My body is working even better than its supposed to: for nineteen days, I have sustained my newborn baby girl, and in those nineteen days, she has been nourished from only one breast. And she’s getting bigger and bigger. And I am having an out-of-this-world celebratory experience of my body’s capacity, and it is amazing.
I only heard negative things about breastfeeding before I did it myself. My friends assured me “it’s so hard” and “no one tells you how much it hurts” and “you will definitely have problems” and “it’s ok to supplement.” I expected to have problems. I expected it to hurt. I expected to need to supplement. After all, I only have one breast and my breasts have a history of causing really awful trauma.
In 2013, cancer was diagnosed in my left breast and chemo and mastectomy followed. The cancer left a hole in my heart and permanently marked body. Though the empty space was filled with silicone it’s unresponsive and unfeeling. There are no milk ducts. For so long, this implant has shaped my relationship with both breasts, and my right breast- which is still intact- has been distant. Ongoing screening means that my right breast is always suspect. It could still kill me. Because it feels like my body failed wildly, horribly, and with no warning, I often tense in the wait for bad news from medical professionals about my breasts.
But with breast feeding, there has not yet been bad news. At the lactation visits, I tensed to hear she wasn’t growing. From the pediatrician, I tensed to hear my milk wasn’t enough. But instead, all I've heard is that she’s thriving. She's getting bigger because I’m feeding her, with my right breast. I would be lying if I said it didn't hurt at first. For a day or two, my nipple bled, I stressed before every feed because I knew it would hurt and my mother fed the baby with a syringe while I pumped. I cursed my cancer and wished I had a second tit so my poor bloody nipple could catch a break.
I didn’t ever want to unilaterally breastfeed. Nor did I imagine that unilateral breastfeeding would result in a magical, tremendous, healing experience. I had no idea I would experience sustaining life from my breast as the opposite of cancer, during which time I was thrust into treatment in order to save myself from my own mutating cells, who had it out to kill me.
Breastfeeding didn't seem like it would result in healing awesomeness, or in power, or in joy. But breastfeeding this tiny human with one tit is a super power. I almost cannot believe that my body- me, my body!- is making up for the absence of my left breast by making enough milk with one breast. I don’t even need it! It doesn’t even matter that I don’t have a second breast. I’d forgotten about this right breast, in all the hullaballoo about the left breast and its too-early departure from this world. It is amazing to feel so hopeful about this part of my body, especially in contrast to feeling so hopeless. In retrospect, it feels like it took forever to be here: I've definitely told cancer-friends that I'd never trust my breasts again, and I've often complained about how I didn't magically and instantly feel better even years after my cancer diagnosis. Breastfeeding Mica is so hopeful it literally makes my heart ache. It reminds me loudly and clearly that I am healthy, and I am ok, and I am even better than ok. I think about the people cancer has stolen from me, and I think about my friends still getting treatment, and I know that exactly what we all deserve is to feel this hopeful about our bodies and to trust this deeply in our bodies' capacities. I am celebrating the possibility and capability of my body to nourish another, and it is glorious.
Chelsey is a digital storyteller, geek, mama, researcher and yogi. She loves to make things and her favorite food is artichokes.