Year 5, Piece Twenty-Seven: 4. Red Green
Feeders as Lovers
Two days ago I opened my eyes at 5:45am and the kids weren’t awake, so I jumped out of bed with every intention to sit at the computer. After going to the bathroom, I passed by the bed again and decided to lie down for just another minute. A minute turned to 60, and at 6:45am I finally got up and began to type.
Of course this is precisely when E came bursting in the room with his long blonde hair streaming over his face, shouting: “I want some milk please mommy!” So I sighed, moved over to a comfy chair, and scooped him into my arms. Then we did what we've been doing multiple times a day for the last two years.
Yes, two years ago this week I gave birth to my second child. And now I can say that I have nursed two kids for two years each, and counting. That’s four years of breastfeeding. That’s like a whole high school diploma’s worth of breastfeeding.
Nursing is certainly easier now than in the beginning days when there was so much to figure out: how to latch without pain, whether they were getting enough, how to get them to sleep through the goddam night without doing it. Now that he no longer depends upon my supply for survival, nursing is more about nurturing than nutrition. Of course it was always mostly about bonding. But now instead of marveling at his impossibly small body, I marvel at his still small but much larger body. He’s all limbs, his legs twisting and kicking and pushing athletically against me as he nurses, using his face like a fulcrum to spin the rest of his body.
Red Green is the body and love. Love within body, embodied love, loving your body, loving with your body. Feeding someone from your body or eating from someone’s body is itself an act of loving, rooted in physicality and physiology.
Of course children don’t need breastmilk to survive or even thrive. I was talking to my mother-in-law about having kids in the 1970s, when after giving birth in the hospital they took the baby away and put it in a nursery down the hall and then sent you home with a box of formula. Her kids turned out fine enough; I married one. The advent of formula was probably pretty liberating. Breastfeeding is challenging and sometimes even impossible work, and formula democratizes the caretaking a bit. Besides that, breastfeeding is a privilege. I had a job where I could take breaks to pump and maintain my supply. When the pandemic disrupted that the second time around, I could still afford to stay at home and make nursing easier.
But while breastfeeding or chestfeeding or bodyfeeding is not by any means a requirement for raising healthy children, the choice to do it is a human right. A human right in every sense of the word, since it is a choice about our very bodies.
I guess I am reflecting on nursing now because I don’t know how much longer we’ll be doing it. I had a loose goal of making it to two years, citing WHO recommendations. But really it’s because I like doing it and I wanted to do it. I can still use my body to love my kids or anyone else for that matter without lactating. But wow is it a super power, or a super ability anyway, and once I stop this time I won’t get it back.
I remember one discussion with D when it was getting to be time for her to wean. She was 27 months old, and we were all in the car driving home from a long day’s excursion. I talked to her from the front seat, listing all her peers who don’t “nook” anymore: “M doesn’t nook anymore, A doesn’t nook anymore, O doesn’t nook anymore. And soon you won’t nook anymore either.” It wasn’t the first time we had talked about it, but somehow this time she was really taking it in. She agreed and then got quiet for a second. “I feel a little sad,” she said. “I feel a little sad too,” I told her. “Let’s hold hands.”
Nursing is a relationship, and is ultimately different for every duo. Red and Green are complementary colors, a powerful pair that between them contain all the primary colors: Red and Blue + Yellow. For Year 1 of Rainbow Squared I painted Red Green as The Lovers card in the Tarot, itself about relationships, pairs, and polarities. Perhaps Red Green could also be thought of as The Feeders, not so much the process of two becoming one but the process of one slowly transitioning to two.
Yes, you and I are slowly separating. I grew you and birthed you and nursed you and one day I’ll wean you, watching as you become your own person more and more. Yesterday you told me: “I want a cake for your birthday!” Pronouns are confusing, though I’m sure that soon you’ll understand them better than I do. But yes, E, your birthday is my birth day, and vice versa. You are me and I am You, and we are as close now as we will ever be again to an I-You relationship. What would Martin Buber say about nursing? Or in this case, shall I say Martin Boober?
Well, I said it.