All this Facebook ruckus reminds me of my breastfeeding days. When I took a breastfeeding course before the birth of my daughter, I spent most of the time chortling in the back row. The idea that I would ever put a babe to my half-pint breasts was ludicrous. My husband, I’m afraid to say, found it particularly funny. But when I finally did give birth and offered my virgin nipples to my daughter, I wasn’t laughing. And poor Lara squealed with frustration and hunger.
I tried the experts but they all seemed to have memorized the same mantra: drink more liquids and rest. Well, I was drinking enough liquids to flood London Central and hadn’t budged from the couch in so long I had begun color-coordinating my clothes with it.
I had hoped to breast feed for about twelve months (any longer and I worried the kid would walk up to me, grab a breast with a sticky hand and flip it into her mouth like a petrol pump). But I didn’t last past four. The day I finally gave up and switched to bottles, Lara fairly had a party to celebrate.
So when I gave birth to Ben three years later in Singapore (my husband was on sabbatical) I wasn’t in the most optimistic of moods. But I hadn’t bargained on the Chinese and their reliance on cuisine for disaster remedy. The Chinese are real apothecaries when it comes to ingredients, most of which you can either get fresh at the markets or dried and curled obscenely in large clear jars at the Chinese medicine stores. Cooking becomes prescribing. Clogged arteries? Try a tablespoon of black vinegar. Windy? Have a bite of ginger. Nasty complexion? Treat yourself to some dried scallops. I could go on. Sesame oil promotes blood circulation. Fish enriches milk glands. Squid will improve mental energy.
In short, food delivers. It’s an idea most Chinese have taken to heart and they are quite vocal about it. Taxi drivers driving me to my pre-natal check-ups swore by bean curd for a baby’s smooth complexion. One restaurateur warned me away from crab, saying my baby would be born too mischievous. And the teacher at my daughter’s Singaporean nursery declared that an expectant mother should always eat what she craves otherwise her baby would never stop drooling.
So after the first dissatisfied yowl from Ben shook our apartment block, my Chinese neighbors were ready. They gathered around me at our communal playground to peer down at my son’s pinched face. They shook their heads and told me exactly what to eat. Stewed fish maw, they said. Stewed hairy marrow, kidneys stir-fried with wood fungus, pig’s trotters with ginger and vinegar. I see, I said and dashed home to my diet of peanut butter, cheddar cheese and gallons of ice cream. Motherhood had made me do a lot of things I’d never in my most horrific dreams seen myself doing–like giving birth for example–but it was not going to make me eat trotters, pigs’ or otherwise.
Plus, I didn’t believe a word of it.
My neighbors were insistent. One arrived at my doorstep with a bowl of pig trotters floating in a clear soup studded with small red dates. Eat, she urged. Oh, yes, soon, I murmured and placed the gift far in the back of my refrigerator.
Finally, Elena, my Filipina maid (yes, I know, I just lost the sympathy vote, but I don’t have her now. I’m back in London and do my own laundry, cooking, cleaning and baby bottom wiping, thank you very much,) unable to watch my poor child’s distress, decided to cook me a milk producing soup from her village; chicken with green papaya. Her mother drank it and practically drowned her children. “Of course, she had big breasts,” Elena remarked staring at mine, unimpressed.
She went off to shop and returned with arms filled with green papaya and bunches of pepper leaves. She simmered and sprinkled like a witch and then sat me down with a firm “eat.” It tasted rather bland but felt warmly nourishing. I downed two bowls full and sat back skeptically.
The next morning was complete and glorious havoc. My breasts ballooned and opened like taps. They leaked everywhere. My baby gulped and dribbled and then fell back, rolling his eyes upward in ecstasy. I drank that soup on and off for the next four months and never again had any trouble. I ended up breastfeeding for fourteen months. It almost makes me wish I had tried the pig trotters sooner.