There are many reasons why extended breastfeeding is a pain — the continued broken nights, the physical strain on the mother, the teeth! — but so many ways that it is a joy. Probably the biggest way is how it gives a mother and child a chance to recapture of that same intense intimacy — that private time — that they shared in those early days just after the birth. Except now it is even more joyful, because the baby is aware of her mother and so the love is reciprocated, the interaction goes both ways.
My baby has begun playing games with me as she feeds. I kiss her head and talk to her and she, mid-suckle and mouth full, grunts her replies back to me. If I put my head back and start daydreaming, I find a tiny hand reaching up to pull on my ear or poke my eye — we have been working on the names of face-parts, and she wants me to say the word for the part of my face she is pointing to. I oblige, “Ear… Eye… Nose…” and she is delighted, smiling as she feeds and dribbling milk out of the corner of her mouth. Often she stops feeding and looks up with a beaming smile and repeats the words back to me, so mangled as to be unrecognisable to anyone else and yet so clear as to quite startle me. “Hair”, for some reason, always sends her into fits of giggles.
Toward the end of every daytime feed, she looks up at me and then shakes her head violently back and forth. It is an invitation: I press my nose against hers and shake my head rapidly back and forth too, our mirrored grins blurring to one another. She squeals with delight, completely enchanting her mother, and I always end up abandoning myself to that real, genuine laughter that I feel I ought to be sharing with my girls all the day and yet so rarely seem to get time for.
And for a couple of weeks now, she pulls off several times during every feed and looks up with lips puckered, wanting a kiss. There is no better moment during the intimacy of feeding than this — possibly there is no better moment in the whole of Life. To be half-asleep, to be day-dreaming, and then realise that she has come off the breast.. and to look down and see that she has stopped taking from me the nourishment that sustains her life in order to give me the love that sustains mine… There is nothing on earth that fills me with more joy.
While the girls were napping today, I began to feel ill — really quite nauseous — and suddenly cold all over. I said to M that perhaps I am coming down with something, but he told me I am malnourished and too stressed. Perhaps he is right. The pain has cowed me, so that my diet is now so restricted that I eat next to nothing all day — usually only some toast and peanutbutter, and a few pieces of fruit. And the stress… well, I hardly need tell you. He sent me to bed and I went, reluctantly at first, and then gladly, realising I really did need to rest. I stayed in bed the rest of the evening, while M got the girls up from their naps, fed them, and then eventually got them ready for bed.
He brought the baby to me for her feed, which we did on our sides without me having to get up. Once she had had enough to fill her, she began the games. A little hand poking at my face: “Mouth!” I said, “Mauuuuu,” she replied. “Eye!” as her finger threatened to push mine out of its socket. “Eyyyye!” she repeated perfectly — that one was easy. Then she tried shaking heads, but it doesn’t work well whilst lying on a bed. She sat up and smiled at me, and then, with an intense look on her face, pursed her lips, bent down and kissed me. I was enchanted, as I ever am. She did it again, leaned down and gave me her wonderful, intense baby-kiss. I looked up and laughed, and she laughed back, slapping her hands on my face in her delight. Then, again, that serious look came over her and she pursed her lips — three kisses! My heart glowed! This is what motherhood is about, this is what the endless nights, the never-ending work, the exhaustion, and the frustration are all for! This moment, this love. I pressed my lips together, ready to receive that kiss that I crave, that I have worked so hard for all this time.
She leaned forward, pressed her soft baby-lips to mine, and promptly threw up in my mouth.