Because it hath pleased God to blesse me with many children, and so caused me to observe many things falling out to mothers, and to their children; I thought good to open my minde concerning a speciall matter belonging to all childe-bearing women, seriously to consider of: and to manifest my minde the better, even to write of this matter, so farre as God shall please to direct me; in summe, the matter I meane, Is the duty of nursing due by mothers to their owne children.
In setting downe whereof, I will first shew, that every woman ought to nurse her owne childe; and secondly, I will endeavour to answere such objections, as are used to be cast out against this dutie to disgrace the same.
The first point is easily performed. For it is the expresse ordinance of God that mothers should nurse their owne children, & being his ordinance they are bound to it in conscience. This should stop the mouthes of all replyers, for God is most wise, [Isa.31.2.] and therefore must needs know what is fittest and best for us to doe: & to prevent all foolish feares, or shifts, we are given to understand that he is also All sufficient, [Gen.17.1.] & therefore infinitely able to blesse his owne ordinance, and to afford us meanes in our selves (as continuall experience confirmeth) toward the observance thereof.
If this (as it ought) bee granted, then how venterous are those women that dare venter to doe otherwise, and so to refuse, and by refusing to dispise that order, which the most wise and allmighty God hath appointed, and in steed thereof to chuse their owne pleasures? Oh what peace can there be to these womens consciences, unlesse through the darknes of their understanding they judge it no disobedience?
And then they will drive me to prove that this nursing, and nourishing of their own children in their own bosomes is Gods ordinance; They are very willful, or very ignorant, if they make a question of it. For it is proved sufficiently to be their dutie, both by Gods word, and also by his workes.
By his word it is proved, first by Examples, namely the example of Eve. For who suckled her sonnes Cain, Abel, Seth, &c. but her selfe? Which shee did not only of meere necessitie, because yet no other woman was created; but especially because shee was their mother, and so saw it was her duty: and because she had a true natural affection, which moved her to doe it gladly. Next the example of Sarah the wife of Abraham; [Gen.21.7.] For shee both gave her sonne Isaac suck, as doing the dutie commanded of God: And also tooke great comfort, and delight therein, as in a duty well pleasing to her selfe; whence shee spake of it, as of an action worthy to be named in her holy rejoycing. Now if Sarah, so great a Princesse, did nurse her own childe, why should any of us neglect to doe the like, except (which God forbid) we thinke scorne to follow her, whose daughters it is our glory to be, and which we be only upon this condition, that we imitate her well-doing. [I.Pet.3.6.] Let us looke therefore to our worthy Pattern, noting withall, that shee put her selfe to this worke when shee was very old, and so might the better have excused her selfe, then we yonger women can: being also more able to hire, and keepe a nurse, then any of us. But why is shee not followed by most in the practise of this duty? Even because they want her vertue, and piety. This want is the common hinderance to this point of the womans obedience; for this want makes them want love to Gods precepts, want love to his doctrine, and like step-mothers, want due love to their own children.
But now to another worthy example, [1.Sam.1.23.] namely that excellent woman Hannah, who having after much affliction of minde obtained a sonne of God, whom shee vowed unto God, shee did not put him to another to nurse, but nursed him her owne selfe untill shee had weaned him, & carried him to be consecrate unto the Lord: As well knowing that this duty of giving her childe sucke, was so acceptable to God, as for the cause thereof shee did not sinne in staying with it at home from the yearely sacrifice: but now women, especially of any place, and of little grace, doe not hold this duty acceptable to God, because it is unacceptable to themselves: as if they would have the Lord to like, and dislike, according to their vaine lusts.
To proceed, take notice of one example more, that is, of the blessed Virgin: as her womb bare our blessed Saviour, so her papps gave him sucke. Now who shall deny the own mothers suckling of their owne children to bee their duty, since every godly matrone hath walked in these steps before them: Eve the mother of al the living; Sarah the mother of al the faithfull; Hannah so gratiously heard of God; Mary blessed among women, and called blessed of all ages. And who can say but that the rest of holy women mentioned in the holy Scriptures did the like; since no doubt that speech of that noble Dame, saying, who would have said to Abraham that Sarah should have given children sucke? [Gen.21.7.] was taken from the ordinary custome of mothers in those lesse corrupted times.
And so much for proofe of this office, and duty to be Gods ordinance, by his own Word according to the argument of Examples: I hope I shall likewise prove it by the same word from plaine Precepts. [1.Tim.5.14.] First from that Precept, which willeth the younger women to marry, and to Beare children, that is, not only to Beare them in the wombe, and to bring them forth, but also to Beare them on their knee, in their armes, and at their breasts: [Ver.10.] for this Bearing a little before is called nourishing, and bringing up: and to inforce it the better upon womens consciences, it is numbred as the first of the good workes, for which godly women should be well reported of. And well it may be the first, because if holy Ministers, or other Christians do hear of a good woman to be brought to bed, and her child to bee living; their first question usually is, whether she her selfe give it sucke, yea, or no? if the answere be she doth, then they commend her: if the answer be she doth not, then they are sorry for her.
And thus I come to a second Precept. I pray you, who that judges aright; doth not hold the suckling of her owne childe the part of a true mother, of an honest mother, of a just mother, of a syncere mother, of a mother worthy of love, of a mother deserving good report, of a vertuous mother, of a mother winning praise for it? All this is assented to by any of good understanding. Therefore this is also a Precept, as for other duties, so for This of mothers to their children; which saith, [Philip.4.8.] whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things be worthy of love, whatsoever things be of good report, if there be any vertue, if there bee any praise, thinke on these things, these things doe and the God of peace shall be with you.
So farre for my promise, to prove by the word of God, that it is his ordinance that women should nurse their owne children: now I will endeavour to prove it by his workes: First by his workes of judgement; if it were not his ordinance for mothers to give their children sucke, it were no judgement to bereave them of their milke, but it is specified to be a great judgement to bereave them hereof, & to give them dry breasts, therefore it is to be gathered, even from hence, that it is his ordinance, since to deprive them of meanes to doe it, is a punishment of them.
I adde to this the worke that God worketh in the very nature of mothers, which proveth also that he hath ordained that they should nurse their owne children: for by his secret operation, the mothers affection is so knit by natures law to her tender babe, as she findes no power to deny to suckle it, no not when shee is in hazard to lose her owne life, by attending on it; for in such a case it is not said, let the mother fly, and leave her infant to the perill, as if she were dispensed with: but onely it is said woe to her, as if she were to be pittied, that for nature to her child, she must be unnaturall to her selfe: now if any then being even at liberty, and in peace, with all plenty, shall deny to give sucke to their owne children, they goe against nature: and shew that God hath not done so much for them as to worke any good, [Lam.7.3.] no not in their nature, but left them more savage then the Dragons, and as cruell to their little ones as the Ostriches.
Now another worke of God, proving this point is the worke of his provision, for every kinde to be apt, and able to nourish their own fruit: there is no beast that feeds their young with milke, but the Lord, even from the first ground of the order of nature; Growe, and multiplie; hath provided it of milke to suckle their owne young, which every beast takes so naturally unto, as if another beast come toward their young to offer the office of a Damme unto it, they shew according to their fashion, a plaine dislike of it: as if nature did speake in them, and say it is contrary to Gods order in nature, commanding each kinde to increase, and multiplie in their owne bodies, and by their owne breasts, not to bring forth by one Damme, and to bring up by another: but it is his ordinance that every kinde should both bring forth, and also nurse its owne fruit.
Much more should this work of God prevaile to perswade women, made as man in the image of God, and therefore should be ashamed to bee put to schoole to learne good nature of the unreasonable creature. In us also, as we knowe by experience, God provideth milke in our breasts against the time of our childrens birth, and this hee hath done ever since it was said to us also, Increase, and multiply, so that this worke of his provision sheweth that hee tieth us likewise to nourish the children of our owne wombe, with our own breasts, even by the order of nature: yea it sheweth that he so careth for, and regardeth little children even from the wombe, that he would have them nursed by those that in all reason will looke to them with the kindest affection, namely their mothers; & in giving them milke for it, hee doth plainely tell them that he requires it.
Oh consider, how comes our milke? is it not by the direct providence of God? Why provides he it, but for the child? The mothers then that refuse to nurse their owne children, doe they not despise Gods providence? Doe they not deny Gods will? Doe they not as it were say, I see, O God, by the meanes thou hast put into me, that thou wouldst have me nurse the child thou hast given me, but I will not doe so much for thee. Oh impious, and impudent unthankfulnesse; yea monstrous unnaturalnesse, both to their own natural fruit borne so neare their breasts, and fed in their owne wombes, and yet may not be suffered to sucke their owne milke.
And this unthankfulnesse, and unnaturalnesse is oftner the sinne of the Higher, and the richer sort, then of the meaner, and poorer, except some nice and prowd idle dames, who will imitate their betters, till they make their poore husbands beggars. And this is one hurt which the better ranke doe by their ill example; egge, and imbolden the lower ones to follow them to their losse: were it not better for Us greater persons to keepe Gods ordinance, & to shew the meaner their dutie in our good example? I am sure wee have more helpes to performe it, and have fewer probable reasons to alleage against it, then women that live by hard labour, & painfull toile. If such mothers as refuse this office of love, & of nature to their children, should hereafter be refused, despised, and neglected of those their children, were they not justly requited according to their owne unkind dealing? I might say more in handling this first point of my promise; but I leave the larger, and learneder discourse hereof unto men of art, and learning: only I speake of so much as I reade, and know in my owne experience, which if any of my sexe, and condition do receave good by, I am glad: if they scorne it, they shall have the reward of scorners. I write in modestie, and can reape no disgrace by their immodest folly.
And so I come to the last part of my promise; which is to answer objections made by divers against this duty of mothers to their children.
First it is objected that Rebeckah had a nurse, and that therefore her mother did not give her suck of her owne breasts, and so good women, in the first ages, did not hold them to this office of nursing their owne children. To this I answer; that if her mother had milk, and health, and yet did put this duty from her to another, it was her fault, & so proveth nothing against me. But it is manifest that she that Rebeckah calleth her nurse, was called so, either for that she most tended her while her mother suckled her: or for that she weaned her: or for that during her nonage, and childhood, shee did minister to her continually such good things as delighted, and nourished her up. For to any one of these the name of a nourse is fitly given: whence a good wife is called her husbands nourse: and that Rebeckahs nourse was only such a one, appeareth, [Gen.24.61.] because afterward she is not named a nourse, but a maide, saying: Then Rebeckah rose, and her maides; now maids give not suck out of their breasts, never any virgin, or honest maide gave suck, but that blessed one from an extraordinary, & blessed power.
Secondly it is objected, that it is troublesome; that it is noysome to ones clothes; that it makes one looke old, &c. All such reasons are uncomely, and unchristian to be objected: and therefore unworthy to be answered, they argue unmotherly affection, idlenesse, desire to have liberty to gadd from home, pride, foolish finenesse, lust, wantonnesse, & the like evills. Aske Sarah, Hannah, the blessed virgin, and any modest loving mother, what trouble they accounted it to give their little ones sucke? behold most nursing mothers, and they be as cleane and sweet in their cloathes, and carry their age, and hold their beautie, as well as those that suckle not: and most likely are they so to doe; because keeping Gods Ordinance, they are sure of Gods Blessing: and it hath beene observed in some women that they grew more beautifull, and better favoured, by very nursing their owne children.
But there are some women that object feare: saying that they are so weake, & so tender, that they are afraid to venter to give their children suck, least they indanger their health thereby. Of these, I demand, why then they did venter to marry, and so to beare children; and if they say they could not chuse, and that they thought not that marriage would impaire their health: I answere, that for the same reasons they should set themselves to nurse their owne children, because they should not chuse but doe what God would have them to doe: and they should beleeve that this worke will be for their health also, seeing it is ordinary with the Lord to give good stomach, health, and strength to almost all mothers that take this paines with their children.
One answere more to all the objections that use to bee made against giving children sucke, is this, that now the hardnes, to effect this matter, is much remooved by a late example of a tender young Lady, and you may all be encouraged to follow after, in that wherein she hath gone before you, & so made the way more easie, and more hopefull by that which shee findeth possible and comfortable by Gods blessing, and no offence to her Lord nor her selfe: shee might have had as many doubts, and lets, as any of you, but she was willing to try how God would enable her, & he hath given her good successe, as I hope he will doe to others that are willing to trust in God for his helpe.
Now if any reading these few lines returne against me, that it may bee I my selfe have given my own children suck: & therefore am bolder, and more busie to meddle in urging this point, to the end to insult over, & to make them to bee blamed that have not done it. I answer, that whether I have, or have not performed this my bounden duty, I will not deny to tell my own practise. I knowe & acknowledge that I should have done it, and having not done it, it was not for want of will in my selfe, but partly I was overruled by anothers authority, and partly deceived by somes ill counsell, & partly I had not so well considered of my duty in this motherly office, as since I did, when it was too late for me to put it in execution. Wherefore being pricked in hart for my undutifullnesse, this way I studie to redeeme my peace, first by repentance towards God, humbly and often craving his pardon for this my offence: secondly by studying how to shew double love to my children, to make them amends for neglect of this part of love to them, when they should have hung on my breasts, & have beene nourished in mine owne bosome: thirdly by doing my indeavour to prevent many christian mothers from sining in the same kinde, against our most loving, and gratious God.
And for this cause I add unto my performed promise, this short exhortation: namely I beseech all godly women to remember, how we elder ones are commaunded to instruct the yonger, to love their children, now therefore love them so as to do this office to them when they are borne, more gladly for love sake, then a stranger, who bore them not, shall do for lucre sake. Also I pray you to set no more so light by Gods blessing in your owne breasts, which the holy Spirit ranketh with other excellent blessings; if it be unlawfull to trample under feete a cluster of grapes, in which a little wine is found, then how unlawfull is it to destroye and drie up those breasts, in which your owne child (and perhaps one of Gods very elect, to whom to be a noursing father, is a Kings honour; and to whom to be a noursing mother, is a Queens honour) might finde food of syncere milke, even from Gods immediate providence, untill it were fitter for stronger meat? I doe knowe that the Lord may deny some women, either to have any milke in their breasts at all, or to have any passage for their milke, or to have any health, or to have a right minde: and so they may be letted from this duty, by want, by sicknesse, by lunacy, &c. But I speake not to these: I speake to you, whose consciences witnesse against you, that you cannot justly alleage any of those impediments.
Doe you submit your selves, to the paine and trouble of this ordinance of God? trust not other women, whom wages hyres to doe it, better then your selves, whom God, and nature ties to doe it. I have found by grievous experience, such dissembling in nurses, pretending sufficiency of milke, when indeed they had too much scarcitie; pretending willingnesse, towardnesse, wakefulnesse, when indeed they have beene most wilfull, most froward, and most slothfull, as I feare the death of one or two of my little Babes came by the defalt of their nurses. Of all those which I had for eighteene children, I had but two which were throughly willing, and carefull: divers have had their children miscarry in the nurses hands, and are such mothers (if it were by the nurses carelesnesse) guiltlesse? I knowe not how they should, since they will shut them out of the armes of nature, and leave them to the will of a stranger; yea to one that will seeme to estrange her selfe from her owne child, to give sucke to the nurse-child: This she may faine to doe upon a covetous composition, but she frets at it in her minde, if she have any naturall affection.
Therefore be no longer at the trouble, and at the care to hire others to doe your owne worke: bee not so unnaturall to thrust away your owne children: be not so hardy as to venter a tender Babe to a lesse tender heart: bee not accessary to that disorder of causing a poorer woman to banish her owne infant, for the entertaining of a richer womans child, as it were, bidding her unlove her owne to love yours. Wee have followed Eve in transgression, let us follow her in obedience. When God laid the sorrowes of conception, of breeding, of bringing forth, and of bringing up her children upon her, & so upon us in her loynes, did shee reply any word against? Not a word; so I pray you all mine owne Daughters, and others that are still child-bearing reply not against the duty of suckling them, when God hath sent you them.
Indeed I see some, if the wether be wet, or cold; if the way be fowle; if the Church be far off, I see they are so coy, so nice, so lukewarme, they will not take paines for their own soules. alas, no marvell if these will not bee at trouble, and paine to nourish their childrens bodies, but feare God, bee diligent to serve him; approve all his ordinances; seeke to please him; account it no trouble, or paine to doe any thing that hath the promise of his blessing: and then you will, no doubt, doe this good, laudable, naturall, loving duty to your children. If yet you be not satisfied, inquire not of such as refuse to doe this: consult not with your owne conceit: advise not with flatterers: but aske counsell of syncere, and faithfull Preachers. If you be satisfied; then take this with you, to make you doe it cheerefully. Thinke alwaies, that having the child at your breast, and having it in your armes, you have Gods blessing there. For children are Gods blessings. Thinke againe how your Babe crying for your breast, sucking hartily the milke out of it, and growing by it, is the Lords owne instruction, every houre, and every day, that you are suckling it, instructing you to shew that you are his new borne Babes, by your earnest desire after his word, & the syncere doctrine thereof, and by your daily growing in grace and goodnesse thereby, so shall you reape pleasure, and profit. Againe, you may consider, that when your child is at your breast, it is a fit occasion to move your heart to pray for a blessing upon that worke; and to give thanks for your child, and for ability & freedome unto that, which many a mother would have done and could not; who have tried & ventured their health, & taken much paines, and yet have not obtained their desire. But they that are fitted every way for this commendable act, have certainely great cause to be thankfull: and I much desire that God may have glory and praise for every good worke, and you much comfort, that doe seeke to honour God in all things. Amen.
Clinton, Elizabeth. “The Countesse of Lincolne’s nurserie.” . Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 6 Nov 2006. 23 May 2013 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/clinton/countesse_of_lincolnes_nurserie/>.
Quotidiana site founder Patrick Madden has just published a book of his own personal essays, including pieces formerly published in the Best American Spiritual Writing and Best Creative Nonfiction anthologies. If you enjoy the classical essays on this site, you'll enjoy these contemporary ruminations as well. Soon there'll be a web page here with further information, but for now, you can find out more (and perhaps purchase a copy) at Amazon.com.
"Patrick Madden is an essayist of verve, passion, wit, and dependable moral compass. Quotidiana drew me in powerfully, from page to page and from pleasure to pleasure." —Ian Frazier
Friend of Quotidiana Kim Dana Kupperman's Welcome Table Press is hosting a one-day symposium at Fordham University on Saturday, October 15th, 2011. In Praise of the Essay: Practice & Form will feature talks and discussions by Phillip Lopate, Robin Hemley, Barbara Hurd, and more.
Changes are happening beneath the hood of Quotidiana. Sign up for our Facebook group to stay up to date on site and essay news.
The truth that is suppressed by friends is the readiest weapon of the enemy.
For a man to refrain even from good words, and to hold his peace, it is commendable; but for a multitude, it is great mastery.
But though [God] is pleased to honour us with this sweet paternal alliance, He is, notwithstanding, as just as He is good and mighty; and more often exercises His justice than His power, and favours us according to that, and not according to our petitions.
Religion is not an affair of occupation and circumstance, but of principle and temper.
Truly, the hatchet is hardly a weapon of precision, but would seem to have rather more the character of the boomerang, which returns to damage the reckless thrower.