Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hard Habit to Break

There are probably some thoughts that are better off never put into words, let alone on paper. Ones that are too intensely personal, not for public consumption. The kinds of thoughts that inspire judgment even before they have left your lips.

And yet, I feel compelled, not just to speak them, not just to write them, but to share these most personal thoughts with whomever is willing to read them. And so, whether this was a tantalizing prologue or a thinly veiled caveat, I’ll just say it:

I cannot bring myself to give up breastfeeding.

If you ever wondered what is going on in the minds of those women who hoist 8-year-old children into their laps to suckle at their empty-sock boobs, you might get a little insight here. This is how it went down last night:

We fed Sophia too late, again, which meant that she was almost comatose by the end of dinner, alternately staring off into space, giggling hysterically, and begging for bed.

We went through our usual routine: I tried to pin her down long enough to remove her clothing as she gleefully rolled all over (and occasionally off of) my bed. Once caught, Sophia lay rapt, as Kevin sat at her head, narrating the events of the day, while I did the dirty work, meticulously cleansing each crease. Next, Kevin wrestled her into her monkey pj’s, while I left to get the implements of torture: her toothbrush and toothpaste. Upon my return, I recited a reworked line from Shel Silverstein, “Mommy’s a little bit crazy; she thinks a babysitter is supposed to sit upon the baby.” And with that, I straddled Sophia and brushed each quadrant of her mouth for a count of ten, amid tears and protests. Dismounting, I grabbed her fluoride drops, or what I have deemed “Screamy Mimi” (screamy, because she screamed bloody murder the first hundred times I tried to give it to her, mimi because that’s her word for medicine). Sophie stood up on my bed, wobbling and falling into me, opening her mouth like a baby bird, and sucking the medicine down. Then, she turned to her father and ordered, “Bye bye daddy,” shifted her gaze to me and announced, “Milky time,” hyperventilating with joy, as she has done since she was an infant, when I unhooked my bra.

Finally calm in my arms, Sophia drank a little and, in between draughts, chatted a little. On this night she was counting, “five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten,” and surprised me by continuing on, “eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen,” she paused, “eleventeen?” she asked. “Twenty,” I whispered, and she resumed her counting, “twenty-one, twenty two….”

This is bliss. My baby, both as she was and as she is. Infant and child. Dependent and wild.

I have read accounts by some mothers who have kept breastfeeding because they were afraid their child would not be able to cope without it. Or because it was easier than facing the repercussions of not breastfeeding. Or because they felt guilty taking it away. I have heard women complain that their bodies are no longer their own. That their children lift up their shirts in public demanding num-nums. And I have witnessed children, in the flesh, take full advantage of their mother’s open shirt policies, children who feel entitled to take a nip when they please (or whenever they need soothing).

This is not our story. In the beginning, when it hurt like hell, every day I had to recommit to breastfeeding Sophia. And even after eight weeks, when it finally no longer hurt but I was still feeding her every 2-3 hour around the clock, I continued to take it day by day, with a shining goal of six months.

Then one day, Sophia looked up at me and smiled with full recognition that I was the one connected to the breast. It was a smile of gratitude, pleasure and love. A rare, transcendent moment.

By the time six months rolled around, Sophie and I had established a rhythm. Breastfeeding was an oasis of calm in our day. I decided to continue exclusively for two more months. When I started her on solids at 8½ months my supply instantly dropped, and I panicked. I wouldn’t feed Sophia “real food” until after I had nursed her. I pumped. I took fenugreek until my sweat smelled like maple syrup. If only I could make it to a year. And then we hit the year mark, last November. The holy grail of breastfeeding; when all women finally have permission to stop. But by then, I was in it for the long haul. The guidelines said we should do it as long as it was mutually satisfying…and it was. It is.

So now, the two year mark looms before me. The date I set as the end, the very end. But as the end approaches, my sense of reluctance grows. I am still waiting for a twinge of resentment to surge forth. For it to feel like a chore. For me to want my body back.

I don’t. Breastfeeding remains a precious time between Sophie and me. A time when she stops. When I stop. And we’re both fully present for each other.

I’m sure we’d be able to find another way of capturing this time together. But why? Other than my fear of what everyone thinks about it, I can’t think of a single good reason.

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