Something went very, very wrong at some point in my pregnancy with Sammi. We’ll never know what happened, exactly, but I had a moment around the seventh month when I believe the message was delivered.
David and I were lying in bed, reading. It had been — and continued to be — an easy pregnancy, relatively speaking. My only complaints were early queasiness that never quite went anywhere, and a respiratory infection that lead to a round of antibiotics. I had a normal amount of weight gain, baby growth, and everything else was going as expected. Suddenly, for absolutely no reason, I had a feeling of total dread.
“David,” I said, “I think there is something really wrong with this baby.”
“Why?,” he answered.
I couldn’t tell him, but I made him get down to the base of my belly and speak loudly and deeply, trying to get the baby to move. It took a few minutes, and a cold glass of water, but the baby did squirm or kick, and my fear passed. I asked David if he had any premonitions like mine, and he didn’t.
Once Sammi was born after a day of frightening warnings — she was late but tiny, her heart was strong but decelerating, she was proportionate but inexplicably undersized — I found myself shocked to be lying on a bed in a recovery room, abdomen stapled shut, labor abandoned for c-section, pumped full of drugs and paralyzed by an epidural. A few moments later, someone wheeled a plastic tub on a cart into the room, and I peered over my useless knees to see the baby in the tub.
She was kicking legs and wires and tubes. I couldn’t see her face. I’d had one kiss in the operating room.
Thankfully, Sharon, the birth attendant I hadn’t used, was waiting with me. She saw me strain to look at the baby and said, “Have you nursed her yet?”
“No,” I said. “I haven’t even held her. Am I allowed?”
“She’s your baby,” Sharon said, and strode purposefully to the tub, picked up the baby, and brought her to me.
I held her, all four-pounds-eleven-ounces, and put her to my breast.
She was ferocious. She went at my nipple with vigor and power and purpose. The very first suckle made me gasp, and she didn’t stop until a nurse pried her away and took her to the nursery, having discovered a blood sugar problem that needed monitoring. I would spend the next eight days fighting to nurse her.
After that, I would go on to nurse her for nearly three years, through food refusal and ear infections and cardiac surgery, through toddler tantrums and night terrors and pneumonia, through hideous reflux and tonsillectomies and naps. I nursed her far longer than I ever wanted to, and far more often, mostly because it kept her alive and but also because it kept me vital. When she was so scary to me that I couldn’t bring myself to connect, when I could not make her healthy, when I could not feed her any other way, I could nurse her. I could hold her and nurse her and feel useful and helpful not because I was stubbornly clinging to some ideology about breastfeeding but because it really did work. For years, it was the only thing that consistently worked to keep her growing.
So, look at my breasts.
Really, you have my permission. Admire them, not for their shape or their sexuality, but as the most reliable medicine I had. Admire that they took a very sick baby and grew her from four-pounds-eleven-ounces to twenty-three-pounds-twelve-ounces. Admire that the body to which they were attached kept going while those breasts nursed a baby ten, fifteen, twenty-two times a day.
Something bad happened in my uterus. Maybe it was around the seventh month, or maybe that was my body realizing what was already wrong, or maybe that was normal pregnancy jitters. But nothing bad happened to my breasts. They soldiered on, they ran the marathon over and over, carrying a teammate as they crossed the finish line.
It’s ok. Admire my breasts. I sure do.