I share a bed with my 14 month old daughter. When she stirs during her 10-12 or so hours of sleep, any time in the middle of the night or early morning, she will turn her body, searching. Sometimes she will glide toward me with a gentle roll, as if she were being carried or pulled in the natural flow of an ocean wave, or, at other times, she seems to lunge at me with a desperate flop. A little sound of panic is emitted, somehow my shirt is pulled down, she latches, she sucks, she drinks, and she is saved. We both usually remain half-asleep through all of this. It has been a miracle, one born of convenience and continued because of bonding. We both sleep well. It is just one example of our relationship; I nurse my child all the time, with virtually no restrictions. Though she has reached toddlerhood, she still seems to drink her milk as often as a newborn. The benefits to both of us have become astronomically apparent. It is a big, bold star in our night sky that guides, and saves, us.
When I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed my baby, and I figured it would be a special bond. With that in mind, I definitely did not quite understand the level of time, commitment, and love that a true, exclusive, breastfeeding-on-demand nursing relationship would entail. Once you fully flesh out that relationship (pun intended), all the myriad of needs that those mounds of flesh on your chest fulfill is astounding. They provide nourishment for the body, mind, and soul. They can save your child from hunger, from loneliness, from pain, from fear. With that soothing oxytocin release, they can calmly save you both from tears of frustration. They protect both mother and child from wants and hurts. They protect like armor. They make you feel invincible. When your baby is upset for any reason, those boobs swoop in like a superhero to solve the problem. In private, you as a mother may have your own worries and tension as well. When the world attempts to stab you, and many are the jabs of life’s sword, and the sharp pangs of slings and arrows, these breasts serve to deflect the blow. There may yet be times when they can cause tears, themselves becoming as much of a double-edged sword as what has attacked you. Like armor, it may not breathe. You can feel trapped, enclosed, cut off from the freedom of the outside world. I guess such feelings arise when your body is taken over by your child in so many ways at different points in their development. Or when the female body is constantly ogled and labeled by society. No one truly understands that balance except for your own self, contained in that heart buried deeply under your fleshly mounds of armor. Yes, that isolation may take hold, but your safety remains.
The past few years, in addition to gifting the joy of new motherhood, have held a lot of trauma for me. There was a lot of change, loss, and soul-searching, more than ever before in my adult life. It sometimes all seems too much. It has been life, not something necessarily like the major depressive episodes of my younger years, or even like postpartum depression, for I am actually happier in so many ways post-partum. Just life circumstances. I nurse and I feel content and safe and proud in my protective bond with my daughter, yet somehow, at times, alone in that very same armor. Hours were hard. I imagined not being. Not being can feel warm. In your mind, it can feel like a safe place to run when stress levels are high, even if it is something you would never want in reality. The line between darkness and security is blurred. It isn’t purely dark ideation; I also knew that, as a new parent, I would need to come up with a plan in the event something ever happened to me. I discussed it with others. The consensus was: Don’t Die. Thus brought forth more thinking. I did imagine myself dead, or dying. What would happen? All I pictured was my daughter wanting me. I am not a doctor, but I am fairly certain my mammary glands would soon cease to function upon my death. I would no longer be that warm comfort. No longer that flesh. No longer that savior. And my heart broke. It broke. The years of her life, raising her — that means so much to me and, considering how incredible of a person she is already, I just dream of knowing her in all her lovable quirks and perfect imperfections as she becomes who she is. But as a new first time mother, my initial instinct, the immediate need I thought of, was my baby’s need for my breasts. What would she do? How would she be comforted? Nursing is our favorite; it makes her so happy and I just love it for that. She often loves keeping a hand on her boobies even when she isn’t nursing. Nothing else will ever quite do it for her, even her most favorite people. How cruel. Please, please, when you beg life to help smooth the way, let me stay. Let me nourish her. I need to comfort her. She is my everything, my best friend, the one who has given me the opportunity to breastfeed, to bring more life into the world, and do those two most beautiful things perfectly. I don’t want to die. Let me live for her. And I analyzed my train of thought right there: I love my daughter so much and I need to be alive for her, but it comes down to my breasts. The reason I didn’t want to die was because of my breasts. Again, I could not die because of my breasts. My breasts were all I had to offer this world. Was that all I could rely on? Then I questioned my stupidity, my egoism, and how this applied to others. What about women who struggle to breastfeed and are unable to do so? What about women who don’t want children or never have children to breastfeed? What about women whose breasts feel like enemies — alien appendages they don’t like, things that draw unwanted attention or aggression, or reminders of a body that is sick or cancerous? Hell, what about my own life once I am no longer breastfeeding? Where is our worth then? Worth cannot be tied up in just our breasts! How superficial! Is this selfish of me, to use my breasts’ ability to justify my own self-worth? To use my gift to another autonomous human being, one borne of my own flesh and blood, to piece together my own life’s purpose? No. Our life’s journey is our own, and the connections and interactions with other people and the world around us enrich it. Everyone’s armor is different. We move from one stage of life to another, gathering our strengths, our worth, our reasons along the way. At this moment, my breasts are my saving armor. Someday, that will change. Our priorities change. Yet their protection is currently an integral part of me. I am more than the sum of my parts, more than my breasts. I am even more than my status as a mother. I know I, and she, and you, have more to offer the world. It is not the only thing I value about myself, but in exceedingly difficult moments — seconds I cannot bear — it is the most poignant. You need to find your life, piece by piece, at every stage. Build your arsenal, be a fighter – a knight! Tally the reasons you can look back and be proud of who you are and what you did with your life. Just because a stage is fleeting, different from others’ experiences, or just because it helps you in addition to helping another person, does not delegitimize its worth, nor your worth. When I think of the heaviness of life, I might want to run. When I think I cannot take another day’s insult, or I question whether I will rise to an occasion that has not yet arrived, I know I have to stay to meet those challenges. Because of my daughter. Because of my breasts. Because I know when it is hard for me to do anything else, I am succeeding at feeding and comforting her. I cannot die because my breasts will die. If my breasts die, my daughter will be alone. Both our hearts will break, and she is still too young for me to leave. That thought has saved me. My breasts encourage me to stay. My breasts — my armor — have saved my life. For a moment in time, I fearlessly ride through, wearing their protection over my chest, like a knight. They cover my body; they protect my heart. With my heart protected I can be a better mother. They become our joint protection. They are small and imperfect, but they serve us well. They save my daughter from hunger. Her cries of pain or fear are met by her mama-knight in shining boobie-armor. Swooping in, I feed and comfort her. I’ve saved her with my breasts. The overwhelming sense of peace and pride and love arises. They save me from lingering on the thought of not being, of fleeing. Upon life’s next attempt to ram its sword into me, I think not of the bad, but of that gently rolling, loving baby, filling my heart with her ocean waves at night. I am her night-nursing knight. My breasts are there to meet her as she rolls to me. My breasts are strengthened. I’ve put on my plates. I am her knight. I am my own knight. My breasts are my armor. They protect me in life’s battles. Again. I am a knight, my breasts are my armor. Day or night, I will nurse. Day or night, I will not give up. Day or night, my armor remains: the thin shiny steel mounds of flesh, the plates upon my chest. That sword will not penetrate that armor. It will not penetrate my chest. It will not penetrate my heart. Day or night, these breasts will save our lives.