Friday, 29 June 2012

Group Therapy by Naomi Elana Zener

"Hi everybody!" a sweet female voice was overheard saying.

"Hi," the group replied.

"I've been on the wagon for one day, eight hours and four minutes now. I am suffering from real withdrawal symptoms: the shakes, mood swings, lack of sleep, trouble focusing," the voice stammered. "My name is Refaela, and I'm a Milkaholic." 

Heads nodded in knowing forlorn understanding.

"Before I went off the breast milk-sauce, I was a real tata terrorist," Refaela continued. "It was screaming and wailing for the boob to feed on demand all of the time."

"How old were you when you stopped a few days ago?" the therapist asked.

"I was just shy of nine months," Refaela said. "I'm nine months today actually and it's been a rough birthday. Not being able to enjoy a celebratory's just been tough."

Deep in the bowels of a trendy downtown loft building, home to the best obstetricians, pediatricians, lactation consultants and psychoanalysts, babies of a variety of ages, all addicted to breast milk and formula, were seated in a circle on an alphabet BPA, PVC, phalate and Formamide-free foam mat. The usual suspects were all there for group therapy: the Stella McCartney clad fashionistas, the Petit Bateau and Bonpoint snobs, the Gap-ad babies and the Tarjay crowd. One baby clutched her Whoozit for security, giving her an extra measure of self-confidence to broach her addiction demons. Another baby, like a former smoker chewing on a fake cigarette, fingered an empty bottle, not able to completely give up his crutch. The rest sat around with a vacant expression in their eyes, wondering if the void left in their empty bellies would ever be filled again.

"You'll make it through," a baby boy named Henry, dressed in a sailor suit, offered. "I was a little older than you when I became a teetotaler - eleven months."

“Why did you stop?” asked Refaela.

“It was time to transition to homo milk according to the doctor,” Henry replied.

“Homo milk tastes good!” the therapist interrupted encouragingly.

“Homo milk is garbage! You can only have twenty ounces a day and it is full of fat! It was all a conspiracy concocted by the doctor and my mother who stopped breastfeeding me because I bit her,” Henry continued ignoring the therapist.

“You bit her?” Refaela asked in shock.

“I was just trying to savour the last drop,” the boy explained.

“Please continue with your story, Refaela,” the therapist instructed.

“Mama couldn't take it anymore,” Refaela continued. “Finally she stopped breastfeeding me cold turkey, expecting to replace her liquid gold with formula.”

“My mama tried that with me too!” a little girl named Jeanette exclaimed. “She claimed it was for my own good, giving me a song and dance about my being lactose intolerant or some mumbo jumbo like that.”

“Good for you,” a little boy named Oscar cheered.

“Don’t be so proud of me,” Jeanette said in shame, “after a few weeks of the soy-based formula, there was no going back. I was hooked. And now that I am on regular milk, my halcyon days of breast milk and formula are long behind me.”

“If you are off the breast milk and formula then why are you here?” Refaela asked.

“Post-traumatic stress disorder,” Jeanette said. “It is like I am a war vet experiencing phantom limb syndrome.  I feel like there is always a breast in my mouth, but there’s none.”

“Well, I did not have such an easy transition to formula like you did. I spat it out. Clamped my lips together and refused to allow the rubber nipple to intrude my sacrosanct mouth,” Refaela informed the group. “Mama eventually grew tired of our little dance. So she spiked my formula with vanilla extract not realizing that it contained thirty-five percent proof alcohol.”

“Did you drink it?” a little Bonpoint-clad boy asked.

“I did,” Refaela said bowing her head in shame. “My cheeks were flushed, my hair a mess – I was drunk!”

“Ooh!” the therapist exclaimed. “1-800-bad-mama!”

“No, no,” Refaela retreated, “don’t get me wrong. Mama was not aware of the alcohol content and as soon as she realized her mistake, she replaced the vanilla extract with a non-alcoholic variety.”

“A synthetic? For a baby!” a little four-year old girl named Esmeralda exclaimed haughtily. “My mother would NEVER feed me anything artificial!”

“Pipe down Esmeralda,” the therapist ordered. “Don’t be the pot calling the kettle black! Remember why you are here?”

Heads whipped around to stare down the little girl, the oldest in the group, to shame her. Despite her outward protest and her bohemian appearance, dressed head-to-toe in eco-friendly organic clothing, the little girl was a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

“I’m sorry, I really am working on it,” Esmeralda explained to the group.

“It’s not like I was on the vanilla powder for long. A few bottles into the formula and I was obsessed,” Refaela stated. “Really once it hit my lips, I lost all control. And now they want to take it away from me to replace it with something they keep calling ‘solids.’”

“Still, your mother should have only given you natural vanilla,” Esmeralda stated.

“Enough!” chastised the therapist. “It is not like your mother is up for mother of the year!”

Refaela looked on in confusion, uncertain why Esmeralda was being castigated for her personal beliefs.

“Sorry for the criticism. I get it, those who live in glass cribs should not throw rattles,” Esmeralda apologized.

“It’s ok,” Refaela offered, “we all have our problems.”

“Well my mother pretends to breastfeed me to placate her attachment parenting group friends, but in reality she got a breast reduction when I was eight months old,” Esmeralda explained.

“I don’t understand,” Refaela said. “What’s an attachment parent?”

“Amongst other things, it is a parent who believes in letting baby sleep with the parents and breastfeed until they are forty,” Oscar stated flatly.

“Oscar!” the therapist warned, “what have I told you before?”

“I know, I know. There is no judgment here. This is a safe place,” Oscar replied sheepishly.

“When is your next Opinionated Babies help group meeting?” the therapist asked.

“Tomorrow at three after my nap,” Oscar replied.

“Try to hold off on passing condemnation until then,” the therapist pleaded. “Please continue Esmeralda.”

“Well, mommy stopped breastfeeding me when I was six months old, but she keeps making me drink breast milk from the bottle. Before her boob job she took all of these crazy herbs and Dom Perignon.” Esmeralda continued.

“It is called ‘Dom Peridone’,” the therapist corrected, “try to use the correct terminology please.”

“Excuse me,” Esmeralda said sarcastically, “Dom Peridone, to increase her milk supply so that she would have tons of breast milk – enough to feed me until I turn six years old” Esmeralda explained.

“I still don’t understand,” Refaela said.

“She makes me drink all of this breast milk out of a nasty bottle, but she makes me pretend to breastfeed when we are out in public around her attachment parent friends. She stuck me in Milkaholics Anonymous so that I could ‘detox’ from her breast in a safe place.”

“How long have you been coming?” Refaela asked.

“Three years, six months and ten days!” Esmeralda exclaimed. “Do you have any idea what she is doing to my developing psyche?!”

The babies all started to wail and scream reminded of the salad days of breastfeeding, a band of brothers and sisters suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder induced by their united experience of being denied the breast.

“Stop crying! Do I need to remind you that the Leche League is one floor below us and will shut us down if they find out that this is not really a group for babies with latching issues? “the therapist ordered. “Esmeralda, we’ll come back to your psyche before group ends today, but for now it is still Refaela’s turn so please remember to share the time and let her finish her story.”

“So now I am on solids and life is just so bland,” Refaela continued.

“But solids are full of a variety of flavours – chicken, beef, pasta, veggies, fruit,” the therapist explained. “Not to mention the fact that they are chalk full of hearty nutrients.”

“Nothing tastes as good as breast milk or formula feels trickling down your throat like a babbling brook on a hot summer’s day,” Refaela said.

“Isn’t there a hint of breast milk or formula still in your cereal?” Jeanette asked. “My mommy still gives me a little there.”

“And you wonder why you suffer from PTSD?” the therapist asked.

“Nope, not a single drop,” Refaela stated flatly.

“I just don’t understand these parents of ours. Honestly, they should be reported to child protective services. To deny us breast milk or formula is criminal,” a little girl named Harmony cried.

“Harmony, don’t be so melodramatic. There is nothing criminal or abusive in providing babies with every opportunity to eat every food on our wonderful green Earth,” the therapist offered.

“Nothing abusive? You call taking me off breast milk to give me peanut butter that put me into anaphylactic shock, forcing me to carry around an epi-pen until the end of my days, which we now know could be at any time, not abusive? I think you are the one in need of therapy!” Harmony screamed.

“We’ve been over this for months – your parents did not know that you had a peanut allergy,” the therapist explained. “Your parents love you and only want to give you only the best.”

“Well peanut butter certainly cannot be called the “best.” Just ask my lawyer,” Harmony stated.

“Harmony, now is not the time to air your dirty laundry about your lawsuit against your parents,” the therapist whispered through her teeth. “They did not try to kill you!”

“Maybe they did not ‘try’ to kill me, but they were utterly negligent in taking me off the best source of nutrients that kept me alive for twelve months only to replace it with something that nearly shortened my life in one lick,” Harmony replied. “And then after their shoddy parenting they don’t give me back the breast milk or at least formula? Haven’t I suffered enough?”

“Harmony, we will take this offline and deal with it in our weekly private therapy session,” the therapist stated.

All of a sudden, one toddler broke free from the shackles of the circle in an effort to run out of the room. Before he got very far, a tiny pacifier fell out of his pocket and several of the babies in the circle lunged for it. Bewildered by the group hysteria over the presence of a simple pacifier, especially when each baby had one of its own, the therapist sat back in slight amusement to study the animal-like instinct to hunt for it. Suddenly, she noticed out of the corner of her eye that little drops of white liquid that dripped out of the pacifier and onto the floor.  Quickly realizing what it was, but before she could hide the sight of the substance from the milk-seeking missile radar of the ravenous addicts before her looking to score a quick hit, Oscar honed in on the few drops on the floor and licked them up. 

“OSCAR!” the therapist wailed, “NO!!!!!”

“Ah, that was good,” Oscar said lying back in a snow angel position high off the taste of breast milk.

“What was that?” the therapist shrieked at the toddler named Geo while pointing at the pacifier.

“It was my suckifier,” Geo replied. “It is designed to hold fluids.”

“What’s a suckifier?” Oscar inquired excitedly.

“It’s basically a dummy pacifier that contains a few shots-worth of breast milk,” Geo explained.

“How could you even think of bringing that in here? Are you trying to derail everyone’s progress after months and in some cases years of therapy?” the therapist asked.

“My nanny feels bad for me. She doesn’t understand why my mother denies me what she was made to give me,” Geo stated firmly. “Back home in Venezuela, they breastfeed until babies are three years old and it breaks nanny’s heart. So she never threw away my mommy’s frozen breast milk.”

“So she harms you by filling up dummy pacifier for you when you need a little pick-me up?” the therapist asked rhetorically. “Are you telling me that after all of this time, after two years of working together, you had me believing that you were on the wagon when you were still on breast milk?”

Geo nodded his head in slow motion. Refaela looked around the room at the hungry empty eyes of all of the other babies no longer seated in a circle, her ears ringing from their rumbling bellies craving one more taste of the sweet nectar of the gods.  Determined not to end up like Geo or the others, all of whom were hollows shells of their former selves, Refaela mentally fortified herself to let go of all of her memories of the good times she shared with her breast milk and formula. Willing to embrace the world of solids to hopefully become a gourmand like her parents, Refaela steadied herself on her knees, pulling to stand with the assistance of a chair to her right, prepared to take her leave of the group with confidence.

“I want to thank you for having me here today, but I don’t think I will be coming back. I wish you all the best of luck, but having witnessed the tragic effects that being a Milkaholic has wreaked on all of your lives, I can say that I am ready to give up breast milk and formula,” Refaela announced. “I am ready to be a foodie!”

The group of babies looked up at Refaela standing stoically, observing her truly believing that she would succeed where they had all failed. They smiled encouragingly, yet they knew the statistics, she would likely be back to group in a week.

“I wish you the best of luck and remind you that this is a twelve-step process,” the therapist advised holding Refaela’s hand. “We are here if you need us.”

“And, in case you become a gastronomy snob who only will eat in five-star  restaurants, there is always ‘Foodies Anonymous,” Oscar offered. “I go three times a week and it is down the hall.”

© 2012. Naomi Elana Zener. All rights reserved.