Her Bad Mother

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Elegy, Redux

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. It's all good.

(Dammit but I cried like a baby re-reading this. It stays with you. It always does. It is always, always, the sweetest loss, and you can always taste it.)


Despite swearing to myself that I would never do a re-post, I am re-posting this particular piece from last year, because a) it describes what was, for me, one of the most challenging and rewarding and amazing parts of motherhood, and I want to share that experience again, now, as mothers everywhere fight to make the point that breastfeeding is many things, but it is not obscene, and b) I am too sick to write anything original, and you don't really want to hear me bitch about vomit, again.

Our right and our freedom to do this thing - to love our children, to nourish our children - openly, without shame, and without fear of sanction, is something worth fighting for, hard. Join the League of Maternal Justice in their effort to celebrate the superpowers of mothers everywhere - and join in the Great Virtual Breast Fest by sending LMJ your breastfeeding pics or video, or by writing about it on your blog. Get your pics to us by tomorrow, and we'll include them in a breastacular montage video. Then, post pics or vid or words on October 10th at 10am and we'll rock the boobies. Because we can, and we must.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cried when I read this too. Beautifully written. It makes me want to run off and cradle my daughter for a feed. Thank you for being so eloquent. Your blog is a real pleasure.
Amie, happy mamma of 2.

11:26 AM  
Blogger Jackie said...

Thank you for reposting. So beautifully written.

11:38 AM  
Blogger The City Gal said...

This might feel a little irrelevant, but if we are seeking Maternal Justice, please read this:

Why abusers strike during pregnancy


Just check the statistics. It is mind-boggling.

11:49 AM  
Blogger The City Gal said...

The Link again:


11:50 AM  
Blogger Lori at Spinning Yellow said...

Thank you for re-posting this. It was beautiful and moving.

12:16 PM  
Blogger flutter said...

I wish I knew what to say.

12:40 PM  
Blogger motherbumper said...

OK, it made me teary because I'm still mourning the end of BF. But damn the freedom is so sweet. Sending my pic now :)

12:56 PM  
Blogger Mimi said...

Ah, yes. The ease of breastfeeding and the burden of it. The freedom of weaning, and the sadness of weaning. I lasted 10 months and 25 days. Or thereabouts. I was free; I miss it.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Karla Zamora, Digital Analyst said...

It is incredible the mixture of emotions that you go through while weaning. I remember wanting to have my freedom and move onto the next step, but once I took it I missed the ease and more importantly the closeness and private time Isa and I had when breastfeeding. Beautiful post as always...hope you feel better soon:)

1:18 PM  
Blogger Run ANC said...

Considering the months of trouble we had just to establish breastfeeding, I was surprised that I missed it so much when I stopped. Loved the freedom, but missed the intimacy.

Thanks for this. It's the thing that scares me the most about Baby #2. I keep thinking that I'm not strong enough to go through that again. Maybe I am.

1:43 PM  
Blogger karengreeners said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:03 PM  
Blogger karengreeners said...

This was just as beautiful the second time around.

I linked back to my own 'elegy' just last week. Thought it needed to be shared again.

Don't know about you, but I am really looking forward to beginning this relationship again.

2:03 PM  
Blogger BOSSY said...

Bossy cried more when her kids rejected that supple round thing - what is it? Oh yeah, the Tomato.

3:01 PM  
Blogger Kyla said...

Oh yes. This is beautiful.

I loved clicking back to the original and reading those comments. Moments frozen in time, like the first time Mad left a comment here. I love that about blogs, years and years of moments frozen in time. Conversations of a day gone by.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Jenifer said...

I just couldn't get past the pain and bleeding, it was all too much in the end...should there be a number 3 it will be my mission to make it work.

4:03 PM  
Blogger tracey.becker1@gmail.com said...

I've always missed the nursing... It's such a final thing. So blatant that they're GROWING UP...

4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

aaaah, catherine. you've written my story.
our story.
a story shared by so many women.
i remember the morning that henry refused me like it was yesterday, and i can still feel the sting of the hours and hours of tears that fell.

5:07 PM  
Blogger Miscellaneous-Mum said...

I will write a post indeed! I've long been known for my breastfeeding advocacy...I breastfed both my babies until well into their first years.

5:13 PM  
Blogger Lara said...

this is a very special post to me in particular, because i remember it was the first one i ever read of yours. it was what made me first fall in love with your writing, and i've been a faithful blog friend ever since. it's beautiful, HBM, truly. i'm glad you're taking a stand in such a genuine way.

5:29 PM  
Blogger S said...

Y'know, I feel like stating this for the record after reading your beautiful, affirming post:

I nursed my first child for 22 months, and my second for 14 months.

I'm proud of that!

8:32 PM  
Blogger Lisa Dunick said...

Achingly beautiful-- it brought back everything I felt when I weaned mine, and that was fully my choice. Just beautiful.

9:11 PM  
Blogger Blog said...

I'm breastfeeding my new baby. And, wow, I forgot how painful it is in the beginning! I breastfed the monkey for 1 year, and I'm so grateful to be able to do it again. I know what you mean -- how you miss being so needed, only you. I feel the same way with the monkey. So, I'm taking advantage and cherishing every moment of this young, new time where he needs me and only me.... (I hope this makes sense...tired AM from all-night feeding!)

10:13 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

oh this made me a little nostalgic for those days. soon you'll do it all over again. . .

10:52 PM  
Blogger kittenpie said...

Ah, well, as you know, I wouldn't have pictures of the breastfeeding, and even if I had pics of the pumping, it just wouldn't quite be the same... Even though I more than once pumped in the car speeding down the highway, with nothing to hide me from the truckers rolling by. Still not the same, is it? But I am so behind you, even if I can't offer to be part of the Breastfest.

11:06 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

great post - and that photo almost made me cry and I'm not even quite sure why.

2:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a beatiful post catherine.i always loved the closeness of nursing my babes at the breast. i have in total spent at least 6 years of my life with a child at breast.but no more babes for me.take comfort in knowing that you will experience the love and joy of nursing a new wee bairn

10:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry that above comment was from me LAVANDULA

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to mention, you burn like 500 calories while breast feeding! Sweet!

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved nursing all 3 of my babies. I cried as I read this, remembering the pain of the first weeks and then, again, when each of them weaned. Gorgeous post!

11:49 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

I have a love-hate relationship with breastfeeding. With my daughter it was horrible. She screamed whenever she was brought close to my breast. There is a reason that I don't want to go into but let me just say some nurses are Nazis.

My son nursed easily. I remember the pain. Yeah, they tell you when you're nursing correctly that it doesn't hurt. So not true. The searing pain at first latch lasted for about 2 to 3 weeks for me. Then it was fine. And he nursed for 13 months until we just sort of stopped, by mutual agreement. But it was still sad.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Multi-tasking Mommy said...

That post was totally worth re-posting! The breastfeeding bond is certainly an amazingly unique one. I had a really hard time weaning my daughter, but by 13 months she was so ready, it was me that wasn't!
I sent my photo in, but it got booted back to me :(

2:10 PM  
Blogger Nora said...

Lovely. I'm not ready to even contemplate stopping yet, and it just about killed me to start. The love, the love.

2:40 PM  
Blogger Toni said...

Thank you for expressing so eloquently what so many of us experience, particularly the pain of those early days.

Hope you are feeling better soon...

4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's lovely.
And I can understand now why some mothers choose to breastfeed long past the time when their children need the nourishment - Because weaning must be one of the most difficult things we have to do.
And as I keep stretching my time horizon for how long I will do this a little further as more months pass, I know that time will be coming for me, much too soon.

8:48 PM  
Blogger Dani said...

Thank you. That was simply a beautiful and eloquent post that all of us who breastfed our children can relate to. As I look back at my own posts on the topic, I see that they were mostly ones of frustration. I still remember the sweetness of my angel boy and how it ended far sooner than I hoped.

11:57 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Thank you for posting. I loved reading about you and your sweet baby. I am nearing the mark of no more breast feeding...my baby is almost 1 year and at times I just ache to think that's almost over, and sometimes I just can't wait. Way to go nursing mamas!!


9:00 AM  
Blogger Karen MEG said...

Beautiful post. I nursed my boy for 6 months and he self weaned. My girlie, we went longer until 19 months - I could have kept going but had to stop for other reasons. She was already weaning anyway. I do remember the tremendous feeling of loss. But I'm also thankful for the wonderful time that I did have with my babies during nursing. Totally irreplaceable.

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for re posting this. Everything you said is exactly how I felt...to a T. No woman should ever be made to feel shameful for doing the most natural thing on the planet because a few uptight morons deem it obscene.

Thanks again...I love your blog.


8:15 PM  
Blogger Granny said...

You don't seem to have a comment box on your later post so hoping you feel better and Happy Thanksgiving (or bah, humbug if you prefer).

Checking out your other blog now.

8:56 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

Your post was so beautiful - I'm glad you re-posted. My sweet Pumpkin is my third baby - the firt two quit breastfeeding on their own at around 7 months (when I introduced formula and returned to work). The Pumpkin breastfed for three days short of two years. It had nothing to do with rejection. You may or may not know that there are 16 years between the births of my middle and my youngest sons. The pumpkin began drinking formula when not with Mommy at four months. He was okay with it. But with his Mama he wanted his Mama Milk. And nothing else. He'd probably still be breastfeeding at 2-1/2 years except that when I had an episode (not a heart attack but it sure felt like one) that required an ultrasound with stuff shot into my veins that required the baby stop cold turkey for three days that we (my dh - who was sort of grossed out by the whole thing - his family does NOT believe in breastfeeding) quit. The first night was horrible. I had a sippy cup of chocolate milk but that is NOT what he wanted. I'd been in the hospital overnight and he wanted his Mama Milk. And I just couldn't give it to him. It would have made him sick. He sobbed and clawed at my shirt for about half an hour and when he was finally exhausted he needed me just as much as he always did and snuggled up to drink the cup of milk. For all that, yesterday when he was tired and upset he latched on and gave it another try. I'm on birth control pills and the milk appears to be gone but I can see that he still finds, very briefly, comfort there. Right where it started.
Thanks for your beautiful words to help me remember...

8:27 PM  
Blogger the mystic said...

I tried to join the MJL, but I already don't belong to Facebook. I'm always so late to the party -- or maybe in this case I got lucky and was ahead of my time?

Anyway, beautiful description of the nursing experience.

1:28 AM  
Blogger Be Inspired Always said...

Wonderful and beautifully written. Grabs a few tissues... sniff sniff!


10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm interested to know why your comments are off on your last [2 most recent] posts? I'd email you but I can't easily find your address.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

maddy - sorry for having closed comments, but I've been on and off VERY sick and was having trouble managing my inbox (all comments come in through my e-mail). They'll be back up next post.

My e-mail: herbadmother@gmail.com

10:09 PM  
Blogger SM said...

That was beautiful. It made me cry. I had to wean Maryn when I was pregnant with Conner because I was having problems (Conner was a surprise). I just sort of began the weaning process with Conner for a trip to Europe then stopped moving toward weaning her when I found out we weren't going, but it was too late, within a couple of weeks, she finished the job herself. I still have milk. It makes me so sad. Even though both of them were well over a year, in Conner's case nearly two, it's such a final break. Perhaps the first one. BTW, the trip to Europe was a gift to my mother in honor of the fact that she's still alive from her brother. She was diagnosed with acute leukemia two years ago. I have felt torn between her needs and my children's ever since.

10:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ooo..its so well written...really can feed ur heartbeat @ tat point of time..
Actually..I still miss feeding my girl..I only managed to breastfeed her for 3 months (during my maternity leave) after I start working she took the bottle & never looked back..
For awhile I was pretty sad..but I learn tat tis too is a growing up process for some...

1:28 AM  

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