If you believe that breast milk rocks, then you need to know about Hathor the Cow Goddess, really you need to. Many of the comics are a bit on the snarky side – so if you think babies breastfeeding in public is wrong, you probably won’t find the comic very funny.
As of 1998, the year Sam was born, the World Health Organization recommendation on breast feeding was a minimum of 2 years. Sam grew fat and happy on my milk – his sensitive system could not handle solid food at first, so he thrived solely on breast milk until he was nearly a full year old. When he weaned at nearly 3 and we baked a cake to celebrate, he threw his arms in the air and declared “We’re Weaned!” When I first saw the Hathor comics I was still breastfeeding Martin, and they really hit the spot. Martin was a champion nurser, and since I wore him in a sling until he was basically too heavy for me to carry, we nursed in all kinds of locations, including once while shopping at the hardware store – the clerk assisting me with nuts and bolts didn’t even notice.
Other than images of the Virgin Mary, I think that I may actually have been in high school the first time I saw a woman nurse her baby. Luckily I witnessed many animals caring for and nursing their young. I also had examples of artificial feeding. Each winter we received a box of “bum” lambs from my grandparent’s farm into our care. Bum lambs are the unlucky ones to be born smallest of a set of triplets or quadruplets. Sheep, like humans only have 2 teats, and it is difficult for them to nurse more than 2 lambs. The “extras” are bottle fed. I have tasted sheep formula, and I have had sheep milk – and I am here to tell you that Formula is NOT a substitute for milk.
I don’t remember how old I was the first time I witnessed birth. It was on the landing of the basement stairs – the smells of old stones and sprouting potatoes permeated the space. On a bit of burlap potato sacking the mama cat pushed forth her wet blind babies, licked the afterbirth from their fur, and soon had them nursing. I was spellbound. In fact, throughout my childhood I was fascinated by the nursing habits of our various animals, particularly the willingness of some of the mothers to nurse any baby in need, basically acting as wet-nurses at times. Milk as kindness.
The fact that I would someday give birth and be able to nurse my babies was knowledge that insulated me from the misogyny experienced in childhood. Whenever a “stupid” boy would try the sneering taunt, “You’re Just a girl!” my reply was always, “Yeah, well girls can Have babies and Nurse them.” For me that was the end of the argument. Seeing all those kittens, puppies and various farm animals give birth and raise babies gave me the bone deep knowledge that childbirth and nursing are miraculous super powers – and I had them.
Some years ago I had a dream in which a mind-control turtle was taking over the town. I along with my friend, Shannon, were able to defuse the power of the turtle, and save the world, simply by baring our breasts. Obviously the mighty power of my breasts is alive in my subconscious.
Much of my solo play as a child revolved around birth – however many of my stuffed animals I could fit under my shirt, would became my babies of the day. At age eighteen, after reading Spiritual Midwifery, I was enamored with the idea of being a midwife – until I realized no one in their right mind would want a teenager delivering their baby. (Thinking this would lead to me being unemployed until I reached a more reasonable age, I became a baker instead. Which is a totally different path, except for the sleep deprivation.) At 28, fulfilling the mandate of my childhood play, I transitioned from maiden to mother by giving birth at home to my first son. Now at 43, my days of using my nursing superpower are long over – my beautiful boys are 11, and 15 – and I am transitioning from Mother to Crone 10 years early.
In a few weeks time I will have my right breast removed to silence the cancer-ing that has been singing its riotous discordant song within my cells. Mastectomy. The terrible word I heard first spoken from the lips of the young biopsy surgeon at the opening of the fearsome breast cancer boot camp week. I was slowly coming to terms with the thought of having cancer all through last summer. My intuition screamed louder and louder, until I finally went to the Doctor. By December a cancer diagnosis was not much of a surprise, but ridiculously the stark reality of a mastectomy was.
I have been grateful that my situation required neoadjuvant chemo treatments. (Neoadjuvant – chemo before surgery, rather than adjuvant- chemo after surgery.) The months have given me time to come to terms with losing my superpowers, and to make decisions about reconstruction. One thought that comes to me when I look at my tall handsome boys is that my breast lives on in their strong bones and teeth, their intelligence, sense of humor, creativity and general good health. I am grateful that the cancer-ing did not take up dancing in an organ of more critical current use, such as my brain or liver. I have decided not to seek reconstruction – instead I look forward to getting my first tattoo when the scars are healed in a year or two.
When I was a young girl, what it meant to be a woman was clear: have babies and nurse them. As an adult I had to create a wider definition. None of my 4 beautiful older sisters had children, so obviously being a woman is not limited to those who procreate. Now as I face the loss of my breast I find myself questioning my definitions of the feminine again. I am not sure what definition I will hold in a year, in ten years or in forty years. Perhaps the super powers that will come from being part of the Amazon tribe will be amazing. Perhaps the definition most useful to be working on right now is what it means to be most fully a Human Being.
On April 1st I will have my last chemo treatment – and my time to process the upcoming mastectomy will begin to end. I move forward in these last few weeks trying to be conscious of how my body moves, trying to say goodbye to myself as I once was. Trying to prepare for the next step in my journey. I call on Hathor to see me through, and if any mind control turtles show up, I will have to rely on some young mother to step forward and save the day.