In 2011, artist Jill Miller introduced Pittsburgh to The Milk Truck, a refurbished ice cream truck with a giant nipple on its roof. The truck celebrates breastfeeding, riding to the rescue of nursing mothers who have been asked to nurse in restrooms or cease feeding their children altogether. With a quick tweet, mom is rewarded with a quick comfortable place to nurse in the back of the truck and a business owner appalled by the nipple parked out front. The Milk Truck represents what so many mothers know to be true about breastfeeding: that it’s often equal parts humor and struggle, as noted by Rachel Epp Buller, editor of Have Milk, Will Travel: Adventures in Breastfeeding.
Buller, a self-described feminist-art historian-printmaker-mama is the author of Reconciling Art and Mothering and co-editor, with Kerry Fast, of Mothering Mennonite. Her intent with this collection was to put humor at the forefront, a necessity for mothers on the hormonal overload of birth and post-partum overwhelm. Corky Harvey and Wendy Haldeman, lactation consultants and founders of The Pump Station & Nurtury in California, write their forewords from vast experience with helping women learn to nurse their children.What unites the women they help is not only parenthood, but the laughter that invariably surrounds it. The book is an attempt to recreate the humor and support of other mothers, a literary version of the Milk Truck’s mobile community.
Beth Winegarner writes of beginning her morning bent over a table, both breasts soaking in warm water in an effort to ease mastitis. Kari O’Driscoll recalls her shock at seeing that her breasts gave milk like showerheads, multiple holes all shooting so much milk that her frozen backlog overwhelmed the freezer. Other mothers write of breastfeeding in cabs, on the side of a volcano, in cafes, in storerooms, in bed as the cat drags a stuck turd across the hall carpet. Mothers write of pumping with the same Seussian sense of “here, there, and everywhere.” In perhaps the most alarming story of all, Jill Neumann writes about patting out a burp only to have her 9-day-old baby projectile-vomit blood, Neumann’s own blood as it turned out. Each mother brings a new facet to breastfeeding—not enough milk, too much milk, public judgment, pumping, augmenting, weaning, lots of unintentional nudity, joy at newly huge breasts, sadness at breasts that won’t produce.
The stories are relatively short, few more than ten pages, allowing for easy dipping in and out of the book, and the level of the writing varies as well. Some pieces lack focus, while others overuse the aside. Regardless of the writing style, the book feels communal, each woman telling her own story with the express intent of helping other mothers get through this part of mothering.
Though many stories are quite funny, a number of them deal with the same underlying trauma—mothers blaming ourselves, or our bodies, for an inability to do as we imagined. Have Milk, Will Travel welcomes the uninitiated to a certain reality of parenting—little happens as we imagined—and these authors makes it okay to welcome that reality. Perhaps Carrie Snyder expresses it best in her wise piece, “When a Body Feeds a Body: Reflections on Breastfeeding”: “In many ways, breastfeeding is a template for parenthood: by turns embarrassing, painful, blissful, and inevitably, a unique ever-changing process.”