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 }

    mad_hatter August 9, 2006 at 11:24 pm

    That last swallow is a sickly sweet heartbreak that nothing on this earth prepares you for. I fought every minute of my breastfeeding life to keep it going, to keep supply up, to keep pain down (I had Renaud’s Syndrome). Nothing has made me cry more or feel more inadequate than breastfeeding. And yet I doggedly kept it up for 11 months (non-exclusive). Christmas eve 2005 was my last feed, her last swallow, the last time she was still a part of my body.

    Now she is her own person and that is also a very good and very profound thing.

    Have read your blog here and there for a while. It’s a pleasure to finally comment you.

    lildb August 9, 2006 at 11:28 pm

    I can’t seem to break up with breastfeeding. or maybe my son can’t. or either of us. both of us?

    anyway. I wish I could get there, b/c it’s going on thirteen months and I’m. tired.

    so I’m jealous of you. and a little sad. and lot jealous.

    in a good way. :p

    GIRL'S GONE CHILD August 9, 2006 at 11:38 pm

    I love this and can relate even though I can’t relate. (A la not making it past the six week mark. Sigh…)

    Mayberry August 9, 2006 at 11:53 pm

    I love your title for this post. So perfect. BlogHer was the end for us too, and I still find it hard to believe–although I don’t miss it.

    Elizabeth August 10, 2006 at 12:36 am

    “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.”

    That is sheer poetry. Beautiful, lyrical, moving. I only breastfed one of my children for a few weeks, so I don’t know how it feels to really nourish a child that way. But there are tears in my eyes for the beauty of your writing. Thank you.

    Kristen August 10, 2006 at 1:06 am

    That was beautiful.

    Izzy August 10, 2006 at 1:39 am

    Awwww…I so know that of which you speak. And like so many aspects of motherhood, it’s bittersweet. The post itself was beautiful and moving and though it doesn’t take much, it made me cry a little. {{big hugs}}

    Bobita August 10, 2006 at 2:46 am

    I soooooo know of that moment…three babies and MONTHS of “SERIOUSLY-we-are-transitioning-to-a-bottle-please-don’t-pay-attention-to-the-CONSTANT-crying” phase!

    YOU can do IT, too!!!! But, I won’t lie to you…it is HARD!

    Jenny August 10, 2006 at 6:30 am

    I can’t relate to this at all (I was never able to breastfeed) but I’m still crying.

    Excuse me, gotta go hug Hailey forever.

    mo-wo August 10, 2006 at 6:39 am

    I am without words save one, admiration.

    krista August 10, 2006 at 7:13 am

    When Aidan was 1 I went back to school, and he went todaycare. he nursed for a couple of months after that, but not really with any need or hunger, then one day, he just turned away. Didn’t want it any more. I remember crying and thinking an era had ended for us. He weaned me, and it took me awhile to get over it.

    I relate to missing it. I wonder if George will wean me too, when I go back to work.

    But like you- I will revel in the freedom.

    Everything it seems, about life is bittersweet lately.

    metro mama August 10, 2006 at 7:49 am

    Lovely.

    becks August 10, 2006 at 7:54 am

    I am 3 months pregnant with my second child. My first is only 9 months. Despite well meaning advice from my Doctor, I can’t stop breastfeeding. I am addicted, I hold him in my arms and he suckles and drinks and it just feels too right.

    I came home from the Doctor in tears when she told me to stop. My husband went out and bought some formula. I was so upset I let him give our then 8 month old son a bottle of formula every night… And then I looked into it, I googled breastfeeding during pregnancy, I sought second and third opinions and Joy! I discovered I could certainly continue breastfeeding! And I would! Except. The formula had already taken over the bedtime feeding. I couldn’t produce enough milk before bed to satisfy my son’s ravenous hunger.

    But a compromise was made: he gets formula at bedtime, and breastmilk whenever he wants it. And I can’t give it up, I can’t. And the introduction to formula was a blessing in disguse, it allows me to have the freedom you talk about, while still keeping the beautiful emotional, physical connection you mourn.

    penelopeto August 10, 2006 at 8:08 am

    Oh, I know. the sweetness. of it all.

    Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah August 10, 2006 at 8:27 am

    My kids weaned themselves at 9 months. While I was happy it was so easy to wean them, I wasn’t ready yet. It was hard.

    bubandpie August 10, 2006 at 8:27 am

    The time right after weaning – once the engorgement is gone and the hormones have settled down a little – has been such a wonderful time for me, with both children. They’re still infants, but it’s like a weight has been lifted. It’s not so much the freedom of being able to go out and do whatever – it’s the psychological freedom of knowing that my body is my own again, just a little bit more.

    So why am I crying?

    Laural Dawn August 10, 2006 at 8:50 am

    Weaning is so hard. But, so worth it when you are ready. We waited too long (Matt was 19 months) and there was no sadness, just relief. And, I wish I’d been where you are now.
    But, so worth it.

    Mrs. Davis August 10, 2006 at 8:59 am

    Weaning is so bittersweet, and you have captured it so beautifully. I still remember the very last time I nursed my older son – years ago. And now I am struggling to get to that last time with my 16-month-old.

    What you said here: “But sometimes it pressed upon me, the weight of the thing, the need for me and only me” struck me especially. I started supplementing with formula last fall, about a month after my mother died, because I felt so drained. My milk was still there, but I needed to feel that the weight wasn’t all on me.

    Mother August 10, 2006 at 9:05 am

    Wow.

    It is bittersweet – even after doing it for 21 months.

    I think it must be harder when they miss it – and grab at you and spell it backwards :)

    Pattie August 10, 2006 at 9:34 am

    Cookies? Did you just mention cookies? :0

    I did not have the experience of breastfeeding, but this post was so beautifully written, I feel like I have now.

    sunshine scribe August 10, 2006 at 10:04 am

    This was beautiful. I really, really felt it and it transported me right back to the day my son weaned. I had planned to do it gradually, even keep one feeding until he was 2 at night. But he didn’t need it any more. I did. And I cried more when it was over than the pain of when it began. When the tears dried and I could remember how awesome it had been and how awesome our new phase would be … when I was not just his milk source… it was pretty wonderful.

    madge August 10, 2006 at 10:09 am

    Beautiful and so appropriately titled.

    I spent months 8 through 13 desperate to wean my daughter. When it finally worked I was sad, but elated at the freedom. Now that I’m pregnant again, breastfeeding is the thing I am most excited about.

    Thanks for your lovely words.

    Susan August 10, 2006 at 10:28 am

    Wow! Beautiful post! Even though each of my weaning experiences were different, different from one another and different from yours, there is still something so universal–you have captured them perfectly.

    Andrea August 10, 2006 at 10:52 am

    While I didn’t breast feed for health reasons (my equipment doesn’t work) I felt a sense of freedom/sadness when we moved our son from bassinet by my side of the bed to his crib.

    And as much as I complained about pregnancy, I felt the same sadness that I would never feel him kick me from the inside out again, once he was born. Of course, I was more ecstatic to meet him than I was to carry him in my belly, but the sadness was there, even if it meant freedom to sleep on my back again and, since we were bottle feeding, to have a glass of wine again. Guilt free that is.

    Beautiful post. Thank you.

    MetroDad August 10, 2006 at 11:04 am

    Having never breastfed my own daughter (obviously), I can only say admiringly that your post encapsulates all that is great and beautiful about nourishing and breastfeeding one’s child. My wife had a rough time with it as well but stuck it out for a little over 6 months. At the end, she too suffered from a bag of mixed emotions. Great post, HBM.

    Rock the Cradle August 10, 2006 at 11:27 am

    The Last Feeding is still vivid in my menmory. Ultimately, it was harder on me than the Impling.

    I was worried she wouldn’t sleep that night. As it turns out, she slept, well, like a baby.

    I was a mess. All I could feel was “she doesn’t NEED me anymore!”.

    It was wonderful while it lasted, though. I’m so glad I have these memories. Now, we cuddle more, kiss more, play more. And this is wonderful too.

    Stephanie A. August 10, 2006 at 11:31 am

    I’m still not over stopping breastfeeding my son and it’s been since Thanksgiving.

    Lovely post.

    mothergoosemouse August 10, 2006 at 11:38 am

    It’s very hard to give up that primal role. I miss it too.

    But how wonderful to watch them bond similarly with their daddies.

    Jenn August 10, 2006 at 11:38 am

    Next time….I WILL get through the pain. I WILL.

    Mother Bumper August 10, 2006 at 11:40 am

    Oh so sweet a post, I’m glad and sad for you. I’m not looking forward to that day for me but I know I will love the freedom. Sigh. I’m so glad that you captured it in photos, that first moment when you realize: I am a mommy. Ack! I have a tear in my eye, stop it HBM, stop making me cry! ;)

    crazymumma August 10, 2006 at 12:11 pm

    Weaning is hard….it is the first time you truly let go….Anne

    Katrinka Bobinka August 10, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    As a woman who was never able to have children, I woukld ike to thank you for sharing–for showing–for allowing me to feel a little of what might have been.

    Lovely and lyrical and touching.

    And tears.

    ECR August 10, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    I am dreading the end of my daughter’s breastfeeding days. She’s a year old now, so I know those days are numbered, but I have no desire to let go. I don’t even want to think about it. Beautiful post.

    HomeFireBlue August 10, 2006 at 1:08 pm

    Beautiful. Beautiful and true. I can’t wait to b/f my newest one but I’m already a little sad that he/she will be the last baby I feed. :(

    Kelly August 10, 2006 at 1:26 pm

    A beautiful, eloquent description of the joy (and difficulty) of breastfeeding, because the experience is most definitely both.

    When I think that I’ve been the sole provider of nourishment to my almost 10-month old (well, besides Gerber fruit puffs and other finger food delights), I cannot believe that I haven’t collasped and died. Especially after feeding her five friggin times a night forEVER.

    We’re working on the nightweaning now, and the day? Well, we’ll see.

    Love the post though, lovely.

    virtualsprite August 10, 2006 at 2:54 pm

    What a beautiful post! Definitely brought back memories for me… I breastfed because it seemed like it was the only choice (single mother, couldn’t afford formula) but I grew to love it. When my extraordinarily independent little goober weaned himself, I cried. This brought it all back… the joy, the pain, the emotions. It is beautiful.

    Much More Than A Mom August 10, 2006 at 3:22 pm

    I loved this post. I am breastfeeding now and am dreading the day that he is weaned. Thanks for sharing!

    Stacy August 10, 2006 at 3:40 pm

    A lovely, heart and breastfelt post!
    My sentiments exactly. Only I quit once my daughter starting biting with teeth that would draw blood. OUCH!

    dcrmom August 10, 2006 at 3:48 pm

    Bittersweet, isn’t it? That was a beautiful post.

    Bobita August 10, 2006 at 3:52 pm

    Beautiful, beautiful post.

    tallulah August 10, 2006 at 3:55 pm

    When my son stopped breastfeeding abruptly at 11 months. I cried. It took me a couple of months before I could say the word “breastfeeding” without tearing up. It’s hard to let go.
    Great post!

    Mom101 August 10, 2006 at 4:51 pm

    This is gorgeous, m’dear. Just perfect. I think it explains the bittersweet weaning process, the love/hate most people have with nursing on the whole. I gotta say, I don’t miss it. I miss the closeness of course, but now, 7 months post-wean, I find that closeness in other ways. You will too.

    Well done mama. Well done.

    mrsmogul August 10, 2006 at 5:01 pm

    I feel so guilty that I never breastfed, well it was for four days anyway. I just couldn;t do it.

    Damselfly August 10, 2006 at 5:33 pm

    “…her skin is my skin, the very same skin, the very same flesh, where does my breast stop and her cheek begin?”

    I love it!

    lara August 10, 2006 at 6:16 pm

    as a someday mother (it’s my ultimate career goal), i really appreciated this look at one of the tender elements of closeness that bonds a mother and child. i can’t wait to have my own and experience the full spectrum of emotions that will come with motherhood.

    as a writer and a student of writing, i really appreciated the absolute beauty of your words. you are an amazing writer, and i have much admiration for your talent and skill. :)

    Mrs. Chicky August 10, 2006 at 8:18 pm

    Oh, this hurt. It physically hurt to read this. I remember the last day I nursed my daughter (heh, blogged about it) and I remember the feeling of freedom and sense of dread and abandonment when she pushed me away. It is bittersweet. But just think, no more nursing bras!

    Blog Antagonist August 10, 2006 at 9:41 pm

    That was simply lovely.

    My second child went on a nursing strike at 8 months and though we limped along until he was a year old, it was never the same. Knowing him as I do now, I realize he was simply asserting his ferociously independant nature, but at the time it felt like a rejection.

    Woman are fickle creatures. How can we long for sweet freedom from being needed, and then weep when when our dreams are realized?? But we do. Oh, how we do.

    Waya August 10, 2006 at 10:14 pm

    My hat’s off to you for posting a pix of your breast, this should be on the next issue on the cover of “Baby Talk”. I wasn’t that brave to have my pictures taken while nursing, and now I’m kicking myself! Maybe when we have the 4th one, yeah, you read that right, our 4th! YIKES!!

    Stephanie T. August 10, 2006 at 11:27 pm

    Weaning was a bittersweet time for me with both my babes. Your description of your first nursing and the picture are both so beautiful.

    Christina August 11, 2006 at 12:13 am

    I only wish I could have had that kind of breastfeeding relationship with Cordy, but it didn’t work out for us. However, that won’t stop me from trying again when we decide for baby #2.

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