At my daughters request I nurse a rubber horse every night before bed. I also nurse three dolls, a tiny Elmo puppet and a plastic Big Bird as part of our regular bedtime ritual. On other occasions I have been asked to nurse a fork, a poker chip, a salt shaker, a tiny statue of The Buddha, a slightly larger statue of  The Buddha and a pretend baby bottle (very meta). I have obliged every request. I have nursed Sage on the Subway, while walking through Time Square, in a moving car while still belted into my seatbelt, on playgrounds throughout the country, at a Four H fair (Sage got inspired by watching a pig nurse her piglets), while puppeteering for a show to be aired on national television, in taxi cabs, telephone booths, dressing rooms, moving escalators, and bathtubs. My daughter cries “Boobie! Boobie!” and my tits are out.

When Sage was eighteen months my husband and I decided that we were going to institute a no nursing throughout the night policy. It had simply gotten out of hand and we needed to reclaim the nights.  Instead of a gentle phasing out we decided to go cold turkey. She’d wake up and cry for boobie, we’d rub her back and sing to her and gently whisper “no boobie till morning.” She’d cry louder, we’d sing louder and then slowly, sleeplessly morning would arrive.  After three days of this Sage had had enough. She turned to me at first morning light and said with the angriest look I’d ever seen on her, “I kick you in the eyes, I kick you in the head, I kick you in the feet, I kick you in the mouth.” Then she rolled over defiantly giving me her back. The next night I caved. I nursed her numerous times; I just needed sleep. That morning she woke up and beamed, “Happy Birthday Boobie!” The boobies were back!

When we first brought Sage home from the hospital I would have thought these nursing tales to be utterly impossible.  Every time she nursed, I bled, I screamed. I told everyone that nursing was far more painful than labor; and it was. I cried constantly about it, I met with lactation consultant after lactation consultant. I soaked my nipples in every cooking oil known to man. People would call to congratulate me on the baby and I would just bust out sobbing about how much my boobs hurt. I felt like right out of the gate I was a complete failure as a mom. I could not even provide the most basic of things. In my birthing class they talked about the importance of those early days of nursing, they warned us that this is where bonding began. They showed us videos about how the baby would just shoot right out of the uterus and then begin crawling his way up the mother’s stomach till he found her breasts. He’d root around, basically blind, until he found the nipple. Then he’d nurse and the music would swell. They told us about how the areola became almost black at childbirth. They said that this was so the baby could find the breast right away. “You were born to nurse,” they told us. “Biology is on your side”! So how was I supposed to feel when after several weeks of trying I thought I was going to need a morphine drip if I was ever going to be able to nourish my child.

I called my mother hourly. She swore that around six weeks the pain would just shut off like a switch. She swore it would get better. She swore that she went through the exact same thing. I wanted to tell her to fuck off, but I was usually crying too hard to get the words out.  I hated anyone who had words of encouragement, anyone who had nothing to say on the subject and anyone in-between.  At one point I actually had a friend over who was the mother of two and a nursing rock star. I took my shirt off undid my nursing bra, took out my nipple, put my daughter in my lap and said, “Don’t speak. Just take my boob and put it in her mouth the way it is supposed to go. I pointed to a diagram in my breastfeeding book and said, “Make it look like this!”

Despite my many attempts nothing worked. Then one day, about two months AFTER my mother said it would happen, the pain was gone. She was right, sort of. I became suddenly brave, nursing on my side, nursing with the light off, nursing without some sort of latch diagram open on the table. It was, as my mother had promised, magical.