on mother's milk and kisses fed
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on mother's milk and kisses fed
on mother's milk and kisses fed

"Art Nomade: International Meeting of Performance Art"
produced by Bang, Centre d’art Actuel; La Pulperie; Chicoutimi, Canada. 2013

A suspended block of ice melts, gradually releasing little red seeds frozen in it.

I recite excerpts - gleaned from literature through the ages - on nursing, from the most idealized of aphorisms through to the starkest complexities of the lived experience.

All the while, milk spills from my breasts, turning crimson at my feet.

* * *

"...A baby nursing at a mother’s breast is an undeniable affirmation of our rootedness in nature. (D. Suzuki)

...It is only in the act of nursing that a woman realizes her motherhood in visible and tangible fashion; it is a joy of every moment. (H. Balzac)

...Ah, the joy of suckling! She lovingly watched the fishlike motions of the toothless mouth, and she imagined that with her milk there flowed into her little son her deepest thoughts, concepts and dreams. (M. Kundera)

...And in her arms a baby is crying, and her breasts must be all dried up, not a drop of milk in them. And the baby is crying, crying, reaching out its bare little arms, its little fists all blue from the cold. (F. Dostoevsky)

...Regularity of nursing is most important. The infant should always be nursed exactly at the stated hour and never at irregular intervals, as this upsets the baby’s routine and soon leads to stomach trouble. If the infant wakes up and cries before the nursing hour he should be offered some plain boiled water. If the infant is asleep at the nursing hour he should be awakened. It is remarkable how these infants learn to wake up at the appointed time. After a few days’ training they behave like little machines. (F. Tisdall)

...And hence at our maturer years, when any object of vision is presented to us which... bears any similitude to the form of the female bosom, whether it is found in a landscape with soft gradations of rising and descending surface, or in the forms of some antique vases... we feel a general glow of delight which seems to influence all our senses. (E. Darwin)

...No one who has seen a baby sinking back satiated from the breast and falling asleep with flushed cheeks and a blissful smile can escape the reflection that this picture persists as a prototype of the expression of sexual satisfaction in later life. (S. Freud)

...The erotically excited kiss, as well as the inward feeling of physical well-being of a mother nursing her child at her breast, is based on the primeval evolutionary fact that skin is the seat of sensual pleasure. (W. Bölsche)

...I was the only child she suckled at her breast. It made a difference: for although I received my share of the sharp end of her tongue, there was something in her attitude towards me that was less destructive than her treatment of my sisters. (S. Rushdie)

...Then she slowly unbuttons her shirt. “Come,” she says quietly. She never kisses me, and she seldom touches me. But at moments of great intimacy, she lets me drink from the milk that is always there, beneath her skin just as her blood is. ...In this aroma of burned coal and bearksin, I go to her breast, which is brilliantly white, with a big delicate rose aureole. There I drink immuk, my mother’s milk. (P. Hoeg)

...From my half-closed eyelids, I see again her breast, bared and white, with its little blue veins and, around the nipple, a little halo of orange-pink colour. The breast is round, not big but swollen; and often my little pawing hands seek it as I suck on it, encountering her hand, which holds it out, revealing and covering it at the same time. Her milk has a sweetish taste, tepid, like that of the tropical coconut just plucked. I feel my pupils cloud over, in the adoring sleepy delight that fills the infant at its mother’s breast. ...She even took care, in nursing me, not to bare her breasts (the dearest object of our intimacy, which often, even after weaning, I sought eagerly, groping beneath the cloth of her nightgowns). (E. Morante)

...Priss Hartshorn Crockett was nursing her baby. That was the big news. ’I never expected a breast-fed grandson,’ said Priss’s mother.

He was in the nursery now, roaring his head off; his feeding time was six o’clock. Priss was drinking an eggnog, to help her lactate; liquids were very important, but she had lost her taste for milk during pregnancy, and was having to force herself to drink that quart a day that the doctors insisted on if she were not to lose her teeth building the baby’s bones. Now, to tempt her, the nurses flavoured her milk with egg and sugar and vanilla, and gave her fruit juices on the hour and ginger ale and Coke—every kind of liquid but alcohol, for if she drank a martini Stephen would have gin for his dinner.

Mrs. Harshorn glanced at her daughter and lowered her voice. ’Just fancy little Priss being the first of your set to do it, Polly. She’s so flat there she’s never had to wear a brassière. But Sloan says it’s not the size that counts. I do hope he’s right. The miracle of the loaves and fishes, I call it. The bottle was the war-cry of my generation. And you can’t imagine the difference. For us, the bottle spelled the end of colic, and the frantic husband walking the baby all night. We swore by the bottle, we of the avant-grade.

’’By nursing Stephen,’ Sloan said patiently, ’Priss can give him her immunities for at least the first year. He won’t be liable to chicken pox or measles or whooping cough. And he will have protection from colds.’

’And psychologically,’ appended Polly, ’isn’t the breast-fed baby supposed to have a warmer relation with his mother than the bottle-fed baby?’ Sloan frowned. ’Psychology is still a long way from being a science,’ he declared. ’Let’s stick to measurable facts. Demonstrable facts. We can demonstrate that the breast-fed infant gets his mother’s immunities.

’The sound of a baby’s crying made itself heard in the silence that followed this speech. ’That’s Stephen again,’ said Mrs. Hartshorn. ’I recognize his voice. He yells louder than any other baby in the nursery. Can’t the nurse bring him in now?’ she wondered. ’It’s quarter of six.’

’The schedule, mother!’ cried Priss. ’The reason babies in your time had colic wasn’t because they were breast-fed, but because they were picked up at all sorts of irregular times and fed whenever they cried. The point is to have a schedule and stick to it absolutely!’

A nurse tapped at the door. ’Excuse us, ladies and gentlemen. Feeding time.’ When the room was cleared of guests, she brought the baby in and placed him next to Priss in the bed. It was exactly six o’clock. ’Which one is it tonight, dear?’ she demanded. Priss, who had managed to lower one shoulder of her nightgown, indicated her right breast. The nurse swabbed it with cotton and alcohol and laid the baby to suck; as usual, he made a face at the alcohol and pushed the nipple away. The nurse settled it firmly in his mouth again.

Priss gritted her teeth. The baby’s mouth always hurt her nipple, like a bite. Her breasts were very sensitive, and she hated to have Sloan touch them in love-making; she had hoped that nursing the baby would get her over that. People said that nursing was very satisfying, sensually, to the mother, and she had thought that if she got in the habit with the baby, she would not mind so much with a grown man. Though she had not told Sloan, this was one of her principal reasons for agreeing to breastfeed Stephen: so that she could give Sloan, who was entitled to it, more fun in bed. But so far nursing, like most of sex, was an ordeal she had to steel herself for each time it happened, by using all her will-power and thinking about love and self-sacrifice..." (M. McCarthy)

photos by: Valérie Lavoie

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