We start the downward slope. An image enters my brain and overpowers my thoughts, an almighty image that threatens to creep in on my actions but I manage to keep hold of those. I picture letting go of the stroller, watching it roll down the hill, picking up speed every half-second, faster and faster, fading away smaller and smaller as it gets farther and farther away from me. I picture myself frozen at the top of the hill, wanting to chase it but also wanting to do nothing.
Logic tells me the stroller would crash, either into an oncoming car or a tree or a ditch or a house or a geriatric man walking his geriatric dog. But I can’t picture it. Call it motherly instincts, call it trauma blocking. Instead I just imagine the stroller disappearing. Just poof and it’s gone, like Mary Poppins. In my imagination, my son doesn’t even cry. Doesn’t laugh. I can’t see him from my angle above the stroller as the canopy gets in the way but I don’t hear him either. I imagine he would smile, love the ride, love the wind through his hair. He has a lot of hair so the wind would love him, too. He was born with a full head of hair. That’s all the nurses could say as I pushed. He was barely crowning, and all they could say was Look at that hair! When people see him they always ask me if I had terrible heartburn and I say no. I had no heartburn. Fluke I suppose.
Reader, I don’t let go of the stroller. My mind is teasing my hands but they say no. Instead I grip the handlebar tighter and continue walking down the hill. We’re almost at the end of our route. I could walk this route in my sleep. We do it every Sunday morning. He strapped in the stroller and me behind it, huffing and puffing as we climb and descend the hills around our apartment. Colorado Springs has sneaky hills. You’ll be driving around, flat flat flat then a hill will pop up out of nowhere. It’s good, I say to myself, you’re trying to stay active. This baby weight won’t lose itself. Breastfeeding helps but only so much. It doesn’t help siphon the sugar and fat from the four donuts I ate yesterday in a sleep-deprived haze. They say after four days of sleep deprivation the body goes into survival mode, craving sugar and carbs to stay afloat. Well I’m going on four months so my body is wrecked. All I want is bread thick crusty bread and pizza and donuts and cupcakes and brownies and my mouth starts watering. The once-a-week walks around the block don’t burn enough calories to warrant all this food, but I’m so tired and stressed that I’ve stopped caring about what I ingest. When Eamon starts sleeping through the night I’ll put more effort into my diet.
We turn the corner to our apartment. I block out the bullshit of getting Eamon and the stroller from the sidewalk to our third-floor apartment. In the process he wakes up and I try to soothe him even though I know it won’t work. Ben is gone so it’s just me and baby all day and my heart pounds louder just thinking about it. The only thing that I know will calm Eamon down is to nurse so once I squeeze us and the stroller through the front door I settle into our worn couch with the Boppy pillow, take off my hoodie unclip the left side of my nursing bra arrange Eamon just so with one hand my left breast in the other hand and hope he latches okay. We’ve had some issues with latching. When I was still in the hospital after Eamon was born a lactation consultant came by and helped me. She didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, just said that some babies take longer to get the hang of it. I didn’t understand that as babies suck their thumbs in the womb and there is nothing more natural than sucking at the teat but I didn’t say anything because I was too tired.
Thankfully he latches and after a few seconds I feel the letdown. I grimace because it’s an uncomfortable feeling, like the pins and needles after your foot falls asleep and you try to shake it awake. Sometimes the flow is too strong and Eamon sputters and pulls off the breast taking my nipple painfully with him and a tiny stream of milk sprays him in the face. When that happens I have to plug the leak and try to wipe off Eamon’s face and then reattach him all with one hand because the other hand is holding him in place. It’s time like these when I wish I had decided to bottle feed with formula. Then I wouldn’t get clogged ducts and thrush and cracked nipples and huge sore breasts. And Ben could feed him half the time. I didn’t do that though because I was barraged with “breast is best” from my mom my doctor my hospital La Leche League. Logic tells me the benefits but reality is messier than logic. Anyway I feel like I’m invested now so I have to stick with it. It could be worse. A friend of mine tried to breastfeed for weeks literally three weeks and no milk came out. Her lactation consultant told her to keep trying meaning to keep putting her baby to her breast and have him try to suckle the milk out. That’s three weeks of dry nursing on cracked red nipples. My friend cried when she told me how painful it was. After three weeks she told the LC to shove it and she switched to formula. She and her baby are very happy.
I notice a lack of activity happening at my breast and when I look down, I see that Eamon’s fallen asleep. This is my favorite time when he falls asleep after eating. He’s popped off my nipple and his mouth is slightly agape and his little cherub cheeks are flushed. I gently push his mouth closed and his lips move like he’s still suckling. My heart, my heart!
Carmen Catena is a writer, teacher, and TCK currently living in Colorado with her family. She is working on her first novel, an excerpt of which won the 2020 Colorado Gold Rush Literary Awards. Find her online at www.carmencatena.com and on Twitter @carmcatena