Squeezing the Life Out of It

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Something For Mother’s Day:

I stand in the middle of the shower and squeeze. The water washes over my body in a warm rush, but I still shiver. The stream falls across my face as I stand patiently under the spray. I concentrate with a furrowed brow, so the water funnels between my eyes, running down my nose and off of my face, splashing on the tiles below.

The first time, after my first baby, my breasts swelled with milk. They grew to almost unrecognizable fullness, became hard as rocks. I fed my children from my body in an almost constant stream. I was so useful, then. At that time, it never even dawned on me that it was possible for me to dry up.

When my son at eleven months, and then my daughter at five months, each refused to suckle, it floored me. They each looked up at me with the same pleading stare,  like I what I was offering couldn’t possibly be it. They were hungry, wanted food, particularly my daughter, who cried when I was the only option, until I gave in.

I had been taught that this was what I had been made to do. I don’t remember where I learned this, why I felt so much failure when it ended, when they wanted something else. Sitting in my rocking chair, holding my children to my chest, even when it stung like a thousand angry red ants, felt like the best demonstration of my motherhood I could perform. It felt right.

When it was clear after about a month that they weren’t returning to it, my supply began to diminish.  I panicked.  I refused to accept I didn’t need the milk anymore. Might never need it. At first, I used the breast pump to fill bottle after bottle of yellowish milk, freezing them in the deep freezer, just in case.  At my most frantic times, I would find myself kneeling on the red tile floor next to the freezer, checking expiration dates and rearranging the special breast milk storage baggies that I had filled when the bottles ran out. They all sat as unused as my breasts, as I knew they would. I had to keep throwing them away, never touched. Eventually, I stopped saving it, making room in the freezer for chicken nuggets and blueberry waffles.

But for whatever reason, I couldn’t let the mother in me dry up. I have been performing this shower ritual every day for more than a year. I expect to be doing it for many more. I am ashamed, yes, and it reminds me a little too much of the strange addiction TV show, with the woman who eat dryer sheets.

Standing in the shower, I twist and squeeze my flesh in desperation, starting at the base of my right breast and tightening towards the nipple, pinching myself at the end. There is barely anything there, but I know if I keep at it, it will come. Finally, after what seems like hours, a little yellowish drop appears on the tip of my nipple, and I relax. I will never again be able to paint the tile with the paper-thin rays that I could squeeze out those first few months, but I can conjure up that tiny drop, and a few after it, which is enough to prove to myself that I am not yet obsolete.

I step out of the shower and into my fluffy white robe. I slip my slippers on my feet and pad my way into my bedroom. It is late, and there is no one to impress, so I slip on a pair of plaid pajama pants and a blue striped fleece sweatshirt. I pile my wet hair onto the top of my head and secure it with a clip. Putting some cream on my face, I catch a view of myself in the full-length mirror. Barely over five feet tall, I have always been rounder than my peers, and soft. I have a mane of dark brown hair that is getting a bit grey at the temple. My face sags, just a little bit, and my chin has lost its shape, giving way to a bouncy slope of skin. My stomach is round and soft, like pizza dough, and stretches the fabric under my sweatshirt. I still look pregnant. I know I am fatter than I should be, never fully losing the baby weight. It’s the only thing with that name I have left.

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