Although I’ve escorted my readers to a certain chronological spot in this story, the spot that welcomed Luc William to Versailles and introduced me to mothering in France, I can’t resist looping back to Norway for a post or two. That was the spot, as you remember, that welcomed Dalton Haakon to Oslo and introduced me to mothering in Norway. There, a new me was birthed. Please meet Melissa the Viking Mother:
From Global Mom: A Memoir
Nursing baby Dalton meant doing so every other hour on the hour around the clock. This child was draining fluids from every inch of my being including my uvula, so my doctor suggested that rather than switch to formula (which was unnatural, so of course vociferously discouraged in Norway), I rent a pump.
Increase lactation, he said.
Churn some serious cream.
This pump I got must have been a design joint venture between Hummer and Hoover. It sat like an idling dune buggy on our kitchen floor and when I strapped it on, I had to buckle myself to a piece of heavy furniture to keep from being yanked across the room. It could have sucked the chrome off a trailer hitch, as could have Dalton. After only a couple of months, I was almost ready to stop the nursing/vacuuming experiment because I noticed all my internal organs had been rearranged and pulled to the surface. (When I did eventually wean him, Dalton went straight to reindeer steaks, if that gives you an idea of what kind of appetite we were dealing with.)
Thankfully, I had my barselgruppe, a typically Norwegian wonder that is an essential component of being a viking mother. Barsel is a word for birth, and your barsel group is a support community for those first months of a baby’s life or forever. When Dalton was born, the state registered me along with five other freshly delivered mothers from my immediate geographic surroundings to be part of a support group led by a nurse/social worker who specialized in postnatal adjustment, family counseling and facets of early childhood education.
Every month in the nurse’s station of Nesøya Skole down our street on the island, we mothers met with our supervising worker named Gunnil and shared snacks and stories while discussing our babies and ourselves. Was little Morton sleeping? Was darling Kerstin on solids yet? Was Melissa’s breast pump available to take a spin around the block or to vacuum out someone’s garage? We kept this up for a year and then, as was often the case with these groups, ours took on a life of its own and we met independently at one of our homes, a corner café, or walking out along the fjord. It wasn’t uncommon in Norwegian culture to keep these barsel friends for life. Lots of women I knew attended the marriages of the babies, now fully grown, whose births had brought their moms together.
One day at barselgruppe, we discussed milk.
One of the mothers just had too much of it, she said. Constantly leaking all over the place, very annoying and inconvenient, not to mention messy and embarrassing, she sighed. So Gunnil suggested this mother bag all the extra milk her baby didn’t consume, and take those bags to the melkebank , the local annex of the hospital created expressly (no pun intended) for this purpose.
That mother had a slight build, but was ample in maternally strategic places. She sat right next to a lanky brunette, naturally beautiful in jeans from about 1974, with capable large-knuckled hands that had milky unpolished nails. Her manner was cool and solid, like a big deep ceramic basin of setting mascarpone.
When I then mentioned I was becoming totally drained emotionally from being so totally drained mammarily, someone in the circle suggested I go to the melkebank. If there were deposits, there were withdrawals.
For dried up women. Like me.
“Maybe I’ll take my extra milk there,” another mother said. “I’m constantly soaking my shirts.”
“And I’ve got too much, too,” the mother sitting to my right added. “Mornings, my bed is drenched.”
“Me, too!” a first-time mother of twins exclaimed.
“You know, with all my three babies it’s been the same story,” the brunette basin of mascarpone interjected, curling her long legs up under her hips on the couch. “I make more milk than my father’s cows did. And that milk fed us five children when I was growing up. I’ve got cow DNA.”
Laughter and sisterly eye-winking all around the room. But for me.
Because right then is when I started feeling about as succulent as the last potato chip in the bag, no more use to my hungry baby than a couple of medium-sized, plastic-wrapped, year-old fortune cookies. Without the fortune.
“Maybe you need to eat more,” suggested Gunnil, motioning to a piece of chocolate cake.
“Some foods help stimulate production,” a woman said, taking a big bite of the gooey dark confection.
“Foods like chocolate, I hope?” I asked, and bit deep into my piece of cake brought this time, as last time and like the time before, by the deep cheese brunette. I had noticed she always brought rich things like dense brownies and carrot cake and creamy toffee bars, so not only was she apparently our barselgruppe’s crowned Dairy Queen, but she was the Treat Goddess to boot.
Maybe I had a mild case of milk envy. But you understand that I was, as I’ve told you, doing all I could but was still not quite able to keep the milk wagon stocked for Dalton. My mommy ego was growing concave.
“Funny,” Miss Treat Goddess Milky Way spoke up softly, “I’ve never donated to the melkebank. All this extra milk, you know, I just keep it in my freezer.”
“In your freezer?” the mother of twins, also helping herself to a second piece of cake, nearly laughed. “Why in your freezer?”
“Because it has so many uses.”
Gunnil, putting aside her cake and licking her fingers, reached for her notepad and pen to take notes. “Uses? For example?”
“Well. . .” Ms. Lactose smiled as golden as a cube of chilled butter, “It’s good, for example, for treating pink eye.”
“Yes, I’ve heard this,” Gunnil jotted a note. “Full of antibacterial properties.”
“And for softening cracked skin,” Yogurt Gal told us, those lean hands looking smoother than I’d noticed before.
I downed three big mouthfuls of cake.
“Yes, it’s rich in emollients,” Gunnil was nodding around the circle, hoping we were all listening to this perfect example.
“But really,” our Lady of La Leche said, “I don’t use it so much for all that.”
“Oh?” the mother of twins said, licking her lips.
“Oh?” the mother to my right wiped crumbs from her chin.
“Oh?” I swallowed my fifth bite.
“Then how do you use all your extra milk?” Gunnil’s pen was waiting.
“I use it all in my baking,” Curdle Girl said, perky as a dollop of whipped cream. “Another piece, Melissa?”
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.