It’s the hottest Easter Monday on record, and you are one day old. The air is thick, outside the grass is parched, and you won’t drink from me. The midwives say you’ll feed next time I try, and I believe them. I’m not concerned, my happiness cannot be diminished today. Despite my unresponsive legs, my whole body tingles with elation, as though every one of my hairs is reaching out to welcome you.
Later, I lie on the bed in the almost-dark and wait for a midwife to help me feed you. An unfamiliar hand pulls at the blue curtain and my tired eyes focus on the syringe. You lie swaddled in lilac cloth and adoration, and I wince as hard plastic scratches at my nipple; a stranger mining my body for liquid gold. Disappointment begins to wrap its arms around me, staved momentarily by your satiated state. I promise that I’m going to feed you, my treasure.
Four days in and my breasts are still full. My nipples are raw and I sense your determination. I hold your tiny head to my chest, and wear a hopeful smile for the midwife who again asks if you are feeding yet. As they try to post my nipple through your pursed lips, I wonder if I’ll ever know what it’s like to breastfeed. Your hunger is palpable as you dive toward my chest, but once there you don’t want it: an arched-back banana baby, peeling away as I try to hold you close.
I hear the phrase ‘breast refusal’ from outside of our cocoon. I know these words are bound for us and I want to protect you from them. The sound of grumbling wheels announces a midwife with a machine hungry for milk. I sit alone with it, my nectar taken with uncompromising urgency. From umbilical cord to syringe to bottle; the degrees of separation grow. But it means we can take you home now, so that we can learn your ways. Unhurried, and far from inspecting eyes.
Weeks pass and our bedroom bursts with the weight of anticipation. Lips to nipple: nothing. Nipple to machine: milk. Bottle to lips: drink. Skin to skin: sleep. A two-hourly cycle of hope followed by defeat. I’m consumed by your feeding, it’s heavy both in my heart and on my chest. Expressing on car journeys and in public toilets, the machine’s sad hum is the soundtrack to my days – and it’s on repeat. I question how is it possible to feel full and hollow at the same time.
At ten weeks old you’re into your stride and then, finally, you drink from me. I watch you claim my chest as your territory, your delicate hands controlling the borders. There’s no dispute, my landscape is yours to harvest. Our complication resolved without words, embrace our only language. I’ve become your favourite scent, your comfiest pillow, your cookhouse and your first love. The summer heat is here now, and with it my shoulders relax.
Claire Miller is mother to daughter Madeline. She is also an Architect based in Bristol UK, and uses design as a vehicle to help young people and community groups take authorship of their own environments. Mothership Writers gave her an alternative creative outlet for her thoughts and feelings as a new mother. Madeline is 15 months, and still feeding.
Nourish first appeared in the Mothership Writers anthology Dispatches from New Motherhood.