Her Bad Mother

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Elegy



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...

76 Comments:

Blogger mad_hatter said...

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.

11:24 PM  
Blogger lildb said...

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

11:28 PM  
Blogger GIRL'S GONE CHILD said...

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

11:38 PM  
Blogger Mayberry said...

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.

11:53 PM  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

"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.

12:36 AM  
Blogger Kristen said...

That was beautiful.

1:06 AM  
Anonymous Izzy said...

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}}

1:39 AM  
Blogger Bobita said...

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!

2:46 AM  
Anonymous Jenny said...

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.

6:30 AM  
Blogger mo-wo said...

I am without words save one, admiration.

6:39 AM  
Anonymous krista said...

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.

7:13 AM  
Blogger metro mama said...

Lovely.

7:49 AM  
Anonymous becks said...

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.

7:54 AM  
Blogger penelopeto said...

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

8:08 AM  
Anonymous Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah said...

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.

8:27 AM  
Blogger bubandpie said...

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?

8:27 AM  
Blogger Laural Dawn said...

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.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Davis said...

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.

8:59 AM  
Anonymous Mother said...

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 :)

9:05 AM  
Blogger Pattie said...

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.

9:34 AM  
Blogger sunshine scribe said...

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.

10:04 AM  
Anonymous madge said...

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.

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Susan said...

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.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Andrea said...

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.

10:52 AM  
Anonymous MetroDad said...

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.

11:04 AM  
Blogger Rock the Cradle said...

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.

11:27 AM  
Blogger Stephanie A. said...

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

Lovely post.

11:31 AM  
Anonymous mothergoosemouse said...

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.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

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

11:38 AM  
Blogger Mother Bumper said...

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! ;)

11:40 AM  
Blogger Mother Bumper said...

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! ;)

11:40 AM  
Blogger crazymumma said...

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

12:11 PM  
Blogger Katrinka Bobinka said...

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.

12:25 PM  
Blogger ECR said...

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.

12:57 PM  
Blogger HomeFireBlue said...

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. :(

1:08 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

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.

1:26 PM  
Blogger virtualsprite said...

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.

2:54 PM  
Anonymous Much More Than A Mom said...

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

3:22 PM  
Blogger Stacy said...

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

3:40 PM  
Blogger dcrmom said...

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

3:48 PM  
Blogger Bobita said...

Beautiful, beautiful post.

3:52 PM  
Blogger tallulah said...

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!

3:55 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

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.

4:51 PM  
Blogger mrsmogul said...

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

5:01 PM  
Blogger Damselfly said...

"...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!

5:33 PM  
Blogger lara said...

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. :)

6:16 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Chicky said...

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!

8:18 PM  
Blogger Blog Antagonist said...

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.

9:41 PM  
Blogger Waya said...

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!!

10:14 PM  
Blogger Stephanie T. said...

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

11:27 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

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.

12:13 AM  
Blogger Haley-O said...

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.

12:17 AM  
Blogger Krisco said...

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.

12:23 AM  
Blogger L. said...

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.

12:40 AM  
Anonymous Amanda said...

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.

6:07 AM  
Blogger Mel said...

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.

6:25 AM  
Blogger Ruth Dynamite said...

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!

7:56 AM  
Blogger RLGelber said...

This is a beautiful post.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

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...

9:57 AM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

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

11:22 AM  
Blogger Amy Jo said...

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.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Annie, The Evil Queen said...

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.

1:09 PM  
Blogger Kristen said...

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.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Silly Hily said...

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

4:11 PM  
Blogger Jaelithe said...

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 ;)

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Christy said...

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.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

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.

12:01 AM  
Blogger Dana said...

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!

5:18 PM  
Blogger Jozet said...

Beautiful.

Absolutely beautiful.

9:27 PM  
Blogger Lady M said...

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. :)

3:53 AM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

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

10:09 PM  
Anonymous Simerion said...

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.

11:54 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

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

8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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?

1:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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

1:18 AM  
Blogger Surprised Suburban Wife said...

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.

12:12 AM  

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