One of the cool thing about converts is that they bring their own histories, cultures, and experiences with them and, over time, these meld with whatever the local/global Jewish culture may be and this combination is something entirely new. Every new soul brought into the tribe fills a niche, and it is only a matter of where it is and when we’ll find it.
For a long time, my life felt purposeless. My career path meandered in and out of colleges and jobs, and paying the bills usually trumped pursuing higher knowledge. My spiritual path zig-zagged in a similar manner, with nothing really drawing me in enough to stay put for awhile.
Then I had children.
The cliche is that your life changes forever once you have a child. For me, it meant leaving my wild days as a non-parent behind (no more going to movies, eating dinner in restaurants without high chairs, or sleeping in), and also that I experienced remarkable clarity in so many ways.
Giving birth was a spiritual experience for me. How miraculous it all is, especially when a woman’s body is allowed to give birth naturally, without outsiders dictating the hows and whens!
But if giving birth was a burst of ecstasy, an enormous moment of feeling as if I was touching the very essence of life, breastfeeding is an everyday blessing that keeps me in the present moment and gives me little reminders of that big spiritual burst. Breastfeeding a newborn resembles saying a blessing at every turn: before putting on your shoes, give the baby some milk; before eating, nurse the baby; before bed, while sleeping, before leaving bed in the morning, feed the baby another time. It might sound tedious to some (though trust me, cleaning bottles is moreso), but each nursing session (usually) brings with it peace, calm, and love like you’ve never felt before, just like those blessings.
Breastfeeding is not easy, but it’s not the physical aspects that are the most challenging. The culture of the United States is, in so many ways, skewed against breastfeeding. Jewish families in the United States face the same roadblocks to successful breastfeeding that any other American family does, and Jewish children suffer for it. Currently, Orthodox Jews in the United states are experiencing a shortage of artificial baby milk:
In Crown Heights and Flatbush, Brooklyn, all the supermarkets are sold out of dairy formula. Calls to other Orthodox supermarkets, including Empire Kosher and Kollel Mart, indicated the same: All supplies of Materna are gone, and nobody has any idea when — or if — they’ll be permitted into the country again. And, though we have yet to hear confirmation that the USDA has specifically banned Materna milk from entering the country, they have confirmed that Israeli dairy imports are under scrutiny because of cases of Foot & Mouth Disease.
No doubt many of the mothers who feel they cannot feed their babies anything but chlolov Yisroel formula tried to breastfeed; 75% of women in the United States initiate breastfeeding when their babies are born, but only 13% are exclusively feeding breastmilk through six months of age. The World Health Organization recommends that infants are fed breastmilk exclusively until they are six months old.
As my children have taught me, my niche is lactation. I am fascinated by it, and passionate about helping families who want to breastfeed have every chance they can have to do so. How many little babies in Brooklyn and throughout the world would have full bellies and clean souls every single day if breastfeeding had worked out for them and their mothers?
I hope, eventually, that my interest in lactation (as well as postpartum mood disorders) and Judaism will intersect, and that I will have the opportunity to help Jewish families feed their little blessings in the way G-d truly intended them to be fed.
Image credit: Margaret Roth