Essay excerpt from humorous new breastfeeding anthology
Reprinted with permission from the 2013 release from Demeter Press, Have Milk, Will Travel:
"Into (and out of) the Mouths of Babes" by Jessica Claire Haney
I try to resist the pull to fulfill his desires. He craves my attention, my embrace, my gaze, but I want the moment to be mine alone. I am successful only until he says my name. Then my will is gone, and I’m his. “Jessica! Jess!”
When my son was two, he took to yelling out my first name when a few rounds of “Mommy” hadn’t yielded desirable results. He usually employed this strategy to get my attention when I was cooking or typing—when my back was turned or my forehead wrinkles betrayed the fact that his activity at that moment was not the first thing on my mind.
With his eyebrows arched in gleeful discovery and his chubby index finger pointing to his newest project, excitement was the dominant undertone in his voice. Still, there was an insistence that registered to my ears as more demanding than anything. Feeling guilty for multitasking my motherhood, I usually gave in.
Being on a first-name basis with my son made me feel like I was both his equal and his servant—a familiar dynamic. Since the beginning of our relationship, he and I had spent a lot of time breastfeeding. At two, my son’s love affair with my breasts still sizzled. The concept of my body as both mine and the boy’s had long been a challenge for my husband, even before the boy was walking or talking. Or calling out my first name.
His language and cognition had matured by the time he was two, but his desire for my body blurred boundaries, challenging me. It was one thing to be felt up when he was an incoherent blob. But it felt different when he could say to me, “I wanna nurse you, Mommy” and “other side” while trying to wedge his whole arm under my bra and creep his fingers toward my unoccupied nipple, as though this time I might decide I like it instead of telling him, “Move your hand.” I began instinctively to hug my chest, pressing my unsupporting arm against the dormant breast, sometimes cupping myself, or pulling him off to stop the groping.
Nursing used to be the panacea for all ills: hunger, fear, fatigue. By age two, we were on a more predictable schedule, but my son’s eyes would still flash when I got naked like lollipops were taped to my chest. He’d pretend to reach out and coyly tell me he wanted to nurse, just because he could say the words, and then would proceed to ponder my genitalia, fascinated with the embouchure required to say “vagina.” His mouth played with different tones and tempos for the word. I both laughed and cringed when he began toggling between the v-word and “Jessica,” whispering as though both three-syllable words were magical mantras holding the key to a delicious mystery. Perhaps they are.
Fortunately, though, when we had a real “conversation,” my toddler son usually displayed an uncanny situational appropriateness, using my first name only in a way he might have heard from his father. I always hoped this means that as long as we continued to breastfeed, I would be safe from hearing, “I wanna nurse you, Jess.”
But I also didn’t factor in to what extent he would soak up— and repeat as his own—phrases I’d say. After I’d reluctantly nursed him once or twice after exercising and apparently made some comment about the taste of sweat, he got the connection.
One day, a few months before he turned three, he turned up to look at me from the jogging stroller and asked, “Are your nipples a little salty?”
At any other time in my life, I’d have assumed this was a line from a porn flick featuring an aerobics instructor. But it was my son. Talking about me.
From everything I read and thought about, it seemed like my son might be ready to wean. And I was ready to have my body back and no longer a subject of interest to my son’s palate. So I casually suggested in the car one day, looking back at him in the rearview mirror, “You know, I was thinking you might be ready to be done nursing when you turn three.” He didn’t say much, and I mentioned it maybe just one other time.
But then we went to a farm and came across piglets that were just three days old. I asked him, on video, to talk about what the piggies were doing. I have pixelized documentation of him saying, “They’re nursing! I like nursing! And I’m going to stop nursing when it’s my birthday!”
Truer words were never spoken.
Special thanks to Mothering online editor and former Motherverse editor Melanie Mayo for inspiring an early version of this essay in an online creative writing workshop many years ago.
Keep up with readings and happenings related to Have Milk, Will Travel: Adventures in Breastfeeding on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/HaveMilkWillTravel and follow the book’s feed on Twitter at @HaveMilkTravel.
Read more from other contributors and bloggers at the book's first Humor in Parenting (and Breastfeeding!) blog carnival on November 19, 2013, and share your stories!
Jessica Claire Haney is a freelance writer and HBAC mother of two living in Northern Virginia. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Hip Mama, Mothering magazine, the Journal of Attachment Parenting International, and most recently in the new breastfeeding anthology: Have Milk, Will Travel: Adventures in Breastfeeding from Demeter Press. Jessica is the founder and co-leader of the Arlington/Alexandria chapter of Holistic Moms Network and is starting a new local resource site: DC Healthy Green Families. She is also working on her first novel. Her website is JessicaClaireHaney.com, and her blog is Crunchy-Chewy Mama: Living naturally, most of the time. Follow her on Twitter @CrunchyChewy and on Facebook at Crunchy-Chewy Mama Blog.