I have some ideas pulling themselves together in my head about Israel/Palestine, Israel/the Diaspora, Subject/Other, the power of narrative and who gets to determine narrative and, and…
I just don’t have time to actually write them down. It’s possible that I will later, but who can tell — because it’s my baby girl’s birthday! She’s 7 years old today, a fact I find fairly gobsmacking.
Seven years ago right now, give or take an hour, she was flipping her 9 lb 3 oz body around inside me — having been head down for weeks and weeks and weeks — necessitating a C-Section and freaking my cute male nurse out just a smidge bit. Pro Tip: Here’s a word you don’t want to hear your nurse using when he goes to the wall and punches a button to communicate with the nurses’ station: “mumble garble STAT!”
But in the end, the girl came along, one way or ‘tother, and the trio of the husband, the boy, and me became the family we’d always been meant to be. One of the kids asked me once where they were before they were in my belly, and I just looked at them and said “In my heart.” She and her brother have always and forever been in my heart, and I am so grateful that I get to have them out here in my life, too.
So! Before I get all weepy n’ shit, and in case I don’t actually get time to do the professional-type thinking I was hoping to do, I thought I would issue a re-run — this time, a piece that ran in theDallas Morning News five years ago almost to the day, in which I discuss the surprising grief that overcame me when I learned, when the girl was only six months old, that I would have to stop nursing her.
And now: Off to bake!
By EMILY L. HAUSER / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News
In all honesty, I never was a big fan of breastfeeding.
I did it because it is, after all, best for the baby, and I was, after all, physically capable. I just never liked it. I bonded with my babies when I could see their faces, and all that New Age-y spiritual hoo-hah people come up with never worked for me. I especially didn’t like nursing in public. And pumping, well, you know: moo.
Moreover, if I stopped to think about it (which I mostly tried not to) the fact that my entire life revolved around the digestive system of another person made me feel like my skin was on too tight. To add insult to injury, my bust line is Rubenesque to begin with. When I lactate, I feel like a freak of nature.
Yet I breastfed without hesitation. We do things for love, things that have nothing to do with ourselves and everything to do with someone else (especially when that someone else is our child). And so, my now-6-year-old son, Ted, breastfed until one morning, just after his second birthday, when I asked him if he wanted to nurse, and he said no.
When my daughter, Maya, was born, I planned to do the same. As I pulled out the hated pump and sat bleary-eyed night after night, I was reminded that, indeed, I wasn’t doing this for kicks. Nursing bras, leaking on my pajamas, smelling of my own milk – ick. But it was OK, and it would end.
Then out of the blue, I was diagnosed with a nasty, if noncancerous, tumor. The tumor required surgery. The surgery required advance medication. And the drugs meant I had to wean Maya, at six and a half months.
To my enormous surprise, I started to cry. I cried and I cried and I cried. For days and days. I didn’t know, didn’t have any idea, that cutting her off would break my heart. That I would pump two, three, four times a day, obsessively, just so she could get a little bit of my milk for a little bit longer, or that I would literally cry over spilt milk when I knocked over an entire bottle’s worth. One night I kissed the top of her head as we snuggled, and found her hair was salty with my tears.
I knew that she would be fine. Six and a half months of nursing gave her an excellent start, and in fact, my pumping was so obsessive that she got some breast milk every day for another six weeks. (Imagine!)
Moreover, I know that formula is a reasonable source of nutrition. We often act as if the breast-and-bottle comparison is analogous to steak and rat poison; but it’s really more like steak and lunchmeat. One is excellent; the other will do in a pinch. (Of course, in this case the steak is free while the lunchmeat costs an arm and a leg: yet another reason breast is best, but that’s a different discussion).
“Fine” was not the issue, though. Knowing that she would be healthy and strong and well adjusted and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed was just not the issue. As I wept with her in my arms late one night, I realized that quite simply, it felt like they were taking her away.
That the feeling defied all logic, that I wouldn’t even have been able to say who “they” were, couldn’t have been less important. Our bodies had been in the most intimate communion for her entire existence. And though it is obvious that she began inside me, I found it equally true that part of me is inside her.
I suppose it is that same part that will always be with her, but so soon after her birth the feeling was, simply put, raw. Not long before, she had been nestled just beneath my heart, listening to my love beating in her ears, every moment of her existence. Nursing was a kind of approximation of that former oneness without my even knowing it.
And so I mourn its loss. Still. Maya is now almost as old as Ted was when he stopped, and I am deeply, endlessly grateful for the operation that meant I would be here to see her grow. But sometimes still, when I see other mommies nurse, I find I ache and sometimes cry. I wish I could have kept it up, wish desperately that we still had that – yes, I’ll say it – bond. And I’m shocked to realize that I miss it as much for me as for her.
Emily L. Hauser is a freelance writer near Chicago.