Elegy

August 9, 2006


WonderBaby came into this world with her eyes wide open, silent but for a few obligatory shouts. There had been complications, so they whisked her away for a moment, but within a very few minutes she was pressed against my chest, a tiny, fierce life-force, clutching, grasping, straining for the breast.

She found it. Within minutes of having burst out of me in a gush of pain, she was latched to my breast, sucking hungrily, pulling from me what she needed. Eyes wide open.

This was our start. Skin from skin, skin to skin, tiny new body pressed to big strong body, tiny mouth, little bird mouth, clasped to swollen nipple.

I remember thinking, her skin is my skin, the very same skin, the very same flesh, where does my breast stop and her cheek begin?

With every tug and every pulse of every suckle my heart stretched. Is it really possible that we can love so much? So deeply? So primally?

And that such love can burn through pain?

Because, the pain. She ravaged me. She pulled at the breast, tore at my tender skin. She made me bleed. It made me cry. For days, when she nursed, I cried.

But we soldiered on. One day at time, Husband said. And: It’s okay to stop.

I didn’t stop. It got better, slowly. Finally, one day, it was easy. I rejoiced at the easy: she bent her head to the breast and suckled hungrily, suckled lustily, and it didn’t hurt. I cradled her in my arms as she drank and it felt good. Easy. It was working. We were working.

I held my child to my breast and nourished her.

I held my child to my breast and I nourished her, night and day and day and night, and when she reached for me my heart sang because I could do this. I could do this for her. Nourish her.

I nourished her for months. Eight months. Eight months and 16 days. Give or take a day. Sometimes it was tiring. It was tiring. Often it was easy: pop out the boob and baby drinks. No fuss, no muss. But sometimes it pressed upon me, the weight of the thing, the need for me and only me. Me and only me at bedtime, at waking. The need for me, or, rather, my breast. Only me.

We knew that I was going to go away for a few days. I tried to express breastmilk; there was never enough. Hours I spent, dutifully pumping, hoping to store enough to sustain her in my absence. Every trickle of milk was a victory, and a failure. Liquid gold, captured in an Avent bottle! But not enough, never enough.

The coupons for formula were unearthed from the bottom of the pile of maternity propoganda distributed by well-meaning public-health nurses and prenatal class instructors and baby store salesclerks. The formula was purchased, and mixed, and offered to baby. She refused, refused, refused, refused, wavered, wavered, sampled, flirted, drank, welcomed.

And then I was gone. She took her bottles. I fought engorgement, she took her bottles. I struggled, she took her bottles, she thrived. And when I returned, it was over.

She came to me, she lunged at the breast, out of habit, and suckled, briefly.

And then she turned away.

She hasn’t been back.

I’m free. Freedom’s lovely, in its way.

But I miss it, a little. I miss her.

I clutch her a little more tightly every morning, and every night. And then I pass her to her Da and he clutches her tightly, and she opens her mouth, a little bird, and her cheek presses against his arm and they curl into each other, skin to skin…

It’s good.

*********

This post was not intended as any sort of response to or comment on the recent BabyTalk controversy, in which an image of a suckling baby caused the collective tits of untold numbers of repressed asshats to get all knotted up. That said, I was – I am – proud to bare my own breast on this page, and celebrate it as the miraculous, life-giving part of me that it is.

*********

This elegy to the boob wasn’t on my list of things-to-do. But it’s what’s happening, and, so. Here it is.

*********

Been to the Basement lately? Lots of talk down there. Stories. Cookies…

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    { 75 comments }

    Haley-O August 11, 2006 at 12:17 am

    I have shivers from this, HBM. I want to cry. I want to smile. I want to cry. I’ve just successfully weaned the monkey. We nursed for a year. I always said I’d stop at a year. When her birthday came around, I kept saying one more day, one more feed. After a week, I noticed she wasn’t asking; she was simply accepting my offer. So, I stopped offering. And, that was it. I’m happy because we were both ready. I’m a little “vahklempt” because I miss the closeness….But, I’m also elated that my body is changing: my breasts aren’t so unbearably large (still full of milk, but shrinking slowly), and I have more energy–some anxiety from the hormone changes, but it’s easing off. So, thank you. Thank you for giving me this moment to reflect again and in new ways.

    Krisco August 11, 2006 at 12:23 am

    This is a beautiful post, Her Bad. I am saddened ahead of time thinking of the last time Baby and I will nurse. It’s a little bit heartbreaking, so I understand.

    L. August 11, 2006 at 12:40 am

    I am one of the few, the proud, the misunderstood: Women Who Hated Breastfeeding (and Their Babies Who Couldn`t Get Enough of It).

    I never liked it, but I was a veritable Dairy Queen. I think I could have fed a litter of puppies on the side — I fed all three of my kids, and two of them never even tasted formula. However, I greatly preferr cudding a baby when he/she doesn`t have one of my tenderest body parts in his/her mouth.

    Amanda August 11, 2006 at 6:07 am

    Such a beautiful post.. you have a way with words. Bittersweet & beautiful. I remember the last feed of all of my babies. Thank god my daughter is only 2 weeks old, and I don’t have to wean for a long, long time.

    Mel August 11, 2006 at 6:25 am

    Lovely. I so seldom have anything to say at the end of your posts – you’ve said it all so well it’d be like gilding the lily.
    I wasn’t able to nurse either of the girls past three months – my dairy was deficient – but that feeling of letting go, wanting to appreciate it, but missing it fiercely, is forever with me.

    Ruth Dynamite August 11, 2006 at 7:56 am

    That picture! Precious.

    Yes, the nursing thing is a blessing and a curse, and it’s hard to give up. Congratulations on your newfound freedom!

    RLGelber August 11, 2006 at 9:26 am

    This is a beautiful post.

    Her Bad Mother August 11, 2006 at 9:57 am

    The warm thoughts and commisseration here are so, so welcome. It’s tremendously comforting to know that I’ve not been alone in these powerfully mixed feelings…

    Nancy August 11, 2006 at 11:22 am

    Beautifully said. What a wonderful and heartbreaking milestone that you and Wonder Baby have reached. ((hugs))

    Amy Jo August 11, 2006 at 11:52 am

    Thank you so much for this lovely post. I’ve been nursing my son for almost 6 months, and I know there will come a day when I don’t. I am sad and anxious about that day, but reading your post reminded me that there are new things to look forward to once the weaning is over.

    Annie, The Evil Queen August 11, 2006 at 1:09 pm

    My son weaned last month. I still miss it. Especially since he’s likely to be an only child and I won’t have the opportunity to experience it again. He still like to lay against my belly when he’s sleepy though.

    Kristen August 11, 2006 at 2:39 pm

    Like GGC, I can relate in some senses (the mix of freedom and sadness) but not in others, because I too never made it past 8 weeks (and only 3 with my second child). Sigh.

    Silly Hily August 11, 2006 at 4:11 pm

    I am going to keep this short, sweet, and simple: That was a beautiful post.

    Jaelithe August 11, 2006 at 4:34 pm

    This is such a beautiful, beautiful post.

    You will feel better the first time you have a cold or something and you can take WHATEVER medicine you want without even thinking about it– trust me on that one ;)

    I had to be the one to decide to wean or I think my son would never have given up nursing! And I felt guilty it at the time, but after nearly two years, I was so, so done.

    My son is still really not over the weaning, even though it has been months . . . every once in a while he looks up at me and says, plaintively, “Mama milk all gone?” and I feel another stab of guilt (though not regret). I’m glad Wonderbaby is happy with her Daddy Milk ;)

    Christy August 11, 2006 at 5:41 pm

    Such a great post. My oldest weaned at 10 months in much the same way as WonderBaby. My youngest held on until nearly two, slowly weaning herself. Both times, I felt a little sad, a little relieved.

    Heather August 13, 2006 at 12:01 am

    My daughter balked at nursing, so I pumped my milk for 6 months for her. My son, he took to nursing right away. It was so great to have a kid who would nurse. He self-weaned at 13 months. I had mixed feelings about it, but it was what was right for us. He’s still my cuddly bear at 2 years old.

    Dana August 13, 2006 at 5:18 pm

    Call me crazy, but sometimes, I miss nursing my son. And I only made it 4 1/2 months. Isn’t that nuts. Why do I suddenly miss those days? It sure did hurt like hell the first few months!

    Jozet August 13, 2006 at 9:27 pm

    Beautiful.

    Absolutely beautiful.

    Lady M August 14, 2006 at 3:53 am

    Beautiful. I know those mixed feelings well! I never in a million years thought that I would enjoy nursing or that I would miss it. But I did! And then enjoyed having *me* back. :)

    Her Bad Mother August 16, 2006 at 10:09 pm

    You all break my heart, sharing your own experiences. So good to know that I’m not alone in these mixed feelings.

    Simerion July 31, 2007 at 11:54 pm

    I fed my daughter until she was three. It felt fine to her and fine to me. She still talks about it and reminisces about how she liked it. I really thought she would stop sooner..she is so independent and bold in all other ways. I guess it was a private way for her to hold the link between us until she wanted to be a big kid. You write beautifully, and I felt every emotion that you revealed.

    Amanda October 5, 2007 at 8:38 pm

    And what a sweet post it was. It will be interesting to see how number two goes. Congratulations, and great job.

    Anonymous November 22, 2008 at 2:15 am

    I am 5 months pregnant and just found your blog and really enjoy your writing. I came across the pic of your little one in that cute tee that says “mutha sucka” on it and decided I needed it for my own babe when the time comes. So I googles “mutha sucka baby” and this is one of the things that came up

    http://www.babyclotheshound.com/coolbabyclothes/mutha-sucka

    So if you are “babyclotheshound” suppose it’s no biggy. And it really isn’t a terrible re-use of your pic but I just thought you ought to see it as it seems to apply to this post.

    And hey where did you get that tee?

    Anonymous November 22, 2008 at 2:18 am

    oops – scatch that – commented on the wrong story – too many tabs open

    Surprised Suburban Wife November 26, 2008 at 1:12 am

    I have read this post several times over the past 11.5 months as I went through the stages of breastfeeding. Now that we’re down to 1-2 times per day, the tears that gush forth each time I read your Elegy are really flowing fast and furious. Your writing is wonderful and eloquent and articulate and perfectly captures every feeling I can’t. Thank you.

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