By Nanda Gasparini
When my daughter was 2 years old some of her greatest loves were mama’s milk, animals and books. She had a big attention span for her age and could sit for hours being read to or ‘reading’ to herself. My daughter and I would often talk about mammals and how they too drank milk from their mums. She loved hearing about this and was fascinated by this bond she had with her beloved animals. Since I couldn’t find a book that brought the three things together, I decided to have a go writing my own. Three years later, my lovely illustrator school friend Maggie and I have self-published a book called “We Drink Milk”.
It’s been amazing to write a book and see it come to life. Without a doubt, the most wonderful thing has been the reception it’s had with mums from all over the world. We’ve received the most wonderful messages from mums in Australia, the US, Canada, Asia and little corners of Europe. It’s a reception we never expected and we still can’t believe there are so many people out there with our book on their shelf.
“We Drink Milk” is so special to me for so many reasons. It was a fun little project for my daughter and I, as we talked about the various habitats and she got to pick her favourite mammals, eleven in total. I also got to work across continents with my talented school friend Maggie. Most importantly, it’s also captured in print the beautiful bond that my daughter and I created whilst breastfeeding.
Before I was pregnant, I had so many ideas about the sort of parent I would be, including how long I would breastfeed for, where our child would sleep and how I would deal with tantrums. My ideas were to a large extent culturally based and reflected what I had been exposed to when I was growing up in Venezuela. In hindsight, they were mostly rigid and conservative views, full of structures and guidelines. Years working as an anthropologist and living as an expatriate surrounded by people from all corners of the world had slowly been chipping at those early cultural views. I also married an Australian and had lots of new friends that had more relaxed attitudes to parenting.
When my daughter was born, I realised that parenting was not just what I (and my much more laid-back husband) had in mind, but what suited our daughter. Becoming a mother has, in many ways, brought me back to the basics, and connected me more to my own body and rhythms. Children have a particular way of asking about the world around them and, in my case, it led me to question norms and behaviours that I had always taken for granted; perhaps none more so than parenting. During my daughter’s early years, we were also living as expatriates in Cambodia, which afforded us a lot of parenting freedom: as expats, pretty much anything goes. We were not Khmer, so sort of free of those parenting expectations, and we were surrounded by multicultural friends each doing things their own way. I think this experience helped us as parents to let go of preconceived notions and just go with the flow, whatever that turned out to be for us.
In our case, our daughter was a prolific feeder and lover of mama’s milk. My breasts were not only the source of nutrition, they were the source of love, comfort, warmth, confidence and all that’s good in the world. I could feel that every time she nursed and was, and still am, so grateful that I had the time, headspace, support and desire to provide it.