The Cookie by Caroline M. Grant

At seven weeks, Ben was thriving; nursing constantly through a growth spurt, alert and interested in the world, smiling at his dad and me. He had just gotten control of his hands and we laughed as we watched him wrap one hand around the other and, brow furrowed in concentration, push it into his mouth. Self-soothing! we crowed, and encouraged the behavior as best we could. It was hard to imagine a day when he would actually pick something up to put in his mouth.
 
Ben was doing well, but I was a wreck. I spent my nights with him attached to me in bed, the fitful, distracted sleep of someone with a new partner. "He's as engrossing, as addictive as a new boyfriend," I confessed to a childless friend. "Except I made him." I spent my days, unable to put him down without his crying, with him in the sling, subsisting on cheese toast and bananas and other snacks I could fix and eat with one hand while with the other I stroked his head or let him suck on my finger to give my aching breasts a break. I tried to remember any advice from my prenatal breastfeeding class, yes, the breastfeeding class. Tony and I had so scoffed at the suggestion that breastfeeding could be taught, that there was, frankly, anything to teach. What, you just hold the baby up and it drinks, right? We’d waltzed into class a pair of know-it-all teenagers, only to come out two hours later, shell-shocked and awed at the incredible two-part system -- baby and breast -- that nourishes a child. I clung to the lactation consultant’s metaphor like a life preserver: if you throw a person into a swimming pool, they’ll probably get to the edge, but so much more easily if they know how to swim. We’d had our swim class; now Ben and I were trying not to drown.
 
I wailed on the phone to my older sister, who had successfully nursed two children. "Why doesn’t anyone ever tell you?! Nursing is harder than writing my dissertation!" She could sympathize but not, from 3,000 miles away, offer any real help. Nor could my mother, who had nursed all four of us, but by the time she got to me (her youngest) also offered a honey-dipped pacifier. Meanwhile, my mother-in-law, surprised by two quick boys twenty years into her marriage, seemed simply to have blocked her memories of those chaotic days (though she did guiltily admit to a dry martini and a shrimp curry the night she went into labor with my husband). "No one ever suggested I breastfeed," she remarked, a bit wistfully. "It never occurred to me."
 
Talking to a friend one day (her son was just ten days older than Ben, so we commiserated daily), I learned of her mom’s recent confession: when she couldn’t stand it -- the crying, the nursing, the sheer relentlessness of it all -- any longer, she’d just climb into the shower, leaving the baby lying on the bathroom floor. Often the steam and warmth would sooth the crying child, but if not, the noise of the shower would drown the sound out. We were properly appalled at this old-fashioned approach.
 
But one day, at my wits’ end and uncertain when I had last showered, I had to give it a try. I made Ben a cozy nest of towels on the bathroom floor. I stripped off my robe and underwear, unsnapped the nursing bra and let the milk-soaked nursing pads tumble out (I barely made it into clothing those days, but, because of my steadily leaking milk supply, hardly ever took off the nursing bra.) I climbed tentatively into the shower and pulled the door shut. Ben, predictably, set up a wail. I turned the water up higher and began to sing. After a few moments, I realized he had fallen silent. Had he suffocated, I wondered? Crawled -- he couldn’t even roll over -- out of his nest and choked on a mouthful of terry? I was so tired, it took me a moment to stop running disaster scenarios through my head, open the shower door and, heart in my mouth, check.
 
And there he was, legs kicking up in the air, one hand flailing, the other hand clutching a milky cotton nursing pad and stuffing it in and out of his mouth, cooing delightedly at his sweet prize: the inadvertent sugar cookie treat.
 
Caroline Grant, an editor and columnist for Literary Mama, lives in San Francisco with her husband and two boys. Their favorite kind of cookie is chocolate chip.