At JCPenneys

“. . .a shared women’s intimacy.”

In honor of all us imperfect mothers…


I back through the door of the ladies room
pulling stroller, wailing baby, all his gear
(not a graceful entrance) into the anteroom
adjacent to wash basins and toilet stalls.
I gather his indignant, thrashing form,
my impatience nearly matching his,
and perch on the cracked Naugahyde settee.

Dammit. What bad timing. This twenty minutes
means rush hour traffic going home.
I sling a receiving blanket over my shoulder,
and squalls turn to contented gurgles.

Only then do I notice the frail, ancient figure
in a chair nearby, her cane leaned carefully beside her.
I smile, apologetic for intrusion, her catching me
at not-my-best-mom self, my feeling
of nakedness under the scrap of flannel.

Her face is soft with wrinkles and surprise.
“Oh my, you’re nursing your baby,” she says.
“I didn’t think girls did that anymore.”
I tell her it’s become the norm,
that studies show it’s healthier.
“Do you mind if I sit here with you?” she asks.
I assure her it will be all right.

We are alone, the restroom quiet
on a Tuesday afternoon,
save for soothing baby sounds.
I relax, change sides, let the blanket slip
in a shared women’s intimacy.
Finally the baby breaks away, eyes closed,
still suckling in his sleep. “I nursed seven babies,”
she tells me then. “If I close my eyes,
I almost remember what it feels like,
having a baby at my breast.”

I can’t speak, overwhelmed
by the miracle of milk.

– Sarah Russell
First published in The Houseboat
Painting: “Baby Nursing, Mexico City,” by Tina Modotti

25 thoughts on “At JCPenneys

  1. … contented gurgles … feeling of nakedness under the scrap of flannel … miracle of milk …. oh, the whole piece really, is such a capture!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Beautiful advice! I am blessed as we spent the morning sowing seeds in the garden as a family and both daughters now taking a long, rare, simultaneous nap 🙂 Happy Mother’s Day, Sarah!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw thanks, Beth. When I gave a reading where I included the poem, I had to practice it about 10 times before I could do it without tears. It was a profound experience when it happened. Put everything in perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A beautiful and honest insight into a mother’s world…which can be hard to see even through a father’s eyes. Stunning, Sarah. Your raw honesty and emotion are breathtaking. Happy Mother’s Day, my friend 🙂


  3. What is it about watching a nursing mother that brings back such memories? And your poem almost made my post-menopausal breasts ache again. Beautiful weaving of words you did there.


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