One of the most tragic things about life is that it’s impossible for a person to remember her infancy and early childhood. Perhaps for some that’s good, but I’m so sad that I can’t remember what it was like to be a baby, toddler or young child. I’m sad that I only remember little snippets of time, flashes of experiences that hang in my mind randomly, seemingly disconnected, or I simply remember the photos of myself that I’ve seen. Even more so, I’m saddened that my babes won’t remember any of this life that we’re living right now, or that we’ve lived up to this point.
Just this morning, while walking Maysen up to her school, I asked if she remembered the rides in the bike buggy that I used to take her and Avery on. She looked at me blankly. It was only, well, now that I think about it, I guess it’s been almost a year, maybe. Since I was still able to ride a bike while pregnant and towing two young children behind me in a buggy. I had to remind her how we would load up in the buggy, and they would always have snacks, then we’d ride past Ryder Park, and then along the Bay all the way to CuriOdyssey. I’d be huffing and puffing so hard that I saw stars by the time we got to the top of the hill, but it was a workout! It was awesomely fun, and great exercise, and it always left me feeling so much better. Until I was too pregnant with Ryenn to do it anymore. But I had to go through all of the details until finally she was like, “Ohhhh, yeeaaahhh…The thingy with the straps?” And then she slowly remembered.
I have an awful memory, which bums me out so badly. I forget everything. I’ve often wondered how it’s possible that my mom doesn’t know how to answer some of the questions that I ask her about what I was like as a child.* I’ve asked if we used to snuggle in bed like I do with my girls, and she says she doesn’t really remember, but she’s sure we probably did. I’ve asked if my personality was like Maysen’s, or if she’s completely different, and she says she doesn’t really remember. I’ve asked about lots of different things, clues to my past, my personality quirks, and maybe clues to understanding my own children, but she often says she doesn’t really remember. I’ve thought, puzzled, “How can you possibly forget this important stuff?!?” But then I realize, I don’t even remember what Avery’s first word was. Or what Maysen smelled like as a baby, or where Avery learned to walk. And most of the time I don’t remember anything that has happened unless I’ve taken photos and/or videos of it. I hardly even remember what the girls looked like as babies, and they still ARE babies!What I really wish is that I could remember what it was like to be a baby. I wonder how much our babyhood affects our personalities. Breastfeeding, in particular, is what I wonder most about. I mean, does the experience somehow exist deep in the id, or the deepest subconscious? I can’t help but wonder if the feeling of that unconditional love from the mother, the closeness and intimacy, the oxytocin, the security, somehow shape the infant’s personality. Maybe on a molecular level the hormones and nerve impulses and other scientific stuff are actually helping form the physical parts of the brain. Maybe the memories form the innate quilt of the subconscious, like a blueprint for the blossoming character. Sometimes, when I nurse Ryenn, she is completely overcome by the experience of it all. There is no inhibition, no insecurity or self-awareness, or self-criticism, or shyness, or anything like that. It’s just the pure acceptance of genuine pleasure. She can be wailing, all teary and shaking and sticky and sweating, and the second that I put her in a cradle hold and give her the breast she immediately stops, sighs, and sucks wholeheartedly, eyes rolling back, and she lets out these little involuntary “ngmmm’s” with every swallow. It’s an instinctive expression of contentment that can only be compared to the sounds of sexual pleasure, or the first bite of chocolate/peanut butter/caramel/coconut to a stoner with the munchies. Her feet find her way to my hand, pressing into me, sometime sticking her little butt out, kicking into me playfully. Her little fingers of one hand squeeze and “scrinch” and rub my arm, while the other fingers trace my chest, my neck, my nose, my lips, squeezing and feeling and comforting her, orienting her and nestling her into my embrace. It hurts and irritates me sometimes; her fingernails are like those of a kitten, and she’s got one hell of a tight grip, but sometimes I just let her do it. It’s like when a cat gets really comfortable and kneads a pillow, or your belly, purring, losing himself for a moment in the rapturous experience. You let them do it, even though their claws are puncturing your skin.
That’s just it. Ryenn completely loses herself in the nursing experience. It’s this uninhibited succumbing to nature and pure enjoyment and nurturing and the acceptance of that nurturing, the 100% un-self-conscious, inalienable entitlement to the breast, the sense that this is MY milk, MY mommy, MY natural place to be and to be loved in this world. I wish I could know what this feels like. To be rocked and sung to, to have my head gently rubbed, my back patted, my head kissed, my ears traced, my entire body swaddled in mama’s arms. To feel that softly and deeply loved, and supported, no strings attached. No need for reciprocation, or self-consciousness, or insecurity or guilt about feeling loved. I’m sure my mom and dad rocked me and loved on me all the time, but I obviously don’t remember it. I really wish I could. Sometimes I still wish I could sit on Mommy’s lap and let her rock me. But I’m too big. I’m a grown-up now. But the instinctive need for Mom’s comfort is still there. The instinct is so strong that the baby is able to wriggle her way to the breast shortly after being born!
None of this stuff happens when I give the baby a bottle. Whether it’s my breast milk or formula doesn’t matter. When Ryenn drinks from a bottle, she just simply drinks the milk, and she’s never really happy about it. She often pushes it away. She holds the bottle and gulps, and sucks a little, but her eyes don’t roll back, and she doesn’t feel me with her little hands. She doesn’t make that instinctual, autonomic, unconscious pleasure sound. It’s like drinking from a bottle is just to fill the belly, whereas drinking from a breast is an entire, intimate, loving experience.
I can’t help but wonder how that affects brain development. I can’t help but wonder if the fact that I was exclusively bottle-fed contributed at all to my depression, lack of self-confidence and low sense of self-worth. My mom said that when I was born, moms at that time just didn’t really think about breastfeeding. I guess that was when marketing for the formula industry was at its prime. That’s just the way things were, and she never even considered breastfeeding. Things were just different then, I guess. It’s not her fault, and I don’t hold it against her at all. I guess it just makes me a little sad to know that I never experienced breastfeeding as a baby, and it makes me sad that even if I had, I wouldn’t be able to consciously remember it. But would my subconscious remember it? Will Maysen or Avery or Ryenn ever have a sense of it? Will their subconscious hold this experience in its vault so that they always know they are loved, and worthy of the most intimate, selfless love possible?
Probably not. But I’d like to think that it’s possible. And if nothing else, we’re enjoying the experience now. And we’ll continue to enjoy it until the moment when we know it’s time to wean.
I enjoyed the experience with Maysen until she was 8 1/2 months and thought it was funny to bite me. She hurt me and made me angry so we switched to formula. She
had no problem with it at all, and she loved taking a bottle to bed.
I enjoyed the experience with Avery until she was a week shy of two years old. She didn’t want to give up “Dat!” at all, and I had trouble letting it go, but when I was pregnant with Ryenn, my body physically told me that it was time to quit. And this time around, with Ryenn, I’m relishing the experience, because I know this is probably my last baby. And pretty soon she won’t want anything to do with breastfeeding. And these intimate moments will be a thing of the past.
The most tragic thing is that none of my babies will remember it ever happening at all, and my memory is so awful that the entire experience will one day be like a fuzzy dream. I won’t remember the scent of the baby’s freshly washed hair, or the dimples in her knuckles, or the tiny shape of her skull, or the weight of her belly against my belly, or the tiny suckling as she falls asleep, or the little involuntary, twitchy smiles as she slips into a dream state, or the way I just study every detail her beautiful little face, trying as hard as I possibly can to commit it all to memory. Because no photo can ever catch these experiences, and even if it could, who would take the photo? Aside from the fact that I have a few of my own photos here, these memories are mine, all mine, and I hope against all odds that they will stay with me forever.
*Mom, I know you read my blog. I want you to know that I love you more than I could ever express, and I know you’ve always loved me as much as a mother can. I hope your feeling aren’t hurt in any way by what I wrote above.