My breasts are nearing the end of their 12-month lease. I must confess, the lease will not be renewed. I have willingly donated a year to my daughter’s immune system. I have boosted her brain cells (at the expense of my own, no doubt). I have given her the head start to a healthy life that I gave each of my other children. But I can’t wait to be finished. (I would say I’m going to wean my child, but I really hate that word. If I’m weaning her does that mean I’m a weaner? Does that make my baby a weanee?)
I have a friend who breastfeeds her children well into their two’s. My mother (as she tells the now infamous story) nursed her last baby until she was old enough to climb up onto her lap in church, pull open her blouse and say loudly: “taste pease.” (Everybody wave to my little sister Anne, who’s reading this in class instead of paying attention to her Law professor. Don’t blush Anne!). But I, selfishly, just want my body back. Sure, it’s not the body I started with. There are certain, shall we say, downsides to childbirth. But it is still my body even if I’m never again allowed to change its clothes, bathe it or sit it on the toilet with any degree of privacy.
Nora is, and will forever be, my youngest, so I feel a hint of sadness at the thought of ending this phase in her life -- in my life. My husband will also be sorry to see the breastfeeding years end, though for different reasons. But there’s one thing I will most definitely not miss about nursing Nora, and that’s the way she turns into A HUMAN STARFISH whenever I’m feeding her. Let me describe this for you. She takes her free arm, straightens it perpendicular to her body, stretches out her hand and then attaches it to my face. She pokes her fingers into any crevice she can reach, usually my eye sockets or my nostrils. While still nursing away, eyes closed, she uses her hand to feel her way around the contours of my face and then thwack it frenetically, like a Helen Keller of the baby world. Often, she cleans my teeth for me with her fingernails and then grabs onto my lower jaw and yanks it up and down. I am reduced to a Howdy Doody doll with mammary glands.
I’ve tried trapping her arm under my shirt but she just pokes it out the top. Really, my only recourse is to bend her elbow, tuck her arm against her body and hold onto her hand the whole time she’s nursing. This means I can’t read or talk on the phone or work on the computer like I did when she was a newborn. Now, a few times a day, for several minutes while I feed her, I am totally captive. I suspect Nora knows this and has simply found the perfect way to make me drop everything, cuddle with her, and give her my complete, undivided attention. I need to make sure I find time to do this even after I’ve stopped nursing her.
Most likely, a few months from now, I’ll look back nostalgically on the whole breastfeeding process. And even further down the line, I may imagine that nursing never hurt and never led to awkward moments in public places and never ever caused me to wake up soaked in milk. I will only remember the closeness I felt to my babies. Who knows, maybe I’ll even have forgotten Nora’s facial treatments and envision myself holding her peacefully, looking down into her eyes and enjoying the moment -- both of us satisfied we are getting all that we need.