Martyr No More
My body is a battleground. I am both sovereign nation, sending out my little settlers into the unknown world, and colonized land, fighting for control of what was mine and mine alone for twenty-eight years. I have nursed three children over a span of six years without pause and I see the finish line in the flicker of candles on my children’s cupcakes. I’ll nurse her until her second birthday, this spring.
Charlotte toddles over to where I sit. “Nurse?” she asks, her mouth drawn up in an impish smile.
“Let’s read a book,” I say cheerily, pulling “Rosie’s Hat” from the stack on the table beside me. She persists. “Want to build a tower?” I get up from the chair, cross the room and pull out the tub of Duplo blocks. She follows and sits in my lap. I try to cuddle her against me, as I take out the bright, primary coloured plastic pieces. I kiss her tangled curls. Squirming, Charlotte throws her considerable weight to one side, making a move for the hem of my shirt. I try to turn her towards the tower I’ve begun to build. She picks it up and throws it. I concede. My well-worn nursing bra snaps open. Sprawled across my lap, her latch lazy, Charlotte grabs at her toes and paddles at my face; she pokes her fingers into my mouth and nose, smiling around my nipple.
It’s uncomfortable on the floor. Her teeth graze flesh so I hook a finger in the corner of her mouth, gently pull her off my breast, and plop her down beside me. “That’s enough, baby.” She begins to cry, trying to climb back into my lap.
“Do you want a drink of water? Are you hungry? Let’s have a banana.” I stand and she is after me, clinging to my pants.
“Fine!” Irritation edges my voice.
I scoop her up, sit down hard in the chair, and let her have my breast. She draws a hiccupping breath and lets it out in a sigh, damp eyes on mine. I wonder, does my milk taste of indecision? As she settles, I recall the last days of nursing her oldest brother, Aedan. We’d been tandem nursing, he and his brother, Colm, and when I looked down at the two of them nursing side by side, I was not overcome with love, like I expected. Instead, I felt like a sow lying in the dust, overrun by rooting piglets–I wanted to throw them off of me. I read about other women experiencing intense physical aversion, too, but they always worked through their feelings, buoyed by their goal of extended breastfeeding. So I pressed on, believing that it was best for Aedan. I was so dedicated to the idea of letting him wean when he was ready that I completely ignored the signs of my own readiness. Each feeding was tainted by my anger. I would grit my teeth and look out the window, at the wall, anywhere but his searching eyes. I’d been gradually reducing his feedings until one day, I told him it was enough. I reassured him that I loved him, and that we would still cuddle as often as he wanted, but that we would not be nursing anymore. It was sad for a day or two, and then it was our normal. He was thirty-two months old.
After that, I promised myself I would not be a martyr again. Colm was weaned at 18 months, while I was pregnant with Charlotte. I am tired of nursing, of my breasts being on demand day and night. After all this time, distancing myself from my body has become more than just a survival strategy on the overwhelming days: it’s become second nature to me. I long to begin the work of reclamation, though I’m not even sure what that will look like. I have to remind myself that I am beginning that process even now, as I try to put off each request to nurse.
I look down at Charlotte, asleep in my arms. One hand is tucked under my breast, the other resting open, palm down on the top. Her cheeks are still tear-damp. She suckles rapidly; her head lolls back until my nipple slips from between her lips. She continues sucking at her tongue, then stops. Sunlight comes in at the window like a truce and I let my guard down a little. Mother-lead weaning happens in a series of skirmishes fought each day: some days, I gain ground. Others, I lose. But for now, I cuddle her warmth to my belly and just let it be.
Tara Borin is a mother-writer living in Dawson City, Yukon Territory. Her poetry has been previously published or is forthcoming in Mom Egg Review, Petal Journal, and Yellow Chair Review, among others. She can be found on the web at taraborinwrites.com, and on Twitter @tara_borin.