Monday, October 30, 2006

dancing on the edge

The toddles now has teeth. Three on top, with the MIL's sweet gap, and three on the bottom. This is of tremendous fascination to him, and he'll spend much happy time gnawing on apples, bell pepper sticks, and of course, chalk. With the teeth, however, comes certain shall we say complications to our role as mother and nursling.

Yup, the kid bites. Not fiercely, not angrily, but meditatively, at the end of a nursing/snuggle, or sleepily, holding on to his Comfort Thing, or even playfully, knowing that when he does this the mama yelps and glares most amusingly.

But then the mama takes away the Comfort Thing, which is not amusing.

So, for the past week, the toddles and I have been practicing dismounts. He is learning that biting means a sharp, unhappy ending to our snuggle, and is increasingly annoyed by the finger near his mouth, held ready to slide protectively between his jaws. He knows what that finger means, and he's latching on, sucking briefly, then carefully sliding off the breast, warily eyeing the Finger of Doom.

Temporarily, then, a sense of tension and urgency has entered our nursing times, flickering through us, each of us wary of the other, but trying to relax back into our old ease. This, too, will pass. But it reminds me of the early days of nursing, this thrumming tension.

Nursing a child in the first month is work. It's teaching the child how to suckle, it's relearning the process yourself. Eventually, you look up to realize that it's comfort, it's relaxing, even nurturing. But first, there's work.

And need. The newborn's need for the breast is unlike that of a four or five month old. Secure in the knowledge that the Comfort Thing(s) is in there, the older baby will pat or pull at mama's shirt, while the newborn is all fierce need. Watching my boys' lunge for the breast used to remind me of my college fencing teacher. You commit to the moment, she said, you let everything else fall away and see only the target, the motion...and you go.

Breastfeeding the boys has never been wholly simple for me. My list of motivations is long. I nurse the Toddles now, aware that his limited diet is worryingly unbalanced, and that my milk is both protecting his system and balancing his nutritional intake. I nursed the Eldest, aware of the sanctuary I was providing, and cheered on by our nurses, who could find a tiny vein with ease while he nursed - and the nursing would nearly eliminate the pain of the needle. He got a lot of infusions of his clotting proteins while nursing and napping at the breast, and sometimes didn't even wake up.

That one's scientifically proven, folks. If you are nursing a baby, nurse them during innoculations and all invasive procedures - it reduces the physical experience of pain for the baby, and makes the whole thing easier for everybody. Except, possibly, for stubborn nurses who insist on poking and prodding a child on the examining table. But in a question of child's pain vs. medical convenience, well. How else?

But how different is that from the mother who stops into day care on her lunch break, to nurse the child? Forget the nutritional element, the biochemical need, the philosophy. She's lactating her way to a stronger connection with her child, using her breasts to pave the way to a moment of bonding, in the midst of an institution that is temporarily offering to replace her. Can you do that with a bottle? Sure, but your body won't force you to.

No, nursing is never simple. It's as tangled as everything else: gentle, fierce, nurturing, and occasionally sharp. And loving, even when you begrudge the 3am feeding, the 5.15 am demand for a cuddle with extras. But what sticks in my mind is the lactation consultant at our children's hospital, who when faced with a terrified me and a tiny Eldest, dripping in looping, messy tubes, simply swept them all aside, making a small space.

For, well, us.


mother in israel said...

Hi, I just discovered your blog. I posted about Rabbi B. also. I even studied English lit, but skipped the dissertation part. Refuah shlemah to your son.

mama o' the matrices said...

welcome to the blog! I was a bit grumpy about Rabbi B - I'll be curious to see how you handled it.

mother in israel said...

I read the excellent response by the rabbi in response, and something he said bugged me. I hope to post about it.