I Fed Her
She was crusty with blood and all slimy when we first met. I had had a really shitty day, same for her — both of us suddenly thrust into this raw and scary new world at the exact same time. Both of us screaming. Both of us crying. Both of us struggling to see who the other one was. Before the aliens of latex gloves, sharp points of focused light and antibiotic swabs could come between us, however, I fed her.
She opened her mouth, I inserted my breast, and she fed. She drank deeply and fully, her breath and small fingers brushing my skin — and god damn this flawed body of mine — it had done so much and yet it also did this. It made me into food. And she ate.
After she was born, my body continued to provide her with all of her nutrients for a year. All of it. A full year and then some. Now, at 18 months old, she is tall and strong, with a mouth full of teeth and a taste for the food of the World. I haven’t breastfed her in 10 days. It wasn’t totally unforeseen but I am surprised to discover, I’m done.
How I will miss it.
It’s difficult to express the ecstasy of breastfeeding because two of the previous five words I just wrote are sexual in nature. So much of the language around breastfeeding sounds sexual that I think we avoid expressing anything about it at all. One hates to be mistaken for implying something of a sexual nature; one hates to imply they’re hearing anything of a sexual nature — and in the meantime phrases like ‘her lips around my nipple’ or ‘sucking my breast’ are flying around the spaces in-between.
None-the-less, I am compelled to articulate this moment because it is so big, and so… damn sad.
I will miss breastfeeding my daughter because in general I’m an anxious, self-centered cunt and nothing is more generous nor demands more calm than feeding an infant from your body. I did it for the last time 10 days ago and I’m sad about it. Not sad in the ways that carry a wish for a different outcome or with a feeling of unfairness; this is a healthy and appropriate time for us to be done. I’m sad in a very primal, human way. In an uncomplicated way that I’m seeing my daughter experience as a new human, now daily. I’m sad because this thing I enjoyed is over. I’m sad because this thing that made me feel special, magical — at moments divine — is done. Complications after Bea was born have confirmed her place as the only child I’ll deliver into this world (whether she is the only one I will ever Mother is yet to be seen.) None-the-less, this especial time is not done for now. It is Done for good.
I liked breastfeeding because it was a good thing that felt good to do and did good for another. It rendered me even more amazed by nature and our bodies and our world. I had feared that becoming a mother would place me in a space comparatively small to the one I occupied as a childless woman. A space comparatively narrow. ‘Just a mother’ is a feeling — a dreaded perspective — as much as a sexist axiom.
But when I would breastfeed my daughter I felt instead bigger, more connected to everything in the universe than I had ever felt — and I fear — may ever feel again. I ate of the world, she ate of me, and it was glorious. Jesus, you plagiarist.
In an attempt to preserve some of the memory of the experience, I took the occasional video. I thought they might give me some little piece of it back, but it’s a sad facsimile. It’s like watching lapel cam of your first kiss. However wonderful in the moment, probably pretty gross in review. The scratch of corduroy and a distant smack that makes you grimace. But at the time, oh man… the feeling of breath on your cheek and that thing that happens when you’re looking into someones eyes and you just KNOW you’re gonna kiss and then you do and it’s like… Right? Even Hollywood needs a bunch of cameras and lots of time to make it look like how it feels.
Here is what the videos I took did catch: her little breath. What a huge thing that was. So much of the first weeks with a newborn are just fucking keeping it alive. The fear that they have stopped breathing is constant. By the time you bring your baby home, you have heard the stories — written, told, whispered — of how frequently, easily and sometimes inexplicably a baby’s breath stops. You find yourself eagle-like staring at their chest and nostrils — your own breath halted until you can confirm theirs. I’ve stared at the rising and falling of her chest through the baby monitor with an intensity that would get me thrown out of Vegas.
But when they feed at your breast, that breath is certain. You can hear it, feel it, smell it. At times her breath would sync with mine — our very heartbeats falling into step and — honey — I’m tellin’ you it’s the best thing I’ve ever felt.
Maybe that’s why I’m sad.
It was the best thing I’ve ever felt. I was my best. It will never make me sad to remember it, but now — as I am so close to it that I could almost snatch it back — I just can’t stop crying.
For 38 years I was alone in my body and I delighted in steering it through this world as I would and could. Then, for two years my body became first a cocoon, then cradle and cup. Now, though my child and I hold hands, I am alone in my body again. We walk alongside one another, navigating a path that we hope will deliver nourishment to us both.
If we’re really lucky, to us all.
This piece was originally written in February, 2020. As ‘luck’ would have it, it was three days before I learned my Thyroid Cancer had returned, and two weeks before the Pandemic Lockdown began in LA. It languished in an ‘unfinished’ folder like so much else that year. It wasn’t until May, 2021 (cancer-free and fully-vaccinated) that I revisited it and decided to share. Here’s to perspective and the wheel of life.