There was a time when I believed
it was a truth universally acknowledged that Salma Hayek breast-feeding a baby
not born unto her was strange.
I was newly pregnant with my
second daughter when I gave it some thought, figuring everyone agreed it was
kind of an out-there thing to nurse another woman’s child. It wasn’t that I
didn’t admire Hayek’s compassion for helping a stranger’s sick baby in Sierra Leone. It was that not having breast-fed my older daughter Petunia for
more than two weeks, I was in the dark about how passionate so many women are
That all changed when my second
daughter was born. Even though Petunia fared perfectly well health-wise, and she
and I bonded just fine despite the fact that she received mostly formula via bottle her first year, I was determined to nurse my younger daughter Peony exclusively
for as long as I could—but definitely longer than two weeks.
It was initially a breeze,
although “initially” really just meant about two days. Peony stopped feeding on
the left breast before I left the hospital. We were back in the hospital less
than two days later for a consultation, and I was on antibiotics for mastitis a
few days after that. Still, my determination to persevere was stronger than the
feeling of broken glass crunching around in my left breast.
The milk may have stopped ... but I’m still here and Peony knows that better than she knows anything else.
I wasn’t thrilled about nursing in
public—that was part of the reason why I stopped breast-feeding Petunia so
early on: I hadn’t figured out a way to do it discreetly and wasn’t comfortable
with an exposed breast outside of my home. I read about women staging protests
for their right to nurse their babies anywhere and at any time without reservation or so much as a blanket, and, while I don’t disagree that small babies should
eat when needed, I was never (and I’m still not) sure why nursing covers or
discretion couldn’t necessarily be part of the deal.
Thankfully, I discovered a Bebe au
Lait nursing shield that worked well for me with Peony, and we soldiered on. Plus,
by the time Peony was born, I was working from home full time, so shunning the
pump and bottles and public feedings wasn't too much of a hardship (other than,
you know, being tied to her up to 12 times a day in the very beginning). I
figured if I breast-fed her for three months, it would be a successful mission.
It’s now 15 months later, and Peony
just decided to stop nursing. Like, she just
decided a couple of days ago. There’d been signs for a couple of weeks that she
was losing interest. She limited her time at the breast to a matter of seconds
on some mornings (we were down to a lone, early-morning session for the past couple
of months). She probably would have been fine stopping sooner than she did, but
I kept offering anyway because I figured we’d come this far, I wanted to be
crystal clear that we’d reached the finish line.
We crossed it before dawn one
morning when I brought her into bed, and, instead of taking the breast, she
rolled over and stuck her pacifier in her mouth. It was a relief to an extent—it meant I could finally think about traveling without children for the first
time in a few years, or even just sleeping in.
But the end has been more of a
heartbreak than anything else. It’s not a
my-7th-grade-boyfriend-just-dumped-me-for-my-best-frenemy kind of
heartbreak. Instead, it’s simply not lost on me that Peony is my very last
baby, and this incredibly short-lived, fantastically magical milk-making power
of mine has now stopped—it’s just sad, even when factoring in the realistic,
everyday inconveniences of it all.
The early days, when it would
often take Peony an hour to get through a nursing session, were among my
favorite times. She’d start snoozing in the middle, all cozy and snuggly up
against me, giving me ample time to inspect the outline of her face or how
she’d scrunch up her legs like she was still confined to the womb. In my more
fortunate moments, I’d doze off with her, knowing full well that the warm bliss
of such shared naps was pretty much unmatched by any other life experience.
To this day, while she adores my
husband and her sister, among others, I remain Peony’s clear person of choice,
and I have no doubt it’s because 450+ days of making myself available to every
pang of hunger in her tiny belly and quickening of her heartbeat has paid off
incalculably. When everything else is stripped away—all of the comforts that
she’s come to know and expect—in the end, I’m all she really knows. I’ve the most consistent presence and source of
nourishment in her life.
The milk may have stopped (or it
will soon—I checked last night and there are still a few drops), but I’m
still here and Peony knows that better than she knows anything else.
Nursing another woman’s baby,
donating breast milk or breast-feeding publicly without a cover still wouldn’t
be choices I’d make, but I understand more deeply why Salma Hayek did it as
well as those women who stage nurse-ins all over the place. Because I started
out doing it for one reason, and in the end, I did it for all the reasons.