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Sep 8 2011

Empty Breast Syndrome

By at 12:36 pm

When I flew to Los Angeles for eight days, I took the following with me: Ten pairs of underwear, eight tanktops, six pairs of pants, four bras, and two lactating breasts.

Yes, Little Homie was still on the boob, and as I struggled with the decision to go to LA or not, the breastfeeding issue was the big pink nursing elephant (spraying milk all over the room.)

The thing is, Little Homie is 20 months – and while, like Mayim Bialik, I love the idea of child-led weaning, after 21 cases of mastitis and sleepless nights spent lying like a sow in bed next to my (not so little) nursling, I have reached the point of no return where every time he latches on, I want to bite back. Dude has molars, people. And an extensive vocabulary which includes the words “boob,” “nipple,” and “areola.”

Fortunately, we had already nixed the day nursing a long time ago when Little Homie started gan (kindergarten)¸ but that still left us with the night sessions, which most parents will agree are even harder to end because, after all, during the day, you’ve got about 10,000 distractions you can draw on if need be. But at night? Well, it’s just you, your “booboos,” and your (screaming) baby. (And a palpable awareness of your neighbors. Several blocks away.) And when your kid’s “transitional objects” are your breasts, weaning…well, sucks.

And in the week before we left, we had some rough nights: Little Homie was like a belligerent frat boy, pissed off that this beleaguered bar-wench had announced last call. But (somehow) we made it, and by the time I boarded the plane, I had effectively closed Mama’s Milk Bar.

But while Little Homie was dealing with this sobering new reality like a champ, on the other side of the world, my breasts were very confused. Because, after all, ever since that day in May of 2008 when M. corkscrewed into this world with a mighty yell, my boobs have hung (precariously and pendulously) in the balance between supply and demand. Every few hours, they would swell with milk, and one of my babies would empty them. And so it would go. From sunrise until, well, sunrise, through each passing season for three years and three months.

Lactating (and leaking) through the baby years was par for the course. Until I went to LA without taking the baby with me. The first 24 hours passed without much incident, and I figured my milk would just go quietly into the night, but on the second day of my trip, I woke up from a nightmare about fire ants crawling all over my chest. Half asleep, I tried to brush them away, but the sensation of hand-on-boob felt like getting knifed in the aerola. In my dream-daze, I looked down, and where my rolling hillocks had been the night before were mighty mountains I barely recognized as my own.

Can I get a “WTF,” people?

It was like Beyonce’s ass had landed on my chest. All firm and round and whatnot.

And it freaking HURT.

A warm breeze felt like an electric shock.

Each time a friend or family member hugged me, those creepy-crawling fire ants morphed into vengeful scorpions on steroids. And then, after a day or two, while the milk kept coming and coming and coming with nowhere to go, my “fun bags” weren’t so much “bags” as huge sacks bulging with rocks.

But in a good way. Because even though the pain was excruciating, the fact of the matter remained: I looked like a cartoon femme fatale. (Think Jessica Rabbit. Only more stacked.)

And it was awesome. After all, this was LA, baby, where ego is practically built on silicone and saline. (And now, breastmilk.)

And as I bobbled around the city, I’ll admit that I reveled in the attention. While I was never small-busted, these breasts were entirely new terrain, and I enjoyed the novelty of it. Around midweek, it occurred to me that with my (waaaaaaaay) over-supply, maybe the altruistic thing would be to pump and donate to a milk bank. Or feed the entire homeless population of Los Angeles. But I knew that taking milk out would only kick-start the supply-and-demand process again, and we wouldn’t want to do that, right? After all, most lactation experts warn against that sort of thing if you’re trying to dry up.

So, I decided to keep the puppies to myself. I popped an antihistamine, put on a pushup bra and perfected the air kiss because real hugs hurt. And also made me leak all over.

(Yes, I was a cross between a National Geographic and Playboy.)

Anyway, midweek, over drinks one night with my best friend (and my boobs), I reveled in the paradox: ever since I had had kids, it was like someone had stamped a huge HAZMAT sign to my vag. (After all, nothing says “sexy” like a second degree tear down there.) But that night at the bar, for the first time in my life, I couldn’t pay for a single drink even if my life depended on it. And so, along with the watermelon margaritas that were sent our way, I enjoyed the paradox that lactating had brought sexy back.

“Your milk ducts bring all the boys to the yard,” my best friend said to me after we had downed our third round of free drinks.

“Do you want to touch them?” I asked. “Because, you know, they aren’t really mine.”

(My best friend is a scientist, and she poked the left one with her index finger, a look of clinical detachment on her face.)

“They feel almost… crunchy?” she said.

(And then I leaked all over myself again. But we were drunk so we thought it was hilarious.)

And then another round of watermelon margaritas appeared before us as if by magic.

But by the time I went back home to my babies, the milk was gone, taking my boobs with them. Which I guess means I have to rely on my personality from here on out, huh?

And now, I’m sad. And not for the reasons you might think after reading this post. It isn’t the attention or the free drink. (Although that was nice, too.) My sadness stems from a deeper source: I have empty breast syndrome.

Yeah, Joni Mitchell called. She wants her metaphor back. Because even though I am so glad that I’m done nursing, and that I have reclaimed my breasts as my own, I am still grieving the loss of fullness that comes with knowing that for three years and three months–through the passage of 10 seasons—I was able to nourish both babies with my boobies.


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