Then take the milken thread again / And mend your broken heart with it.
It's shimmeringly magical to watch my milk transform into a new person, a beautiful little sprout-in-the-snow, a bright-throated piper, up to his eyebrows in eyelashes. And how delightful that this small wild creature needs me! I am his habitat, I am the twig this bird has lit upon, and, indeed, this is the milk he came expecting.
There is the grunt work, though, fueling the magic. And "fuel" really is how I think about food these days. Staying fed is heavy work. It feels like I am always running out, and when I get something, I've barely cleared the dishes before there it is again: I'm hungry. If my own kitchen feels inadequate, restaurants are mostly hopeless. Such silly little morsels in the middles of big plates. Such tiny dabs of cheese on those greens. Moderation, mindfulness, kale salad--lols.
It's like this. I gained 25 pounds gestating. Then I lost 40 lactating, leaving me lighter than I have ever been at my adult height, and technically underweight. And it's the especially nice fat that's gone--the smoothing subcutaneous fat, the curvy gluteofemoral fat. I'm sharp, fibrous, aged. My baby likes chewing on my collarbones. Underwires scrape my ribs. Nothing is wrong--I checked, twice--and it does make sense. Nursing, especially nighttime nursing, suppresses estrogen and the subcutaneous fat it encourages. Then consider that I walk everywhere with a 25-pound weight on my back, a 25-pound weight who periodically siphons calories directly from my dwindling body, and it's easy to see how I wound up like this.
But I am eating like I have never eaten before. Every morning it's three eggs and a bowlful of porridge with heavy cream and maple syrup, dark chocolate, tea with more cream. I eat pot roasts and cheesecakes, hash browns fried in butter, pupusas under sour cream, sauerkraut, salsa, avocado. Salmon and miso, cornbread and blueberry jam, baked oysters, noodle-y bowls of beef tendon pho, steak, mashed potatoes, gravy. Heaping skillets of sautéed leeks and rutabagas, kettles of buttered kale, roasted squash, creamed turnips, lasagna. If it doesn't overflow my dinner plate, it's a garnish, not a salad.
That all sounds pretty good, but I'm so hungry that it gets weird, too. Sticky whole dates stuffed with butter and rolled in coconut. Canned sardines and rice. Cheese rice. Cold rice with cream. There's this feeling I got postpartum, where I felt sort of homesick and seasick and lost. Sometimes, now, in that frantic hour before dinner, when my toddler does not want to play with his wooden fruit or rummage through the recycling bin or unroll the parchment paper and crinkle it all up, but only wants to be up on my hip and watching what I'm doing, which is dangerous and requires two hands and needs to be done so I can eat it, then I get a little wave of that homesick feeling and it doesn't go away until we've sat down and eaten a deep and extensive meal. With sauces and butters and all. I don't know why snacks stop working then. No matter how much cheese or almonds or leftover oats or buttered dates I eat, I'm lonely and adrift until I anchor my unfamiliar body with serious food. Then the evening gets its glow back.
I hope I don't sound like I'm complaining. It's sort of hard to talk about bodies without either complaining or pseudo-complaining. But in fact, my baby has transformed me into his environment--a strange, unfamiliar environment--and I feel awesome. I've never been stronger. When I go walking without the child on my back, I feel uncomfortably light, like there isn't enough friction. It's just not the body I'm used to, and not what I expected (and yes, I know--name of the game).
Let's be clear. It was hard, too. Milk production is triggered by progesterone withdrawal, and I really hate progesterone withdrawal in normal everyday circumstances, let alone withdrawal from the glorious pregnant quantities of progesterone, orders of magnitude higher than at any other point in life. So I cried a lot, and I also cried because my baby's latch wasn't great and I'll tell you all about what that feels like if you're ever curious. But the crying was over by six weeks thanks to my great midwife/IBCLC, plus happy chemicals like theobromine and caffeine. Ever since then, nursing has been one of the nicer and easier and more magical things I do as a mother.
The picture up top is a spoonful of cream I made. I hate pumping milk. I haven't done very much of it because my milk has excess lipase, an enzyme which breaks down fat and makes my stored milk taste like dish soap after a few hours. But the other day the child took ill and wasn't nursing much, so I had to pump for relief. I stashed the milk in the fridge in case I thought of something to do with it (I mean, it always starts tasting like soap and I always wind up chucking it, but still, I have to give it a chance).
Anyway, a downright shocking amount of cream rose to the top. As toddlers eat more solids, drink more water, and nurse less frequently, a mother's body adjusts the milk recipe to be richer and more satisfying. I knew this, but to see it? What a marvel. Think of all that magical buttery cream my child is drinking! No wonder that last night while nursing to sleep, he paused to tell me it was "yummy." We've got ice cream on tap.