On Breastfeeding: Passion in Three Parts

:: Part 1 ::

When, as a very young girl, I read that Freud said that the baby at its mother’s breast experiences sexual pleasure, and so does the mother I was naively shocked.  When I nursed my own babies I knew what he meant; it was pure sensual delight.  It was also an unmitigated act of love, an affirmation of creation.

-Madeleine L’Engle in A Circle of Quiet

Liquid life flows out all over everything, especially in the weeks when breasts are tight and full, eager to sustain the life that’s been birthed from me.  But now the flow is easy and forgiving, and Baby Ray grins at me through my nipple.  For he’s had the mama milk life running through his body for over a year now, and he’s strong and knows what he wants.  It’s more than just the milk for him now.  It’s his skin on mine, assurance of affection when new teeth are hurting him sore, or when he’s trying to push himself off to sleep.  We linger in breastfeeding this year — not rushing — because there’s 13 months old to enjoy, and 13 months won’t be here again.

I agree with Madeleine L’Engle’s assertion that breastfeeding is sensual, a decidedly pure sensuality that forms a baby into a lover of skin and passion.  It’s the raw intensity that pulls up the tears and laughter from my soul.  The body remembers the pangs of childbirth in the first weeks as my womb returns itself small.  And the breasts fill tight and tingle sharply with the recurrence of milk letting down.  It’s painful, but the milk itself brings the bliss.  You have to be giving to feel it.

:: Part 2 ::

There are secrets and wounds lingering in my breasts, dark nights of holding Baby Ari.  Surely memories of Ethiopia still danced in his mind and the why, why, why for all of the bottles and other babies and many mamas that we wiped away.  A time-warping plane ride brought new home, new people, new words, and then this breast in his face.  And me with only arms to hold and breasts longing to give him milk — give him everything — wondering how to mold his thoughts into present joy.  This is home, sweet baby.  This is mama.  This is milk all wrapped up in love.

But there’s not enough of it, and it doesn’t taste like love.  What is love supposed to taste like, again?  It takes me a while, but I start to figure out that I’m not giving so much as taking — taking my Ari’s life and forcing it into my tight-wrapped package of what I thought it would be to love him.  Angry teeth break my skin to remind me, and I go to bed in tears over all my trying.  Vessels of life cupped in my hands peel away the curtains of my heart and leave me bare.

Giving had to be like this.  You give until you erupt with the pain and sweetness of it all.  There is not enough mama in me to hold up the babies I’ve been given, but I have to lay myself bare to know.  When I’ve bared myself in love, there is no more shame at having tried and failed.  Jesus, bared and shamed, brought us to the breast of Mama God.

:: Part 3 ::

I am mama in my breasts.  Perhaps it is mama that five-year-old Isaiah reaches for when he asks to nurse, so curious about the sweet milky regularity.  And awkward, I say no at last, realizing he needs more than breasts now.  We turn pages toward tomorrow together and passion still flows out, for as Erika Morrison comments to another breastfeeding mother, “You will never stop breastfeeding, it’s just so much of who you are… [lying] skin to skin with the world and always [letting] down your nourishment.”

Long after the breasts run dry and empty, surely the mama in me runs deeper still.  I sit by the deathbed of Jashoda and whisper to her when no one else will:  You are still mama to them all.  You are still mama.

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