Pesto is one of those things that seemed super fancy when I was a teenager, and then for a while I insisted on making it myself, and then later I learned it was not ever supposed to be heated and is not, Pat Kiley, a serve-hot-over-ziti situation. These days, it most often appears on egg sandwiches made by my husband, and is delicious, but I always squeeze out a hot little tear or two when I see or smell pesto.
It is not pesto’s fault. It is the fault of a well-meaning lactation consultant and my own lack of critical thinking regarding my breasts. I was very sternly on the fence about breastfeeding when I had my first kid. As someone who is generally attuned to the possibility of every situation’s failure and is congenitally superstitious despite a Meyers Briggs test indicating that I am a judgmental robot, I never make a plan and announce that plan as if I can just carry it out like some god immune to chance. But I planned to, and in fact did, breastfeed my daughter for 13 months, and spent far too much of that time trying to make it so that my boobs were free of rock hard lumps of backed-up milk. Plugged ducts, assholes: it’s not just for HVAC systems. And it hurts, and if you don’t get the milk out of there, you get mastitis, which leads to feverish infections, which is great when you have an infant or baby and don’t ever sleep, and have repeatedly considered getting breast reduction surgery, even when you were not pregnant or breastfeeding, which is a situation where your breasts, if they are sizeable to begin with, just begin to resemble that giant dump monster in Spirited Away.
The other thing is that you cannot resolve plugged ducts and mastitis by just stopping breastfeeding and switching to formula, because your body will continue to produce milk and the golf balls of milk in your boobs will just get bigger, and your boobs will look like they are multiplying, and the pain will be incredible, and then when the plugged ducts finally get unplugged it looks like fireboats on the Hudson, and this will most likely happen in the shower, and your shower curtain will be coated with milk and then you are literally enclosed in a breastmilk-covered tent and you will NEVER GET OUT because this shit WILL NEVER END.
So I hired the region’s most respected and beloved lactation consultant, and was in a desperate state, and because of that, I sat on my couch with her, with no shirt on, so she could gaze upon my breasts, which is my fucking nightmare – it would be my nightmare if Tom Hardy or Idris Elba were the one staring and evaluating, or Chris Pine or Lou Diamond Phillips (childhood crush because of La Bamba!) were the staring evaluator – and then I had to show her how I breastfed on each side. Truly, this woman was wonderful and empathetic but businesslike, and for a flat fee I could call her for advice at any time, but having her gimlet eye on my “bazooms,” as my mother calls them, was unnerving. Her advice helped enormously, but my boobs are uncooperative boobs, and one night I had tried everything and was careering toward a fever from mastitis and a midnight run for antibiotics so I called her. She told me that certain vegetables, shredded and made into a sort of poultice and placed directly on the “affected area” could draw out the milk. Or something. She suggested garlic. So easy! We had that! So I got a huge head of garlic, chopped it up and mixed it with olive oil, slapped wads of it on my gigantic and very horribly engorged tits, felt that perhaps something soothing should be included and so included basil leaves, wrapped myself up in ace bandages, and went to bed. My husband commented on the scent of this, and I shushed him, super-secure in the knowledge that putting raw garlic and other pesto ingredients on my unwieldy cans was just going to solve every problem. Did I sleep? Sort of. Did it feel weird? Yes. Yes it did. It hurt, in fact.
A 5:30 a.m., I couldn’t stand it anymore – the burning sensation, the stink of body-temperature garlic, the general sense that the apocalypse was nigh, coming on fleet-footed horses with manes of pesto. So I unwrapped my boobs, cleaned off the garlic in the shower, and began screaming, because if you put raw garlic on tender skin overnight you will burn the shit out of your skin. I had huge red burns all over my boobs, big lumps of hard milk inside my boobs, and more frantic tears than I had ever cried, and I cry at marathons, because the runners are trying so hard and it is inspiring, and I’ve seen a bunch of marathons and triathlons because my siblings are sporty and I am handy with passing water to people who actually try to accomplish things. But the sum of these tears was greater than all the tears I have ever or will ever shed while people run past me like a super disorganized military force that just gets on with it with no body armor or weaponry.
And so I had to go to the emergency room, and show the stunned interns my boobs. That is called doubling down on your nightmare. And I had to explain that I had put raw garlic all over them, and endure their certainty that I was a kinky bimbo and not just a victim of misguided advice from The State’s Most Respected Lactation Consultant. I ended up with boobs that looked like a map of a forest fire-damaged area, a prescription for antibiotics to deal with the mastitis, the scorn of a lot of high-achieving 28-year-old medical professionals, the burden of explaining to friends why we missed brunch (“I was at the ER all morning showing off my pesto tits!”), a fear that my boobs would forever bear the garlic scars, a renewed lack of faith in women’s health care, and the issue of having to continue to breastfeed a baby whilst all the skin that the baby wanted to paw was raw and extremely painful.
So I do not cook a lot with pesto. My husband does that.