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 laugh. 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.