I was chatting with a friend today — another mother I have met whose children are the same ages as my girls — and I was describing the way E1 breastfeeds her doll. Now, I know that might sound strange if you’re not used to the idea, but it makes sense — little girls mother their dolls the way they see their own mothers mother them. And I breastfeed E2, so she breastfeeds her doll.
But what makes me laugh is the absolute accuracy she brings to it. She pulls her top up, she carefully positions her doll, holds her head gently, and then… and then…
Living in rural England, we were surrounded by farms — never more than a mile away from a flock of sheep or a herd of cows — and after a while, their ways become part of the fabric of a person’s world, much the same as the sound of birdsong or the cycles of the seasons. One thing that had always struck me was the very bizarre expression that every ewe takes on as soon as her lambs begin their (surprisingly violent) suckling — it always registered a strange mix of resignation, pain, boredom, and duty. It looked so odd to me and I never really understood it.
Until, that is, I had my own babies and began to breastfeed them. One day, soon after E1 was born, I was nursing her — trapped in my spot on the couch, slightly pained from her still-rough sucking, and bored in that quiet room with only the tick-tock from the clock in the kitchen to entertain me — when I realised I was pulling exactly the same face as all those ewes. That particular look has nothing to do with being a sheep, per se, and everything to do with being a mother. And it is that same bored, pained, resigned expression that E1 pulls off with absolute perfection every time she feeds her own doll so tenderly. She is my image, mirrored in miniature. And it is — no, honestly — hilarious to see.
So, I was telling all this to my new friend and I said, “…and then… and then she gets this look on her face… Well, you know that look that sheep always get when they are feeding their lambs?…” And from the momentary flash of bewilderment on her face, I suddenly twigged that she didn’t.
The thing is, I have told this story probably half a dozen times before, and I have never once had to explain that look. Everyone I knew just… knew. Until this afternoon, I’d completely forgotten that there were people — city folk! — who wouldn’t.
Toto, we’re not in Dorset anymore…!