by Erica Hoffmeister
There is (a rather common, I’m told) condition similar to postpartum depression, similar to PTSD, aptly named nursing aversion—aversion, the rejection of—in which a physical and mental emotional sensation overtakes your woman-body, your mother-body, like a parasite. Like an alien invader, it rejects your maternal instincts, making nursing your child feel like death, torture, incompleteness.
I was told often that breastfeeding would not be easy. I did not understand why. I was displayed a different picture growing up: my mother was born with an infinite milk supply, with some beautiful version of udders, with an instinctual servitude to her eight children, to each and every extension of herself, multiplied and divided within her skin fragments and grown from the dirt. She was a mother through and through; I was afraid I’d never live up to this. I was afraid I wasn’t born with a mother-body.
We exchanged thoughts about my sister when her son had turned three, my early days with a newborn daughter, spent suckling, resting, coming into my own. We said: I didn’t think she’d be like this as she found time detached from his body, explored her own mother-body fitting awkwardly in her young life, rejecting it, molding it elsewhere, otherwise. A nefarious act of selfishness, we observed from within our private maternal circle, our own selfishness cast as judgement from an unknown point of reference. From atop a crow’s nest on a splintering mast. He nursed for six months thereafter, her shimmying up the wood with splinters in her thighs.
When my daughter was fifteen months, I felt it for the first time: a blind rage, panic, foreboding rush of guilt, tiding in exchange for anger, then, for sadness. Incompleteness. They say it can feel like a sudden skin rash, an uncontrollable itch all over, fire ants replacing your sense of self, your sense of mother-body, your child completely—you run, you reject, you avert. You roll in the dirt to soothe the skin, screaming and writhing and asking god why, why could she do this to you? Rip your self from your own body and cascade its needs across your lap, this thing, this creature—it eats your remains and vomits them across your chest. I wanted to toss her across the room at that very moment—I did not, of course. I ran. I hid upstairs under a synthetic down comforter, I let the tears push through my mother-eyes. I writhed and screamed as she answered my cries with her own. Tears fervent and needy: my own.
Needy was a term I didn’t know until motherhood; I had become more needy than anything I knew. I stole my breaths from the air outside, knowing I could never return them in full. I was living on borrowed time; my mast was cracking and sinking into the belly of my hull.
I remember my mother differently now. I remember her attached to a child for two decades without pause. I remember the lines in her face submissive, as if the elastin in her skin gave in to the outside elements, gave in to her mother-body, to the earth itself. A strong woman, who gave her self eight times over, folded over and over and over on top of itself like a pocketed map, the paper’s edges thickened in each fold, its creases growing into a small, shapely thing, impossible to rip. Impossible to read again once unfolded.
I did not want to avert my child. I did not want to stop the life-force pumping from me to her. I did not want her neediness of me to subside. But I –
could no longer be a flayed map, creases disintegrated, routes impossible to navigate over long distances. I cannot sustain my cracking mast, my bellowed hull giving in to the elements, to the sea, stranded. I have to be a different kind of strong
than my mother. I have to know that there is more than one way to know this mother-body, to know my self, without drowning
in the sea.
Erica Hoffmeister has had various works of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction published in several online and print journals and magazines. Her first chapbook, ‘Roots Grew Wild’ is forthcoming from Kingdoms in the Wild in 2019 as the first prize winner of the press’ annual poetry contest. She currently lives in Denver with her husband and two daughters, where she balances writing, teaching and mama-ing and perpetually misses home–wherever that feels at the time.