Friday, March 21, 2008

(this continues the posting of chapters from The Brides of March)

From Wonder Woman to One-Breasted Wonder

When I first dove into motherhood, like many women, I thought I should be Wonder Woman. I could have a baby on my hip, a pen in my hand, and a vacuum… I don’t even want to speculate. And nothing should be easy, either: no disposables, no baby-sitters, no playpens, cribs, or bottles of formula. I would nurture our babies at the breast, with antibodies, and proteins, and the very elixir of life.
Which was why I was a one-breasted wonder. Not that I wasn’t lucky enough to still have two breasts, it’s just that you couldn’t tell by looking at me. One was gargantuan, like the breast of a Mesopotamian fertility goddess. The other was wasted away like the aging inside of a size-two society matron’s ball gown.
Graeme was a left breast baby, like his sister before him.
Before childrearing, the functional capacity of breasts had never particularly interested me. They were a thing unto themselves: sensual, velvety, associated with college dorm rooms, and Geena Davis walking around in her underwear in Tootsie. The only thing I knew about my own breasts was that I wore the same bra size as Madonna and that they evoked interest from others.
All that changed with Duncan. From the moment Doctor Clark placed his newly born body on mine, his chief occupation was remaining attached to my breasts, night and day, day and night. There is a certain je ne sais quoi about the lactation period: their little hands holding you in a vise-like grip lest you get away before they take their fill, that sweet, drunken look they get as they latch on, and the knowledge that even if you are sitting on your butt reading a book while nursing, you are accomplishing an important task that no one but you can do.
I had been looking forward to the lactation lifestyle once more. I wouldn’t have done it any other way. But babies have a way of their own. While Duncan wouldn’t have left a drop un-drunk, both Anna and Graeme had a favorite side, and like any connoisseurs, would not be swayed. Anna was eight months old when she switched, and she may not have been able to speak, but she made herself perfectly clear. Upon being placed against the wrong breast, she faked it for a minute and then hurled herself to the other side, rubbing her face determinedly against my left side until I let her in.
Graeme seemed to come out of the womb with his predilection, which after weeks of lactation consultation, we discovered was wise on his part. The left side was like sucking through a milk shake straw, the right like sipping through a clogged coffee stir, unproductive and energy consuming. No wonder Anna and Graeme gave it up. The results were my lop-sided situation. When I told the pediatrician years ago that Anna would only nurse on one side, she replied “Obviously,” and I still had my coat on. Jannine had failed to notice anything until I mentioned the pediatrician’s comment, at which time she blinked, gaped and said, “Whoa!” So much for her powers of observation.
With Anna, I wondered if it was Mother Nature’s way of giving my right breast a much needed vacation after Duncan, or if it was symbolic of an overabundance on my analytical side, and an undernourished creative one. With Graeme, I know it must have been my Wonder Woman complex; I was so powerful I could feed an infant with one breast tied behind my back. Not even Wonder Woman could do that.

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