Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wet Nurse'sTale

I just finished reading The Wet Nurse's Tale by Erica Eisdorfer. I have to say it is not at all what I had expected. I thought this book would be about a wet nurse that perhaps worked in the royal nursery, or something like that. This book was about a poor woman who was a wet nurse to ladies around England. Her story was interesting but often quite sad. Sometimes when I read books, I let my emotions run away with me. I can get really into the book and it can affect my mood the rest of the day. Parts of this book made me moody I have to say.

Ms. Rose grew up in a house with 12 other children, and a drunkard father. Her mother would hire herself out and would wet nurse babies to help earn money. 3 of the children died, so 10 were left. Rose and two of her sisters went to work at The Great House, a home nearby where a wealthy family lived. They helped with laundry, cleaning, etc. While there, one of her sisters is taken advantage of by the husband of the house, and she then drowns herself out of shame. Rose has to continue working there, even after the tragedy. While working there she befriends Freddie, the son of the house. He seems to enjoy her company, and they end up having relations. She finds herself pregnant, but doesn't want to tell her parents who the father is.

Her father beats her a lot, and tells her to keep working until the baby is born. She has a boy named Joey, and stays home to be with him. When he is only 4 weeks old, a woman comes by wanting to hire a wet nurse. Her mother is over 40 and can't any longer, but Rose decides to. The new custom now though, is to have the wet nurse move in with the family while caring for the child. Her father tells her she has to, and she has to leave Joey behind. Rose tries to fight him, but he makes her leave. Her mother promises to spoon feed him and feed him milk from a towel. Rose moves to the house and cares for the twin babies, one girl one boy. While there, one of her sisters comes to visit her. Her baby Joey got a bad fever and passed away.

Rose has a hard time of it, because she knows he was too little to be spoon fed. She tries to save some of her money from her employment and hide it from her father. As soon as the babies are weaned, she finds another family to wet nurse for. While caring of her new charge, she meets a Jewish dentist. They meet from time to time at church, and then they have relations as well. The baby she is caring for is old enough to be weaned so she has no other choice but to go home. Being pregnant dried up her milk.

Her father told her to go back to work at the Great House, and so she does. Ms. Rose is a large woman, so she can hide her pregnancy easily enough. While there she runs into Freddie again. They resume their old relationship, but she never tells him of the baby they had that died. Or that she is pregnant again. When her time is close, she quits working and goes home. She has another boy, named Davey. Her father tries to get her to work again, but she says she won't. She wants to take care of her baby this time. One day she is out working in the field, and comes back to find her mother beaten up badly, and Davey gone.

Her father had taken him away. The first place she checks is the Great House. The mom tells her they sent the baby away to be raised by a good family. They think Freddie is the father. Ms. Rose keeps to herself that the father is in fact the Jewish dentist. After a few days, she finds him in the house of a Mrs. Norval. Her husband was serving in the military, and wanted her to have some company. He thought a baby would be a good idea. Ms. Rose, with a lot of thinking and planning, is able to hire herself as the baby's wet nurse. No one knows she is the real mother. As she cares for him, she tries to figure out a way to leave. She can't return home, and she doesn't have enough money to survive on.

As she works there, she discovers her mistress is crazy. She has fits of insanity and beats the servants, and goes on long walks and doesn't eat much. She decides she needs to get the baby away from the house. Ms. Rose is able to prove to Mrs. Norval's brother that she is crazy, because she tried to drown the baby. He agrees that the baby should leave, and asks her to take care of him. He gives her a lot of money and sends her away with the baby. Ms. Rose had no idea it would turn out so well for her. She moves back to the area where the Jewish dentist lives, and takes up work again as a wet nurse. This time she is able to keep her baby with her.

It doesn't say what happens in the end, but I'm hopeful she ended up with the dentist again. This book was definitely a little different than what I was expecting; very sad and graphic. Her life was so sad, and different from ours. Women had no rights if any, and their husbands often beat or raped them. Many lost children from sicknesses, or died in labor. Those who were lucky enough to survive, and had money, hired wet nurses. It wasn't the custom to nurse one's own baby. There was a huge difference between the privileged and the help. Ms. Rose was an interesting character, because at times I thought she was a hussy, but really she was just misguided and lost. She wanted comfort, and to be a mother. She knew she wasn't pretty, so she took what she could get. It sounds like she was a terrific mother though and a good nurse.

Rating: PG13 for love scenes and nursing descriptions.

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