We fell in love with each other over breastfeeding, my daughter, Makela, and I.
It happened during the many long hours we spent staring deep into each other’s eyes during feeding time: me, imagining how her life would unfold, she, memorizing the details of my face.
If I close my eyes I can still see her smiling while attached to my breast, warm milk rolling down the side of her face, tickling her cheeks. For her my breasts meant comfort. Nursing calmed her fears, healed the hurt and soothed her to sleep.
As she got older she gave no signs whatsoever to indicate that she was ready to give up her beloved ‘nursies’. Instead, she gave my breasts personalities, called them her babies and wanted to wrap them in blankets and kiss them each goodnight. I breastfed her for three years, giving it up reluctantly when she started pre-school.
And then along came my son. Right from the start Mario was a vigorous nurser who pulled and tugged and squirmed. With one breast in his mouth he would pound his small fists into the other breast. And, later, nursing as a toddler, her too gave them personalities. He named my breasts Jo-Jo and Jo-Jo 2, insisting that they were boys, knights in shining armor, Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles. He would ask, “Can Boo-boos ride a bike? Can they juggle, can they do a somersault?”
Unlike my daughter, he slowly began to lose interest in breastfeeding; too busy to stop his constant motion. I was sad to know my breastfeeding days were coming to an end.
But before my milk was completely gone, my nephew was born. After a long labor and an unexpected C-section my sister was left exhausted and emotional. Her son lost weight and the lactation consultants all had their various theories confusing us all. Finally mother and baby went home to figure it out themselves. I knew how I could help. I would come over in the afternoons, give my sister a chance to nap while Shamus and I settled into the big chair for our own special bonding. Breastfeeding my nephew seemed natural and he took right to it. It made it easier to baby-sit him when my sister returned to work and my son had no problem sharing with his cousin.
My milk is gone now and when I see a new mother nursing her baby I feel something close to sadness, close to longing, close to a fond recollection. My four-year old son still doesn’t miss an opportunity to ask “What are Boo-Boos doing?” and still insists they are boys. When I ask him “Where did all the milk go?” he answers, “Three babies drank it all. Me and Mimi and Shay-Shay.”
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem