Needful Things

April 27, 2009

Jasper came into the world with a bang, in a hulksmash explosion of blood and birthmatter and pain. And when they handed him to me – he, as full and round and alert as a baby many times his age – he reached for me and clung and suckled with the same ferocious determination that had propelled him so explosively from my womb.

He clung to me and suckled and grew and grew and grew. I ached, and bled, pummelled and raw from his insistent thirst. I ached and bled, and loved.

I called him Truffler, because at night he would snort and burrow, seeking out my breast with his nose and mouth, never opening his eyes, never waking, just drinking, sucking, snorfling until he had his fill. In the light of day, eyes open, he would use his hands, grabbing and kneading and pinching and gazing up at me, an adorable little beastie, ravenous and innocent and impossibly, impossibly soft, and I would wonder: how can a creature that brings such pain inspire such tenderness? Why do I not push him away?

I could not push him away. I could no more push him away than I could tear through my ribcage and rip out my heart. And so I pulled him to me, time and again, and exulted in the soft curves of his fat baby legs and his rounded baby belly and his plush baby bum, and smiled through the pain and exhaustion and wished, fervently, that this would never end. I pulled him to me and clung to him and drank in his babyness like a draught, knowing, in my gut, that someday, I would miss this, crave this, yearn for this like the parched soul yearns for cool water. And so I drank it in, in big, greedy gulps, matching his thirst with my own.

Even when the exhaustion became unbearable, I resisted pulling away. Even when he started to bite, I resisted pulling away. I tottered and spun from the exhaustion; my breasts bled from his painful nips: still I perservered, determined to preserve this, his babyness, his need for me. Even when it hurt, this need, I clung to it, I clung to it, unwilling – unable? – to let go. That he refused bottles was, in my tired mind, a kind of victory: he would have only me. He wanted only me. His need kept him young; his need kept him mine.

I drank his need like a draught.

When he finally took a bottle – a good thing, I agreed with my husband, a good thing that he be able to get nourishment from someone other than me, a good thing that I could be separated from him for a night, a good thing that he not need me so relentlessly – I recognized the moment as a victory. I could sleep through the night. I could leave him for more than a few hours at a time. I could wear a bra that did not feature clip-up flaps. I could go a day without being bitten. I could reacquaint myself with my body as my own.

I could move – I can move, now – through the day and through the night without experiencing myself as an object of need. This is good. I love it; I celebrate it; I thank the gods for it. But is it wrong to say – even as I recognize that he will outgrow that need, even as I acknowledge that he must outgrow that need, even as I celebrate my freedom from that need – that I still need him, that I am thirsty for his need of me?

Is it wrong that I cling to his babyness like an infant to a breast, that, in moments, I must fight the urge to paw and truffle and cling, to bury my nose in the sweet, soft folds of his neck and whisper, you are mine? Is it wrong that I have moments of wanting to press him to me and wish ourselves back to the first months of his life, when his need was unquenchable, indisputable? Is it wrong that I have moments of wishing that I could freeze time here and keep him as he is, or as he was a few weeks ago, my needful creature? Is it wrong that while I celebrate, quietly, ambivalently, his weaning, I mourn the growth, the movement toward his independence from me that this weaning represents? Is it wrong that I wish, sometimes, that I could keep him like this, a baby, my baby, forever?

This is the way his babyhood ends, not with a bang but a whisper.

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    Adventures In Babywearing April 27, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Oh my goodness this is a wonderful post.


    somewhereinthesuburbs April 27, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    I weaned my last baby when he was thirteen months old. Though we’d been tapering off for a while, the impetus to wean completely was a big anniversary trip my husband and I had planned. I knew the last time we nursed before I left that it would really be the last time–particularly bittersweet since I knew our family was complete.

    When we returned home, I thought I’d try to nurse again, to see if we could pick it back up. When I put him to my breast, my son looked up at me and laughed and laughed.

    It was like he wanted me to know, “Silly mommy, I’m a big boy now!”

    You’re not wrong or strange at all to have mixed feelings about weaning. Oh, and I love the breastfeeding picture!

    Heather April 27, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    I can relate to many of these emotions. It was bittersweet when my son weaned at 14 months. Even my first-born who never nursed, who I instead pumped for for 6 months brought me strange feelings when I quit pumping.

    Now when #3 weans (I do not know when that will be…she is almost one year old and shows no signs of wanting to wean.) I will feel extra sad since she is my last baby.

    That photo of the 2 of you is amazing. I would love to have a photo like that of my baby and I. Your husband has a great eye.

    And Jasper? He is adorable. I want to pinch his cheeks and blow raspberries on his belly. Luckily I have my own baby I can do that to so I don’t have to accost yours.

    Julie @ The Mom Slant April 27, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    I cling too. Even after weaning, I still cling.

    Nina April 27, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    Jasper is a week or two younger than my second son and I just have to say that if I could have put into words what I’ve been feeling recently, it would have been what you have written here.

    It was cathartic just to read it.

    langleigh2 April 27, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    I feel exactly the same way, even though my daughter bit me yesterday until I bled…thank you for posting this. it makes me feel a lot less alone.

    Another Suburban Mom April 27, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    Its hard to let go with the youngest. I would have let Princess Persistent nurse forever if she hadn’t quit on her own.

    Rachel B April 27, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    You made me cry, because, yes, me, too.

    SAIA AND CHAGO April 27, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    That it’s so lustful is what makes it so brilliant.

    Eva Robertson April 27, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    Well, I still feel about my Norah the way you feel about Jasper, and she’s still greedily nursing at 3.5 years. Weird? Maybe, but we don’t do it in public and she loves it so, and I love it so, and I can’t imagine it ending.

    And who couldn’t want to devour a tot like Jasper? He’s an unbearable heart throb.

    And to Palinode — yes, Rachmaninoff is a very good comparison.

    js April 27, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    I love that picture of you and Jasper in the rocking chair. Beautiful.

    stace-c April 27, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    I’ve been following your blog for about 2 years now and I have never commented. Well, I don’t think I have, anyway. But I couldn’t pass this one up. I just weaned my 16 month old twins a week ago and reading this nearly killed me, but it is so beautifully written. I know, oh do I know, how you feel.

    Catherine April 28, 2009 at 1:19 am

    I’m already dreading having to give up breastfeeding and my daughter is only 9 weeks old. I’m afraid of when the end will come as I love my baby girl. the sneaking home in the middle of the day just so I can nurse her (hubby stays home with her as he’s disabled)…I know at some point she will get teeth and I may want to stop..but right now..I don’t ever want to let her go.

    Lady M April 28, 2009 at 1:57 am

    Beautiful, beautiful boy.

    It delights me that my baby is growing up, but there is that wistfulness.

    flutter April 28, 2009 at 2:03 am

    oof, my heart. April 28, 2009 at 2:06 am

    I just read my heart on your page…I too wondered if it was wrong and I know that I ache for her to need me just as much as I need her. I am not ready for her to wean….if I had my way, I’d breastfeed till she was 18. Just kidding…but I hope you get the point!

    Thanks for sharing!!!

    Sarah April 28, 2009 at 3:03 am

    Beautiful post, beautiful sentiment, gorgeous pictures, and impossibly sweet baby boy.

    I need to get me another one of those.

    Anonymous April 28, 2009 at 3:41 am

    If it is wrong, then we are wrong together. My son weaned before I was ready, and I mourned it. I mourn it still, and he has been weaned for over a year. He weaned just days before his first birthday, and he is now 28 months old. I look at this little boy and inwardly weep for the baby that was. He still needs me, but not in the way that I need him.

    maggie, dammit April 28, 2009 at 10:10 am

    This is the most apt description of breastfeeding I’ve ever read. That first graf is killer. I know your heartache, my friend. XO

    Anonymous April 28, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Oy, I nursed my oldest (2.5) until she was 2. I just told my husband that our next and final child may be breastfed for a year or 4, who knows. It all depends… and as that yet hypothetical child will be our last, breast feeding may take 4 years to stop.

    r3 April 28, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    Exactly. Out with a whisper and then the pang of loss.

    Anonymous April 28, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    It’s not wrong. That’s why I still call my 13 and 10 year olds my babies. I can’t bear to lose the older one to puberty, which is starting to happen. I can’t bear that he’s taller than I am. I’m clinging to whatever dependence they have on me that I can get. :-(

    Candy Howard Photography April 28, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    Wow. It’s like you are in my head. Very well said.

    Brooke April 28, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    This was beautiful. My daughter finished breastfeeding just a few weeks ago… but beyond that, today I am away on business in a different state. The first night I was away from her was last night and I found myself crying just a little while ago because I saw a picture of her and it brought me to my knees. I don’t want to miss a moment – she’s almost 6 months old now… a prime time for milestones and I just… miss her. I feel like I *need* to be there.

    Fantastic that I can be away on business and everything can be handled without me. But so, so sad at the same time because… it can be handled without me.

    Melodie April 28, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    So beautfully said.

    Amo April 28, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    I mourned and rejoiced with the weaning of both of my sons.

    Last night, I walked in my 3 year old’s room and watched his rose-shaped lips suckle in his sleep. I cried and decided I am not done. I’m now officially shooting for number three.

    Jo April 28, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    I just love this post. Automatically one of my favourites. Ever. I have a truffler myself…he just turned one and I secretly hope he keeps truffling on for a bit longer…
    Beautifully written!!!

    auntie April 29, 2009 at 7:28 am

    a beautiful post! and an incredibly beautiful baby :)

    Sarah @ April 29, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    He’s getting so big, every time I see a picture I’m amazed!

    I think the emotions you describe are perfectly natural. I know I’m going to have a hard time letting go of my babies’ babyhood too.

    chermonblie April 29, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Not wrong… and part of what makes you a good mama. Even when you think you aren’t. :)

    He is getting big! Sweet boy!

    Karen MEG April 29, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    Is he ever adorable, and so big!

    When I weaned my daughter she was more or less preferring the bottle anyway; I wanted to go further but had to stop for other reasons. But it killed me; she was already 19 months old but I so wanted to hang onto her and that closeness that much longer. Because I knew there would be no more babies.

    My breasts, or whats left of them, are aching as we speak.

    'cuz I'm the mommy, that's why! April 29, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    Nothing wrong with wanting to freeze time. I frequently feel the urge to rewind. If only…
    I remember the Poose “truffling” for snacks early in the morning when he was a tiny thing. I felt like a well-loved and needed buffet! It was great.

    Mom101 April 30, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Oh my gosh – he’s a PERSON. Look at that picture! Now tell me just how that actually happened. Because I’m fairly certain that he was a baby like four minutes ago.

    Your boobs are yours again mama. There’s something to be said for that. Even if they are scraping the ground.

    Must Be Motherhood April 30, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    My lord, he is scrumptious.

    I was totally unprepared for the physical and emotional push/pull of nursing. Probably because I was unprepared for the push/pull of motherhood. It seems like just when you get used to a new trick, they move on, with total and utter disregard for us.

    And it helps that they are so scrumptious.

    Sara June 12, 2009 at 10:57 am

    I've just discovered your blog this morning and GAWD. Thank you for putting into words that feeling. All I have are tears.

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