Monday, March 2, 2009

Milk

The image is me, and I am in the shower, facing the flow of the water. I can hardly stand the feeling of the water on my breasts because they hurt so much. After Liam was born, I used to practically weep for myself when people would complain of their engorgement; engorgement while they were nursing a living child. I could never open my mouth to say what the pain is like to feel the milk of a child who is no longer there, to feel the bursting of breasts unaware of the tragedy that has befallen their body.
The midwife has told me that I should avoid this, the water contact, that I should avoid any and all stimulation because anything will cause more milk to be made. I should try not to get them wet and I should try not to touch them and I should keep them bound as tightly as I can at all times, and ice them for the pain. I was popping pills like candy for the pain, but truly it did not do any good. What was the pain that I could feel, the throbbing and pulsing of the rock-hard flesh into which I could not even think of pushing a finger? My breasts wrapped all the way round into my back, and they were ridged and dimpled with the swollen ducts. They were purple, they were not human. They ached, they ached. But my heart hurt more. This was a minute piece of what my pain was.
And I wanted the milk, as much as it hurt me in more ways than one, I wanted it as evidence, as the truth of what had happened: I had been made a mother, I was being christened by this bath of life-sustaining fluid. This here, this sweet, white, sticky milk that dripped down my belly and fell onto my feet was my holy communion of motherhood, it was the thing that told me yes, you are still a mother. And so even though I wasn't supposed to touch them, I did touch them, and I let the water run on them and I watched the milk pour out into the bathtub and swirl down the drain, a cloudy puddle of a life that could have been.

(And so I say to you, all you mothers to be out there, all you swollen-bellied fountains of fecundity, if you can, if it is at all possible, unless mother nature prohibits you for one reason or another that is real, NURSE your baby because she needs that milk, please don't let there be another drop wasted unnecessarily)

14 comments:

Birdies Mama said...

My dearest,

your words...always so lovely, this post is yet again a testament to your deepest love for Charlotte, your deepest sorrow, sorrow that not only spilled from your tender eyes, but also from your bosom. I too can remember the swollen full breasts, the evidence of truth, that YES I had become a mother. I wish that I had not bound m breasts to try to cancel this truth from being seen, but I did, I did.

sending you love. and a amen to not wasting a single drop of milk.

ezra'smommy said...

That feeling of utter engorgement, without a living baby to provide relief, was the most profound and painful aspect of this entire experience thus far.

Mommy (You can call me OM) said...

Oh, that is so heart wrenching. If only the mom in my community ed class understood how ridiculous she sounds when she says she switched to formula because pumping or getting up to feed her baby was "so inconvenient." Thank you for sharing your life with us. Peace.

Gal aka SuperMommy said...

You brought me right back to the weeks of getting my breasts to stop making milk after I had pumped for Tikva for 2 months. It was one of the saddest experiences of my life...

Ruth said...

i know exactly what you are talking about, i was handed an article in the picu on "lactation suppression: forgotten aspect of caring for a mother with a dying child" yeah!!! i wish that women would embrace the opportunity to nurse their child for as long as possible. my breasts/chest feels dead. i'm not sure if it will ever live again fully like my body was made too, i can't even imagine conceiving at this point. it just makes me sad, our life so abrupted. . .thank-you for your beautiful entry.

Ruth said...

p.s. i had pumped for approx. 2 months too, my body was like maybe if i make lots of food, he will survive. . .there was some good being able to donate all my milk, four coolers full to the milk bank but it just wasn't what i had intended as i so faithfully and painfully pumped, sometimes i just don't get it. . .why!!

Amy said...

I wrote about my painful, swollen breasts too. The ache, the pain, the emotional side of the physical torture. All of it so personal, so real, yet no one talks about this.

I have not found the courage to post my emotional experience of having breasts full of milk but no baby to feed. Thank you for sharing your experience.

I just completed a painting about 2 months ago of swollen breasts and wasted milk. I think it is on my blog. It also hangs in our bedroom.

Aimee said...

I nursed my first two--yes, casually and yes, milk got wasted and yes, I sometimes found it "inconvenient." I never nursed my third...and as the milk poured down the drain, I cried--like you. Now, as I sit here typing with one hand while my little miracle nurses, I am reminded of how precious each and every minute with him is and how amazing it is that he is here to partake in every drop of milk that flows. The only "wasted" milk is the dribble that flows down his cheek as he falls off my breast and drifts into that blissful milk-induced baby coma that is so wonderful to cuddle with! Thank you for this post, Carol, as always.

Sara said...

Was that disclaimer at the end (if it is at all possible, unless mother nature prohibits you for one reason or another that is real) for me? I wasn't going to rant at you again. I am just so glad I am able to breastfeed Kathleen, not enough, but I enjoy what we can do and know it is good for her.

Charlotte's Mama said...

No, Sara :)
It wasn't for you, but it was-- because I know, and respect, that nursing does not work for everyone for a variety of reasons, and YOU know that my tears are shed and the frustation exists only in situations where people who can nurse perfectly well opt out of this amazing opportunity to sustain life and maintain some of that intimate womb relationship.
I, too, am so happy that you have been able to nurse Kathleen, for whatever you have is a gift for both of you.

Cara said...

My milk came in the morning of Emma's funeral. It was excruciating - physically and mentally.

The memory of sitting on my bed, tears pouring as I stared blankly at an empty cradle - pumping - so I could survive the day is one that still lives within me.

Hope's Mama said...

Here in Australia, they give you a pill to stop your milk coming in. That thing had been shoved down my throat before I'd had so much time to blink. The side effects were awful. I felt sick and dizzy and just off. I have said to others I think I would have much preferred the actual pain of my milk coming in, but they think I'm mad. The pill didn't totally work anyway, and I still leaked small amounts and for weeks after her death and birth, I would still express those tiny yellowy-white droplets out. When that finally stopped a few weeks later, I was lost all over again. It really was over.
I long for the day I get to breastfeed a baby. I dream of it so often. I feel so cheated on this, it was the one thing I looked forward to the most, and the empty $300 cane rocker that still smells of fresh paint in the nursery mocks me each and every day.

Dalene said...

Those are memories that I would rather forget. I was so hopped up on pain meds from my C-section, that I didn't hurt physically. But it was excruciating emotionally. I take some comfort in at least knowing that my body works and will produce milk if I get to bring this growing babe home.

Jen said...

Lately when I have been nursing Lily I have been thinking of this post, and the comments, and my heart simultaneously breaks for all the grief and pain that so many have endured, and makes me even more determined to nurse her for as long as she wants.