Wang Ping

Wet Nurse, Rhymes of Mother Goose

I had a wet nurse 
till I was six month old.
My grandma switched me 
to powdered  milk and rice
to save some money.
It was the spring of 1958.
The famous three-year starvation
loomed over the horizon.
But no one saw it coming.
We were all drunk with the plan
to enter the paradise 
in one big leap.

Whoever has milk is my mother--
a Chinese saying as old as its history.

Every woman can produce enough milk
for her children, even if she has a flat chest,
says Doctor Sears in his popular book on babies.

My ex-lover never had his mother's milk.
Nor did his older sister.Formula was the fashion for American infants.

My sister didn't breastfeed her daughter.
Her mother-in-law figured that it was cheaper
to buy baby food than feed a lactating mother 
with fish and meat.

There is no formula or Gerber baby food in China.
My sisters and I grew up on powered milk and rice.
Some mothers chew up their own food
and feed it to their children mouth to mouth.

To prevent cracked nipples, my sister warned me,
you must rub them with a towel every night for two hours.
I  laughed, saying how could they ever crack, 
so brown and tough?
But they did, after two days of sucking
from a tiny mouth pretty as a budding rose.

Driven insane by the pain,
I went on a spending spree.
$200 for a breast pump,
another $200 for a nurse who taught me
how to slam the baby's mouth onto the nipple.  

It's worth it, said the nurse as she pocketed the check.
Just hang on a bit longer.
Something good will happen.
Mother's milk is special.
It's food for smarter kids.
If it hurts too much,
try to remember the benefits of breastfeeding: 
1. Bring out motherly feelings.
2. Contract your uterus to its normal size.
3. Relax you.
4. Reduce breast cancer.
5. Save medical bills for the baby.
6. Save money on formula.
7. The baby learns discipline.

Your milk is white gold, she added.
Do not let it go for nothing.

Wet nurses were common in old China--a good job for peasant women
who left their infants behind
to nurse other people's kids or sell their liquid gold
to rich old men who wanted immortality.

At thirty-eight I told my mother
I wanted a child. She looked at me with pity
and said, "I had you when I was eighteen,
and that was not considered early.
Why don't you adopt your niece since your brother
is doomed to lose his wife."

        There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
        She had so many children she didn't know what to do.
        She gave them some broth without bread,
        and whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

In the fifties, women who had more than four kids
were "hero mothers"--all because of Mao's saying:  
"More people, more power."

Now they go underground or cross the borders
if they want a second child.

My sister had a baby girl.
Her mother-in-law sobbed:
"This is the end of our family line."
My sister's husband is the only son.

The baby abandoned in a Disney Land bathroom
became Princess Jasmine and was wanted
by hundreds of families.
In China, the orphanage would be her destiny.

My mother is a model school teacher,
a hero mother and a highly recommended nanny
by a job agency on East Broadway. 
Her advice for raising children:
Do not spare sticks.
Do not give them too much to eat.
Knock on their heads from time to time
to establish your authority.
Do not treat them too well
if you want their loyalty and filial money.
This is not a nursery rhyme.
Six million children in America 
go to bed hungry. And every two minutes 
a child is shot by a loaded gun.

        Hush-a-by, Baby, upon the tree top,
        When the wind blows the cradle will rock;
        When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
        Down tumbles cradle and Baby and all.

This is the hand of a mother.

This is the hand of a mother
that rocks other people's children.

This is the hand of a mother
that holds down her daughter
that is being strangled by her boy friend
that drives her two boys into the lake
to win the favor of her lover that smothers her children
to get her doctor's attention that throws her daughter
into a boiling bathtub that pours Drano 
into a little girl's throat to kill the devil
that shakes, slaps, burns and sodomizes
that is caught by the hidden eyes of cameras
that is devoured by the wheel of media
that spins the stories into big money.

Ten million eggs hatched on the sand.
Ten million turtles race to the ocean.
Hundreds of sea gulls gather for a feast.
Swoop, snatch, gobble. 
Swoop, snatch, gobble.
Forty or fifty make it to the sea,
of ten million little babies and all.

I used to be fearless.
I used to think nothing knocks me down--
danger, hardship, even death.
And I was certain I would kill myself
if I was still alive by fifty.
All changed, because of
a pink, wrinkled face that constantly howls for milk.
My hands have become the hands of a mother
that scrub and wash and stroke and pat
that knead the breasts that push and roll
to get the milk flowing like a cow
that get down on the floor 
to gather things scattered
that are now cracked and chapped and reddish brown
that are no longer fit for rings or other pretty things.

He has this gesture where,
        when he is nursing,
he reaches up with his free hand
        to touch and pat the air, his fingers
open like wings, and I smack my lips
        pretending to snap them up
and he looks up and laughs his toothless

They say every piece of me is a debt.
My being belongs to my mother who claims
to have carried me inside her for ten and a half months.
I owe a life-long gratitude to my grandma
who changed my diapers and washed my clothes.
I owe my health and smooth skin to my wet nurse
who went blind in her old age.
And of course, my father, the breadmaker,
who worked his ass off till his last breath.
Nothing, nothing I do or give 
can pay back their unconditional sacrifice.

Wet nurse in Chinese--nai ma--
my milk mother.

This is the mouth of a baby.

This is the mouth of a sucking baby
that massages the nipple that stimulates nerves
that send a message to a mother's pituitary gland
that secretes the magical hormones 
that travel throughout the highways of the motheršs
body that tell her which turn to take 
that teach her how to smile down at the sucking mouth 
of a baby that drapes above her belly,skin to skin, tummy to tummy,
cheek to breast.

This is the mouth of my son.

This is his tongue milking the areola.