Shannon Brazil: When You Run With Milk Boobs, a Nursing Story

Kids and animals, we all know they have that sense about them. A built-in radar that tells them when you’re weak, when your humongous lactating breasts are indisposed and the babies are finally quiet. That’s when they make their big move.

            photo by Zahm/Little.

photo by Zahm/Little.

Rene unbuckled herself from her booster seat and climbed out of the minivan. She’d thrown a fit over the latest whatever she wanted that her best friend already had. Brown ringlets covered her dark eyes, mud on both calves, stomp by stomp up the front steps to our porch.

I hadn’t gotten the hang of three kids yet and the trip to and from Rene’s preschool everyday was mostly horrible.

No Hands: My new reality.

I lugged two infant carseats, baby boy fastened into each, up three sets of stairs. Propped open the front door with one leg, kicked a Fed Ex package inside with the other. Rene knew I was powerless without hands, so she pushed by me without taking off her dirty rain boots. Mud tracks across the living room.

“Get back here!” I said.

I whispered it, because for that one millionth of a second, the twins were asleep. But Rene was long gone. Shuffling sounds from her bedroom above me. Mop floor, I made the note in my head. The boys were two months old then. Kevin got one week of paternity leave, unpaid, which really hurt. So he went back to work seven days after they were born. Two weeks vacation time in the bank which we needed to spread out in case one of us got sick. No family around to help. No money for a part-time nanny. And too new in town to have any real friends.

I was under house arrest.

Both hands tied behind my back. My keys were often forgotten in the front door until Kevin got home at night. Every task became an act of skill, timing, and balance.

Prayer-chant under my breath, sleep sleep sleep, and carseats heavy in my grip, my muscles braced for the just-so lowering of each carseat to the entryway floor. It required even, fluid motions. Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. Carseats in a slow almost-hover just above the hardwood. Pause to regain footing. And then, each seat lower. Lower. Barely touching the ground. Core strength activated. Shoulders curved to the floor, biceps flexed, subtle shift of weight and… seats come to rest.

Success.

Two sleeping babies transferred from minivan to house plus the angry three year old, all safe inside. It merited an entire box of red wine just for me. Sure, the floor was sacrificed to mud, but I could handle a mop. Someday. When I got back to showering regularly. I closed the front door and with a single click of the lock I slipped out of my own muddy shoes.

But these huge tiny victories of motherhood never lasted more than an instant.

Becket’s hunger-scream, a terrifying zero to sixty decibel cry that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand tall. My metal fillings buzzed inside of my molars. A scream that could level an entire city block.

I quick-shushed Becket, rocked the carseat back and forth, but he kept on. Poor Xander hadn’t learned to tune-out his brother yet, so he started too. A startle-cry at first, then a long baby wail, gasps of breath between notes. It sent my nervous system into panic. Every pressure point in my body pulsed hot.

But the worst part was that my body had developed a let-down reflex.

All nursing mothers have a let-down, when the milk ducts open and release milk into the breasts. We all experience it differently. My let-down felt like six million shards of glass. Every time those baby boys cried, my boobs, heavier and heavier with a rush of sharps.

I dragged the carseats to the couch, knelt down to free the babies. One at a time, slid all their limbs out of each five-point harness restraint system. Screaming Becket to the couch first, one hand on his belly so he didn’t fall off, the side of my body as a barrier so I could get the wailing Xander to the couch too.

It would have saved hundreds of hours and a significant chunk of my sanity if I had supplemented breastfeeding with bottles of formula. But I was in a post-pregnancy, three-child stupor, and highly susceptible to the worst of the Breast Is Best campaign. I’d read somewhere that there were a hundred nutrients in breast milk that formula couldn’t duplicate. I read somewhere else that the United States was the only place in the world where people had the gall to refer to baby formula as toxic.

I chose to nurse and fucking nurse until my nipples chafed. Rolled up the front of my shirt, unhooked both panels of my industrial nursing bra, and out fell my boobs, hard.

No fat, no soft white flesh. Rock solid milk boulders.

Engorgement is what happened when my boys stopped nursing only long enough for me to pick up Rene at school. The milk backed up and turned my boobs to granite.

I scooped up Becket in a football hold, a position I learned in a class called Unique Solutions for Twins. It’s the way you’d hold the ball if you were running for touchdown. Becket’s head in my hand, his body in my arm, tucked along my side. I propped a pillow under me for support. He caught hold of my nipple right away and started to nurse, but he popped off when I moved to scoop Xander into my other arm. Death scream again. Impossible to angle each floppy infant head precisely to each breast with no hands. So I hunched and swayed, trying to hit bullseye, the open mouth of each baby. A slow motion milk boulder dance. My nipples dangled over each tiny face. Their tiny mouths, truffle pig wild. Perspiration breaking across my forehead, impossible that one body could produce that much fluid, but along with the sweat came a free flow of tears down my face.

 

I never dreamed nursing twins would look like that. It wasn’t like that with Rene. When I imagined nursing the boys, I pictured something beautiful, something transcendent, or at least serene.

But I was helpless and isolated. No friends or family to look in on us, to make sure I wasn’t on the brink of nervous breakdown. Which I was. With all the crying, mine and the babies, there would have been a swift diagnosis of postpartum depression. But that’s not what it was.

I cried because it was hard. Because I was lonely and I didn’t know what I was doing. Because it takes a village and I didn’t have one. I cried because I knew it was a privilege to stay at home with my children. But privileged or not, life with no hands was overwhelming. All those stressful moments stacked up and up like that, after a while, I couldn’t see the beauty of motherhood anymore. I could only see how hard it was.

 

Then, in the middle of all that insanity, the craziest thing happened.

A thing I never knew could happen. Two hard fast geyser-streams erupted from my nipples. So much force it spattered milk on the opposite wall. Eight or ten feet away. Both boys in my arms, titspray across the room, titspray on their faces. A sight gag, except horrifying.

Real life science fiction. And me, shouting to no one.

“What the fuuuuuuuuck! What the fuuuuuuuuuck!”

If I weren’t so shocked by the sight of it, if I weren’t holding two tiny heads in my hands, if I had my brain on straight, the thing to do would have been to block the spray with my palms. But all I could do was hold their heads and scream what the fuck. And the only idea I had was to get my nipples into their mouths fast.

But the stream was too powerful, it shot at their eyes. Their poor little eyelids blinked and blinked. And their mouths snapped back and forth. And their chins whipped toward each geyser. But neither boy could catch it.

I hunched my back deeper, shooting pain in my vertebrae. Milk boulders soaking their skin, the couch, the room. And then, I don’t know how it happened, some fucking mammalian miracle, each baby boy latched-on at the exact same time.

Their shrieks went piglet quiet. Grunt and snorts. My arms trembled, my face itched with salty tears, but the feeling of broken glass, thank God, slowly drained away. And for just a moment, maybe one single second, I was thankful for the calm. Life had become such an absurd mess that to sit in silence for even half a second was something.

But then, Rene appeared. Naked.

Except for the red rain boots. Her voice, high and hopeful, but there was something else to it. Couldn’t put my finger on it, and frankly in that moment, I didn’t give a fuck. I did that vague head gesture that meant come here, but Rene had other plans. She put both hands on her three year old hips and gave me the squint-eye. She looked so much like Kevin when she did that.

“I goes to school,” she said. “I get PokPok from LulaBelle.”

PokPok. The thing she cried about all the way home that day. LulaBelle. The kid who had it. A stupid fucking pink-ass little bullshit sushi holder in the shape of a girl wearing a rice hat. I don’t know what possessed the parents of Earth Song Preschool to make a thing of buying cool lunch containers for their hippy kids. Russian nesting bowls. Metal canisters from India. Fifty dollar BPA free, super insulated thermoses. But, even in Portland, a kid could live with a plain old insulated lunch bag.

Rene standing there at the edge of the living room with her little naked self, stubborn with her dark almond eyes. So damn cute, you couldn’t help but fall in love her.

“Sweetie,” I said just above a whisper. “Come sit with baby brothers and me.”

My arms were still wobbly, but both boys were nursing quietly, and the only thing I wanted in the world right then was to keep things exactly as they were. It was as close to serene as I’d ever get. But the expression in Rene’s eyes became clearer to me.

She tossed a ringlet away from her face so she could really see me. A spark of opportunity in her devil-child eyes. Then her squeaky kid voice didn’t sound so kid-like anymore. It was matter of fact. An announcement.

“No,” she said. “I goes to school now. Bye-bye, Mama.”

 

Kids and animals, we all know they have that sense about them. A built-in radar that tells them when you’re weak, when your humongous lactating breasts are indisposed and the babies are finally quiet. That’s when they make their big move.

Rene’s chubby little limbs pushed the Fed Ex box up to door. Her short cherub legs and round cherub butt stepped onto the box, making it possible for her fingers to reach the bolt and unlock the door. She looked exactly like her dad except with more balls and sass than the both of us put together.

“Please please please please don’t open the door,” I begged.

Started calling out promises of every forbidden treasure all at once. Lollipops, screen-time, a new puppy, what about a pony, no, wait, what about the rice-girl-sushi box?? Rene stepped down from the Fed Ex box and pushed it out of her way.

Prisoner of my own house, of my own body, and now my toddler’s prisoner too. This was what it was like to have no control over my life. How fast my prison body went inside out, tears streamed my face all over again. The boys drinking and drinking. How could there could be any fluid left inside of me?

“Don’t you go out there,” I said.

I used my most badass mom voice, but the front door swung open wide. Whoosh of cold through the living room.

 

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It was the time of day when the sidewalk was the same color as the afternoon sky, when the Northwest rain blurred everything into one monotonous winter gray. If Rene wandered into the street, a car wouldn’t see her.

“Rene! Please!” I said.

The sound of her rain boots hitting the first step, then the second, and third steps of our front porch. Stab to my right temple, my trick vein, the banana slug, swelled fat.

A woman can’t just rip an infant off her nipple without fearing that the nipple itself will rip off too so I leaned even more forward, Xander’s head balanced on my leg. Pressed a finger into the flesh of my breast to break his nursing seal. Quick suck of air that would later turn to stabs of gas bubbles, then Xander’s confused hungry cries. I wiggled him onto the couch next to me. All the while, my heart racing scared that Rene had made it to the street already. Cold sweat down my back.

Did the same to Becket, but his cry was an instant death shriek. Even though I knew it was coming it gave me a jump-scare. Both babies gentle-quick to the floor where they’d be safe. Pulled my shirt down over my slimy chafed breasts, and ran shoeless out the door and into the rain.

When you run with milk boobs, it hurts. It feels like slow-bouncing water balloons sewn to your skin, strange and heavy, and, above all, just plain wrong. Wrong to have to hold onto your body like that. Boobs grabbed up in my arms and hands, my knees quick and high to avoid sidewalk stabs to my feet. Rene’s naked butt and red rain boots way the fuck down the block. Farther and farther away. Behind me, the distant cries of my babies in the house. Glass in my boobs all over again.

Just like her dad, Rene never even looked back. Once they had their minds set on something the rest of the world disappeared.

My quick feet wet on the concrete. My boobs in my arms, one breast much heavier than the other, which meant Xander had nursed more than his brother which meant I was trotting barefoot and wonk-boobed at the same time. Two points of humiliation. Three if you count the escaped child. Plus, the thick vein on my right temple, the one called the banana slug, was about to explode from the pressure so I let the lighter boob fall free and used that hand to flatten the banana slug and lessen the hurt.

Even right behind Rene, calling her name over and over, she still didn’t hear me. I could hardly breathe by the time I reached out to her. Curled my fingers around her small shoulder.

All the work it took to get in the house, out of the house, in the car, out of the car, all day every day. All the effort it took to get those twins to latch-on at the same time. I just wanted to shake Rene by the shoulders and scream at her for not listening to me, ever, for being three years old, for being exactly like her dad, for looking more like him than me even though I gave birth to her.

But Rene’s tiny shoulder startled when my hand touched her. Soft olive skin, wet and warm in spite of the raw winter air. She turned around, wide brown eyes and thick black eyelashes up at me fast. Innocent, beautiful, as if I’d appeared by magic.

The most beautiful parts of Kevin on her face. The fat bottom lip, the perfect peaks of her top lip. Her curly-q hair. Rene’s chubby arms went out to her sides, palms up in and a huge what-are-you-doing-here-smile.

“Mommy!” she said. “You comes with me?”

Everything in my body including the banana slug transfused right then. Unconditional, thirty-seven thousand dirty diapers full of love inside of me. You know how your heart can be so heavy you can’t take another step? Or so light it can lift your entire body off the ground.

It was that second thing.

And even if I could have named that second thing right then on that rainy sidewalk with Rene, the moment passed so quickly I probably wouldn’t have caught it anyway. All the things that could go wrong with Xander and Becket all alone in the house. Fire, flood, kidnappers. Before I could hurry her back to baby brothers, Rene pointed to the puddle on the ground, jumped both her feet into it and yelled watch this, watch this!

Curly brown spirals stuck to her drenched back. Her protruding toddler belly. Her red boots sploshing around the run-off. A two-footed stomp soaked my legs and hers then she put both arms out toward me, the universal kid-gesture for Up, and I let my breasts down easy. My hands under both her armpits, lifted her body to mine.

Rene’s legs wrapped tight around my waist like always. Her little butt on the seat of my forearm, her face burrowed into my wet hair. Soft pudgy cheek against my neck.

The palm of my hand cradled the back of Rene’s head and my hips automatically swayed to soothe. Even in rain, Rene smelled of green apples and crayons. Her little body fit perfectly with mine, as if I were built to carry her, and she were built to be carried by me.

Each step, the weight of my firstborn in my arms. Each step, closer and closer to my crying babies. That surge of mother love. Not dependent on genes or circumstance, but something bigger. Something ancient and ferocious.

We live and die by that love.

To live was a choice.

 

 

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“When You Run with Milk Boobs” is an excerpt from Shannon Brazil’s first novel, a story about a sexless marriage, impossible expectations, and a one-time sex pass that changes it all. Several lifetimes ago, Shannon was actor and an award-winning playwright whose work was produced in Los Angeles and New York. Since then, her prose has appeared in Nailed Magazine and The Manifest-Station. She is the recipient of a Literary Arts Special Fellowship for Women Writers, a member of Dangerous Writers, and a member of the Corporeal Writing tribe. Shannon lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and their four children. She is a lover of poutine, and always almost on time. “

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