Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Book Review: Milked
Four months after I gave birth to my son, I was on a plane to the other side of the country. It was my first business trip since I’d gone back to work, a flexible office where I had no problem pumping breast milk four times a day. I had just sat down on the plane when the baby in front of me started wailing. You can guess what happened next. I was in agony the entire flight, as the pump I’d brought with me wouldn’t work in the tiny airplane bathroom. I was so engorged I considered asking the parents of the whining child if I could pay them to let me nurse her. It never crossed my mind that they would have paid me.
In Lisa Doyle’s debut novel, Milked, we meet Amanda Keane on her 30th birthday – a night of celebration for Amanda, who has no idea the term “wet nurse” was in her future. But that night she meets Irish waiter Eamonn – and when Amanda tells him she’s pregnant a few months later, he decides to stay in Ireland. A job loss and expensive C-section later, it seems the only thing Amanda can do well is breastfeed her daughter Maddie. When her best friend, gynecologist Joy, mentions a celebrity patient who wishes her surrogate-born twins could be breastfed, a new career is born.
Wet nursing has been around since the dawn of man – how else to keep alive infants whose mothers died in childbirth? It persisted as civilization advanced, as slaves routinely nursed the babies of their mistresses. It’s even referenced in the Bible. But while breastfeeding has become a celebrated – even idealized -- part of modern motherhood, the idea of a woman nursing a child not hers now elicits a squeamish reaction. Perhaps it’s because people are much more aware that what goes into a woman’s body comes out in her breast milk. Maybe it’s because non-breastfeeders still see the act as somewhat sexual. In any case, Amanda isn’t one to trumpet her new profession – Joy is the only one who knows. And her clients – all wealthy celebrities – all make Amanda sign confidentiality agreements. Even Joy, who gave Amanda the original idea, doesn’t want to help her find new clients when she’s replaced by a live-in Dominican wet nurse. Joy compares her job to prostitution – and Amanda doesn’t completely disagree. When Amanda finds love with a single dad from Maddie’s daycare, she knows better than to tell him why her weekly fees are so high.
Milked is a very well-written, funny novel and Amanda is definitely a heroine to root for. Along with meeting her immediate needs, Amanda needs to learn to stand up for herself – she doesn’t even want to track down Eamonn after he figuratively leaves her standing at the altar and literally disappears – and part of the fun of the book is watching her realize that for herself, and finally begin doing it.
And although the book is a comedy, it portrays serious political issues at its heart. Beyond the question of who gets to make decisions about other women’s bodies, it’s a look at what it means to live in a society that’s run by the one percent. Amanda went to college. She had a career in magazine publishing. She had health insurance. Twenty years ago, she easily could have found another editing job and been able to support Maddie at a reasonably priced daycare center. But in 2015, as a member of the 99 percent, Amanda is forced to sell her body to members of the one percent who treat her as disposable as a diaper (more so, actually, since some of the families use cloth). While the best humor always has truth at its core, the truth at the heart of Milked is as frightening as a Stephen King novel.
Thanks to Simon and Fig for the book in exchange for an honest review.