I’ve never experienced someone else owning my body like this. Zi crawls over to me while playing, pulls down my top’s straps and launches her mouth, and now four teeth, toward my breasts. She twists against me, feeds, sighs, then drags herself away and crawls off.
She acts like I am killing her if I try to put her back to sleep late in the night by patting or with water instead. Gets offended and vex. Eventually, I turn over and she wraps herself around me, clamps onto my breast, beings to kick her foot in the air and hypnotically feeds. Eventually, I wake up, pry her off and try to unlock my hunched shoulder.
Having had someone survive solely off my body for more than six months, I feel a kind of awe for breasts that I did not before. You could put me out there to market for TIBS. Breast-feeding can be a burden, but it also makes you feel important, like you are doing something that makes you special to this baby. That’s also why you are the one that they want in the night. It’s a double-edged sword.
Breasts belong to you and your body, but are intimately linked to the bodily needs of another human being. In political sense, they are yours. In a biological sense, they are theirs too. Weird. Babies think your body is theirs with such full and genuine innocence that it’s easy to see yourself in their eyes. It’s not quite, but it feels like love, this unself-conscious claim on you.
Breastfeeding for what seemed to combine into about five hours was how Zi sat through three days of a regional academic feminist meeting in Jamaica. Sometimes she played with her toys on the desk. Sometimes she napped in my arms. But when she fussed, I stuck her on and she was perfection itself. Like an addict with a fresh fix. Bliss. She was with her mama and had unlimited access. Either that or she has a high tolerance for meetings and would do well as a future bureaucrat, someone said.
For working women, breastfeeding is both super easy and seriously challenging. When I was recently in London, where the hotel rooms (apparantly) don’t have mini fridges, the management refused to keep my breastmilk, in a small case I provided, in the kitchen freezer. Something about ‘leaking’ and ‘not near food’ and regulations. Seeing my tearful response, overflowing with despair and loss, the workers volunteered to take the bags of milk to their freezers at home. They did that for 5 days. On the weekend, when the manager was not on shift, they brought my little case back, kept it in the kitchen and I traveled home with seven full bags of frozen milk. And it would have been more had I not had to throw away a few over two ten-hour plane rides and at a two-day workshop where there were no provisions for breastfeeding mothers.
I had a friend who used to say that her god has breasts. Too true. Women who breastfeed multiple children, for multiple years, are everyday goddesses walking the earth. I guess now that I’m wondering how much longer I can do this, I am also pausing in a phase that makes see and appreciate my taken-for-granted body anew.