When did I ever think about nursing before I had kids? I guess never, really. You think about playing with your baby, imagine sleeping next to your baby, but nursing isn't something you can predict, or explain to any one else what she will experience. And for me, especially the first time around, with my older son, nursing came to dominate the first months of my motherhood.
After birth, when I could barely walk, was stumbling around in my disposable underwear still gushing blood, when my stomach was still puffed out but I had the baby, my baby, my son, in my arms jittery rocking him, watching him breathe in his sleep, my milk came in. Engorged is the word the baby books prepare you with. Bullshit. My breasts doubled in size and not in a sexy way. In a bulbous, fast way, ripping stretch marks over their swollen rims. They were so painfully hard, in a way I imagine fake tits would feel - but never having felt them up myself...not too sure.
I pumped out milk to ease the pressure but that just made more and more milk. So but Week 2 I was sitting on the couch with loads of towels to soak up the extra milk spurting out of my breasts. When I sat there, my top off, trying to feed my baby, I would let the milk shoot out, just for fun. It could easily hit the coffee table 4 feet away.
When in this place where a small, baby whose penis has been twisted up and skinned with a screw in a circumcision that everyone except God tried to talk me out of, when white gauze tries to ease the loosening of what is left of the cord that connected us, when his eyes are blue but turning brown, when sleep comes almost not at all as night and darkness bring new panic into me: has his breathing deepened or stopped, is that a cry to be fed or pain. And I am trying to feed him the only way that will do, the only way I will accept as right but he is biting down on the nipple because so, so much milk is overwhelming him and choking him. And then it is that my nipples are so raw that when he latches on, when his small mouth covers the darkened circles, the very outest ledge of what have become my breasts, I am brought to tears.
And beyond this, are the hormone rushes that it brings. Again, what The Books say: nursing can bring a sense of relaxation and calm, often sending a new mother into a peaceful nap. Yes, there is that. But here it is:
Belly to belly
He's under my shirt tails
nagging away my layers
scraping his mean-edged nails over my hips.
Pushed from it's lacy cup he claps on,
lips untucked, tongue thrashing in a rhythm for the letdown
and the milk comes
breasts boulder: Porno Beasts,
the bite rolls through my clothes over the flannels
stinking up the room with my animal.
Do you feel that? Sometimes I feel that if my voice could be linked to the poem, to each poem, that my voice should read each poem and THEN everyone will get it. That can't be true, but it seems that it should.
The crazy thing is, I nursed my older son for 2 and 1/2 years and now, my younger son, I stopped nursing him after more than 3 frickin' years. So, yeah, I made my peace with it. And it is something powerful that I both received gifts from and sacrificed for.
I have nursed other babies and donated frozen little bags of milk to babies for their mothers to thaw and mix in with their formula, doses of immunity and fat balance and secrets that are yet to be uncovered are hidden there. Here in the US, most women freak out about the very idea of another woman nursing her baby. But in Algeria, my sister-in-law asked me to nurse a new baby in the family whose mother was having a hard time getting her milk going. We were all staying in the same house and soon I was waking at night when I heard his cry, because my body was responding to him as if he were my responsibility. Not my child, don't think that. That is what women fear, I think. That the woman who nurses her baby is taking some away from her the role as mother. But that small baby boy whose fingernails were dipped in henna and whose poor, tiny limbs were over-wrapped, guarding, guarding always they are, their babies against a chill, even in African heat of July; this tiny child could not be my own but I could give him a sweet taste of perfection that his baby formula of questionable brand could not give. And I was proud.
The easiest thing was that. I couldn't figure my way into lining up bottles and and a row of nipples and a row of caps and sterilizing. Draping my violet scarf over my chest and pulling out my breast saved me from hysterical baby fits on the subway, it made my life easier for those early years of confusing motherhood. And then again, when trying to be a mother of two impossible creations at once, it eased the way.
But there is more to this.