I Have Empty Breast Syndrome

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, my son, Little Homie was still on the boob, and as I struggled with the decision to go to LA for an eight day visit without my kids, 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 I love the idea of child-led weaning, after twenty one 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 "aerola."

Fortunately, we had already nixed the day nursing a long time ago when Little Homie started preschool, 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 ten thousand 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 May, 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 areola. 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 loved the attention. While I was never small-busted, these breasts were entirely new terrain, and I enjoyed the novelty of it. At one point, 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. Or call Hugh Hefner. 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 Hollywood air kiss because real hugs hurt. And also made me leak all over. (Yes, I was a cross between a National Geographic and a Playboy.)

Anyway, midweek, over drinks one night with my best friend (and my boobs,) I reveled in the contradiction: ever since I had had kids, it was like someone had stampled 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 (and no, the irony of watermelon margaritas was not lost on me) I enjoyed the paradox that lactating had brought sexy back. Or had brought sexy front and center.

"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, anyway."

(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.)

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 it. Well, crap. I guess this 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.

I now know this to be true: Nothing will stay the same. Not the easy moments. And not the hard times. And sure, while the drudgery passes more slowly, it too, passes. And then what? Somewhere, in between stressing and (not) sleeping, in between breastfeeding and breathing, in between power struggles and cooking dinner, tiny changes add up.

They lose their belly-rolls, and their legs grow strong and sturdy, and suddenly, they're out
of diapers, starting school, taking ballet class and playing soccer, whirling and twirling into
grownups.

And, suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, they'll be growing their own families, struggling to
hold onto sanity and sleep, while we go on trips to the Wine Country as our wrinkles dig down
deep, and we wallow in too much free time, and wonder what happened to our children. And, eventually — suddenly — we will become old, marked with the eternal etchings of a life spent forever and ever thinking about tomorrow.

So, 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 — even though I am so freaking grateful to be done with this phase of life — I am still grieving the loss of fullness that comes with knowing that for three years and three months — through the passage of ten seasons — I was able to nourish both babies with my boobies.

This post originally appeared on The Crazy Baby Mama. A version also appeared on Kveller. Republished with permission.

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