There is a prickling at the back of my mind, like a phantom limb that isn’t a phantom or a limb, but is a part of me, if I am away from my nursing baby too long. The unbreakable tie that tethers us is invisible in the hours we are separated. Yesterday I painted downstairs all day, coming up only to nurse the baby and eat a sandwich, both at arms length, careful of the wet paint on my shirt. By the end of the day I needed the smell of her smooth temple against my mouth and nose.
I also needed a bath. My nursing baby was covered in apple sauce, from the hairs on the back of her head to the sides of her thighs under her tray. She needed a bath, too.
I felt the tie that tethers us soften, lazily uncoiling, free as I lay in the water and she flopped from the left of my belly to the right, ever curious and reaching. I sat up to wash our hair and she sat in my lap, her side to my belly. She looked up at my breast, zeroed in on my nipple and reached her mouth up for a nurse.
I’ve been thinking, ever since, about breastfeeding in general, and public discomfort with it in particular. Nursing to me is motherhood distilled. It is the last time my baby is part of “me and my baby,” “my baby and I.” It signifies the time before she is apart and away, before she is someone who needs less from me, takes less from me, but then paradoxically requires more from me, more purposeful patience, more counting to ten before I explode over toddler-ish escapades. It’s something I do simply because I enjoy it, not because I feel I should or because it’s best for baby, but because I like it.
The past couple of weeks I’ve been experiencing my first-ever nursing aversion. I didn’t even know there was a word for what I was feeling, the temporary pain, the impatience, the counting down six more weeks until we hit a year, where I had assumed I would nurse till around eighteen months with my fourth baby, and that I would find it heartbreaking to stop this final time. I did some reading, and maybe it’s the weather or my hormones or the baby having a growth spurt or my needing to drink more water and get more sleep.
Last night I thought of all the maternal imagery Jesus uses. I love the types and symbols and metaphors of the scriptures. I love talking with my daughters about the women in the scriptures and imagining what barely-or-not-mentioned women were feeling and thinking. Possibly they are getting a very unorthodox perspective on stories like Queen Esther (poor Vashti, eh?) and the Parable of the Talents (sounds like food storage).
Jesus asks how many times would he have gathered us like a hen gathers her chickens and tell fathers to bring children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. He asks how unlikely would it be for a woman to forget her sucking child and says He is even more constant.
Before He was crucified He said there would come a time when they would say “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck,” because baring and nursing and mothering make one vulnerable.
Moses, when fed up with the children of Israel for not appreciating manna, asks the Lord why he is responsible for them: “Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers?”
And when Isaiah prophesies about the redemption of Israel, he says that “their kings shall be thy nursing fathers and their queens thy nursing mothers.”
I think one of the reasons I like nursing so much is because it’s one of the few mothering things I’m really good it, one of the few things that comes naturally to me, something I don’t have to overthink or remind myself ten times a day that swearing probably won’t make this situation of the sugar all over the floor any better.
I don’t know why we are so uncomfortable with imagery of the physical, maternal body. Jesus tells us to eat of His flesh and drink of His blood. I bring Molly to my breast and she eats and drinks greedily. I wish I were as eager to accept the nourishment Jesus offers hourly as she accepts the milk that flows from my breast.