Ack, I’m mortified that my mom’s going to read that I wrote a post called that refers to my breasts as “boobies.” On the other hand, as a poet, I’m sure she can see that boobie scans better, rhythm-wise, so I’m going to have to hope that trumps my unfeminist body-part naming. SORRY MOM.
Anyway. It’s the aroma of breastfeeding that’s on my mind today.
When Penelope was a newborn, my stepson Eli said, “She smells so good. How come we can’t take a smell-picture?” Call it the hormones, but I almost dissolved into tears when he said that. Why the hell can’t we take a smell-picture? Where do I write a letter requesting same?
When I was a kid, we spent 2 weeks every summer “down east” in Maine. If you’ve ever been there, you know the super-sensuous pleasure that is Maine. The springy carpet of pine needles in the woods, the squishy-pebbly feeling of walking on the beach in ill-fitting galoshes and big socks, the very particular moist coolness of the mist, the mind-boggling profusion of stars/milky way/meteor showers that make the night sky more exciting than any fireworks over the George Washington Bridge. Plus, you know, Nervous Nellie’s Jams and Jellies.
On our way out of town one year, our mom bought me and my sister Emily two fabric cats, one blue and one yellow, stuffed with pine needles. Their ears were designed in such a way that my nose fit into the notch between them just perfectly, and I could inhale that earthy, pungent pine scent in brain-melting quantities. I used to fall asleep with my nose in that cat-notch, missing the quiet stillness of Maine in the cacophony of my New Jersey suburbs.
Scent is like that. I remember reading/writing that smell is the most evocative scent because of where it’s stored in the brain, yadda yadda science yadda. Yet though we can put a man on the moon, there’s still no damn smell picture.
Here’s what it comes down to: My milk has this very particular scent. It’s like sweetness mixed with musk with hints of sweat. If I wear the same bra too many days in a row, it gets a spoiled smell that I still adore. It makes me think of my babies’ mouths opening like buds, their eyes focused in concentration at first, but later rolling up to gaze at me piercingly. Maybe they loll back their heads and give me a milky grin. Maybe their eyes flutter closed into sleep, punctuated with gentle sucking. Penelope used to grunt with effort and joy, punching my breast to get things flowing faster. Abby has better supply, so she unlatches and gasps for air as it spills down onto my pj’s and hers, a wretched excess.
These are the things I remember when I smell it. I thought I would never forget one second of nursing Penelope, but by the time I was nursing Abby I was shocked at the well of already-forgotten memories that bubbled up when my milk came in and I caught that scent again. I think, but I’m not sure, that I also have vague sense memories, impossible to pin down, of being nursed myself. I try to catch at them, but they’re like wisps of dreams that you can only see with the fuzzy edge of your brain right after you wake up, and they’re gone as quickly as they appear.
I only have these feelings when I smell this amazing scent. I only smell this amazing scent when I’m breastfeeding a baby. I’m breastfeeding my last baby. I’m going to lose this, and I’m already mourning it.
So how about it, science? If you’re so freakin great, let’s get on this global warming thing, and then invent the smell picture. I will totally chip in for the Nobel Prize on this one.