Stella squirted breast milk into my chest and laughed. Right from the boob. She was like a wealthy Arab nation, more oil than it knew what to do with. She was Qatar. To think that only a couple weeks earlier her breasts were winter dry. And our baby boy--he was hungry. He was real hungry and had no problem showing it with raging tears and deafening cries.
Baby Mather was our first and, quite frankly, we didn't know a damn thing about rearing a kid. About breastfeeding and breast pumping, nipple blisters. The three-hour night class couldn't prepare you for real life.
"Well, there's no way I'm raising our child on Similac," Stella had said.
"Honey, all kids in this country are formula-fed," I told her. My wife was born in Italy, God bless her, where villages raised children. "We're a selfish people, but I was formula-fed and look how I turned out. It's the American way."
She quoted something about breast milk increasing the kid's immunity, boosting his IQ. My argument that her boobs might shrink afterwards was no match.
To be fair, the hospital nurses had hinted at the challenges that came with breastfeeding, but that didn't deter Stella. They told us, "To establish a successful breastfeeding relationship, a good latch is crucial."
When Stella and I were alone in the room I asked her, "What the hell is this latch everybody keeps talking about? Do I need to run out to Babies R Us?"
Shortly after that miracle of birth, May 30th, 3:52 A.M., during strong winds and heavy thunderstorms, there was my wife with little Mather against her, skin to skin. My beautiful wife--all of 110 pounds pre-pregnancy, all stomach at nine months--determined to accomplish "The Latch."
A burly woman with a strong chin referred to only as "The Lactation Consultant" barreled into the room. The kind of lady who wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty. Looked like she was from some Balkan country. Maybe Bosnia, hardened by war. She got into the bed with Stella, one knee pressing down the mattress. She grabbed her breast with one hand--grabbed it like you'd grab a water balloon before tossing it--and clutched the back of little Mather's head with the other. He squirmed, the little guy. Feisty just like his mother.
"I really thought this was going to be easier," Stella said. "More innate."
The burly Bosnian came in three days straight, Stella running on fumes, until the elusive "Latch"--that magical moment, I learned, when all the stars aligned and the little man's mouth engulfed the nipple and began sucking the sacred milk right out of it--was finally achieved.
"The Latch," though, actually wasn't the end or even the real issue, for that matter. Never really thought it would be with Stella's resolve.
It was Friday, 72 hours post-birth, and we were back in the condo. Little Mather was wailing. Stella rocked him, put him on the boob, sang him lullabies, but he kept on bawling. She called the pediatrician who told her that perhaps her milk wasn't fully "in" yet. That sometimes it took four to five days after the delivery. The good white milk the little man needed for sustenance.
"It's natural," the pediatrician told her. "Just be patient. You might want to consider supplementing with formula until then."
Little Mather wailed and wailed. The poor kid was starving, we weren't sleeping. Finally, even Stella had to give in and fill him up with a dose of Similac. The Organic blend, though.
"You sure you don't want to throw in the towel with this whole breastfeeding thing, honey?" I said. "I won't think any less of you. I mean, you're really going to do this for six whole months?"
"A year," she responded.
Mather guzzled down the Similac. It gave him the instant runs. Stella, who'd been nothing short of stoic up to this point, burst into tears herself. Tough seeing your wife crack. But Stella, bless her heart, dried her eyes and kept working the boob, unwavering. And, by Sunday, sure enough, the milk had been delivered. I pumped my fists in the air.
"The milk is in!" I cried. "The milk is in!"
So a couple weeks later, there we
were. Little Mather lay against Stella, just having devoured a good home cooked
meal. It was the way nature intended, I supposed. Ten times a day she was
nursing him. Even at two A.M. and 5 A.M., without a complaint. I looked down at
our son. He was satisfied. Hands clasped, a silly grin, maybe a touch of gas. A
glutton. His mother, dark bags under her eyes, but still kicking--a star.
BIO: Steve Karas lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter. His short stories have previously appeared or are forthcoming in Bartleby Snopes, Little Fiction, Whiskeypaper and elsewhere. He also writes reviews for The Review Review. You can visit his website at stevekaras.wordpress.com and follow him on Twitter at Steve_Karas.