By Rebecca Fountain
Issue 118, May/June 2003
This evening I strolled into my local medical center with my bare breasts sauntering beside me. My son was cutting mushrooms atop an unsteady accessory to our dining suite when he slipped and fell into the arms of my partner, who was wielding a frying pan full of bolognaise. After several attempts to douse him under the shower and apply a cold pack to his welting face, our two year old showed no sign of faith in our knowledge of burn therapy. A healing maju and a brief stint of television tranquilizer later, father, mother, bewildered eight-month-old sister, and burned brother left the house for the medical center.
“Maju,” you say? Is that a relative of the shiatsu family? A transcendental meditative state that no one but our well-to-do two year old can afford to practice? Not a religion for my kids, but undoubtedly an ethical choice for me, maju is the whole and hearty experience that is nursing at my breasts. Somewhere between hearing the words “mama’s milk,” getting to know his life source, and experimenting with his vocal cords, maju (MAH-joo) landed at the center of my son’s emerging vocabulary.
Maju is the embodiment of every lazy Sunday afternoon curled up in a hammock under the sun with a nice book. Maju is the calm before, during, and after any storm, sleep, or scare you can think of. Maju is the icing and the cake, the midnight snack, the morning wake. Maju is the feeling you need when you’re little and the feeling you miss when you’re old and alone. Maju is under my shirt, come rain, sun, or grime–out in public, at home, anywhere, anytime.
A solid fact: Breast is best. But wait, I have two–two little kids who nurse when we like: in the car, with a fox, and definitely not with ham. It is such a beautiful thing to nurse your children–the closest you can get to fulfilling two or three people all at once, and the easiest way to love, feed, nurture, and let go in a breath. When your sleep is so broken that you ache and you’re sore and their tandem feeding makes you want to start a maju revolt, you can depend on the eternal paradox of nursing–the breastfeeding babes who keep you up will eventually help you get a few more winks. When you’d rather be carousing at some high-society gala hosted by the leader of the debt-free arts degree society, or getting down and dirty in a nightclub full of baby-free boppers. When you’re stuck at home reading Patrick and Ted Go to the Seaside for the gazillionth time. You can still be there, nursing yourself and your kids, while you dream yourself far far away.
Sometimes, though, when I’m feeding two at once, and he is standing up (while I am sitting down), and she is coming on and off, and I’m in the middle of an incredibly public place, my breasts leaking and exposed to unnatural weather conditions . . . well, I can’t help but feel a little self-conscious. When I get a look that says, “My God, there’s two of them on them there hills,” it’s hard. The obligatory “That’s indecent exposure” remark from a pimply kid, or the awkwardness of two grown men formula-fed on silicone sexiness, makes it hard. I am embarrassed to be nurturing my own children in public. Yes, it’s hard to be a woman giving love to little ones, giving life to little ones, giving lessons to little ones. It’s hard to bare it all because you believe that your nakedness warms the nakedness in others. It’s hard to hold your head up when your breasts are way too low. Its hard to stick to something that sometimes society would rather we didn’t stick out.
Like tonight, when we head from the car into the medical center and my son is sucking away a little bit scared, a little bit sleepy, and a little bit burnt. He is nursing and looking for extra comfort and has his hand on my other breast. (My bra went down with the burn-and-bath routine on the shower floor.) It tickles like always and they’re my breasts like always and this is normal like always. This evening I walk–a mother, a woman, a breastfeeder–into a well-lit, hygienically inspired auditorium full of keen spectators. It makes me stop. I hide my right breast. That makes me stop again, for there is my son, looking up at me for all the answers to his world of questions. “Have some maju,” I say. And he does. And that’s just right.
For more information about tandem nursing, see the following articles in past issues of Mothering: “Nursing Baby, Baby, and Baby,” no. 64; “Tandem Nursing,” no. 46; and “Diary of a Tandem Nurser,” no. 21.
Rebecca Fountain resides in Aotearoa, New Zealand. In addition to being a mother, musician, and student, she works for the Canterbury HomeBirth Association. Her son, Kalvin, is now nearly 4, and her daughter, Lola, is 2 1/2. She still breastfeeds them both.