The Milk Givers
Readers: This is an older post that I realized I never published, and so I finished it and am publishing it this morning. It is also the start of a new project called The Body Project where women (and who knows, possibly men) will be contributing work about their own bodies for publication on Church Avenue Chomp. Further information to follow, but contact me at churchchomp at gmail dot com if you are interested in submitting.
Henry nursed forever — until he was about 3 weeks shy of 3 years old.
I’d tried weaning. I’d failed. I’d worried about it and then decided that though things weren’t proceeding as planned, that no one would die from this situation.
That’s what I thought, and our pediatrician thought, but it is not what the obviously horrified hospital pediatrician, the guy we met when Ivy was born, thought when he asked us about our family. He grimaced. He announced that my son’s “time in the sun” was over. He acted like we would were doing a serious disservice to our new child unless we threw our old child into milk rehab, stat.
Uh, I have tried milk rehab, sir, and please cut it with the vitriol.
As it happened, the last time Henry even asked to nurse was the morning of the day his sister was born. I plucked him out of his crib, carried him into my room to snuggle, and then it was off to the hospital for me. My new baby nursed that afternoon. When Henry came to the hospital to meet us, he hugged me, and he snuggled me, but he did not ask, and he never asked again.
After he passed the torch of Family Nursling to his sister, he would “check in” with me, but in a different way. Specifically, he would grab my my post-partum belly and smoosh his face into it. He’d try to lift my shirt anywhere to do this. “Keep my shirt down,” I’d fake-cheerfully implore when we were, oh, anywhere we went. He tried to touch my belly everywhere.
Last summer, I realize that he didn’t do that so much anymore. Instead, when he wanted to “check in,” he would try to touch his sister.
I did not know how to keep a 3 year old from mauling a baby with love. He’s largely gentle but there was some leaning that was . . . less gentle. And it’s not great when he pulls on her legs. It’s enormously stressful, for me, and I can’t imagine how the baby feels, though when I finally get him away from her so she can get some air, she generally has a huge grin on her face. But I ask him not to. I tell him not to. I bodily remove him. I urge him not to a bit louder. Sometimes, I yell. “Will you listen to Mommy?” my husband asks.
“No,” Henry would respond cheerfully, or sullenly, but the answer would be no. He loves to snuggle that baby.
One day recently I asked what his favorite part of Ivy is. “I like the warm parts,” he explained. He pointed out her belly, and then her head. “And I sort of like these too,” he continued, indicating her arms and legs.
How about Daddy? I asked, curious. “With Daddy, I like the roof,” Henry said, indicating his own head.
Oh, what about me?
“With you?” He cupped his hands over my chest. “With you, I like the milk givers.”
A colleague once warned me that whatever you called your breasts in a goofy way when your child was nursing would someday be parroted back to you by that child in public. With this in mind, I was so careful not to use the word boob or breast or even any body part word at all. All I ever did was vaguely offer milk. Or milky, in the way that I also say eggy, leggy, cribby, etc. And at one point, he started to call them milkies. “I will keep this milky for myself when the baby comes,” he one day informed me, in reference to the milky on the left side of my body.
But he is quickly growing up. Now he calls them Milk Givers.