Watching the piglets feed at the Los Angeles County Fair a few years ago, I remember thinking of my own nursing experience and recalling how I often felt like a piece of meat at times. It’s easier to look at a newborn or, even, a three-to-six month-old and think solely of the bond, to imagine oneself as doing the best thing for her child, but I found it very difficult to maintain the sentiment with my daughters once they became old enough to walk up to me, grab a breast out of my shirt, and latch onto it as if they had more rights to my body than I did.
Then there were the times when, having developed a few teeth, they used my breasts as toys on which to test their chompers. And so cruel were these little tots–it seemed–that I would yelp when they bit me, and they would just look at my face and laugh. In fact, sometimes my pained response convinced them that they should try it again and again until I packed up my feed bags and sealed them off from infant contact.
With my second daughter, in particular, I wanted to nurse for two years and be one of those brazen moms who breastfeed toddlers and dare a soul to speak against it. But my daughter was no help. She completely acted like she owned the boob jungle gym, slapping them during feedings, gnashing at my nipples unexpectedly, and subjecting me to spectacle whenever she felt like it.
I did my time with them. One year–thirteen months in both cases–and I was out of the game. I couldn’t stand it any longer. I wanted my body back. I hated feeling like just a milk source to my girl and a pleasure source to my husband. I had nothing left for myself.
When I was a teen, my mom used to taunt me because my breasts were large, not perky. She would tell me they looked like “cow bags.” I tried not to internalize what she said as I sought validation from guys who were happy to tell me how great they were.
I hardly ever wore bras (and I still prefer not to). I figured they were saggy anyway, so there wasn’t much to save. Bras felt restrictive and uncomfortable. Besides, guys never minded that I didn’t care for the contraptions.
But nursing demands a bra. Walking around with leaky faucets leads to a wet t-shirt that reeks of sour milk. Not sexy.
Then nursing pads are required, and those get itchy when, even, a tad wet. Plus they shift around and have to be moved back into place throughout the day; it’s like wearing a maxi pad on your boobs.
There was also the constant expressing with my last daughter because I worked far from home while my husband stayed home. I was resentful about that, too. I pumped in the college’s bathroom or attached the suction cups under my shirt during my drive home. “Cow bags” was right. That’s all I felt like: food.
Now, having a boy, I am having to reconcile all these feelings because I want to go into this with a clean slate. I don’t want to bring hangups or put-downs or previous latch-ons with me into this experience. I am going to nurse my Son for at least two years. I will not kick him off the supply before he is ready. Yes, I realize that there is a way to teach a one-year-old empathy and appropriate nursing behavior, that my child need not be a grunting, self-entitled piglet, and I am not a two-ton pig with twenty teets.
Just last night, I looked in the mirror at my darkened areolas, far darker than they were with the other two, and thought, “Geez. Can’t He find these easily enough? Ixnay the darkening already!” Seriously, it’s like they’re darker by the day and they’re set on turning pitch black. “What is it? Is this one coming out of the womb needing coke-bottle glasses on day one or something?” I had to stop myself and ask, “So what?” So what if they turn blue-black? So what if they swell into beach balls? (My bra size went from my usual D-cup to an F last time.) So what if I look like a brown panda bear? My Son is worth all of this to me, just like my daughters were and still are. I “got my body back” then, and he’ll return it to me when he’s ready. I can do this.
I can handle the initial cracking that occurs in the first few weeks and the “gentle” lactation consultants who prod and squeeze, like they’re giving mammograms. I can teach my Son breastfeeding etiquette so that we can both love that he is a nursing toddler.
I actually find the mama pig a source of empowerment. She seems so unfazed by her wee ones’ behavior. She accepts them as they are, and she understands.
Yeah, I can do this. If she can manage all of her lot, I can certainly handle one.