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…
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…