Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What Does It Mean to Eat Your Children?

"What Does It Mean to Eat Your Children?"

I had a teacher in grad school who asked us that question. She was crazy but to her credit it had a context. One of those horribly horribly Greek tragedies in which someone ends up being fed his own children in a pie. I was an acting student. I suppose if you are going to act eating your children you need to take a moment to consider what that means.

I have had the opposite experience for the last two plus years. I have been eating for my children. Unborn or otherwise. It was about two and a half years ago when we started trying to get pregnant. And from that moment on every single bite I took, every single drink I sipped, every breath of air I breathed, contaminated or otherwise, did not enter my body without being assessed for its potential harm to my unborn and then newborn child. I suppose that makes me sound fairly obsessive compulsive. I have a streak. I’ve actually returned from the subway platform, having PAID MY FARE, to make sure the gas stove was off. And I’m a bit of a hypochondriac and worrier. So yeah, I didn’t eat hotdogs or drink or enjoy soft cheeses when I was pregnant. And I thought about how well I could metabolize the Splenda and caffeine and ginger ale and peach schnapps when I was breastfeeding. Did I mention I’m also a lightweight? Yeah I totally am.

So I have done this obsessive monitoring…oh by the way don’t let that lead you to the oh so erroneous conclusion that I gained the perfect 25 pounds during pregnancy. So far as I know, no brownie ever led to fetal brain damage. Yeah I gained forty five pounds during my pregnancy. So I have monitored potential pathogens obsessively…until today. Coincidentally my 13th wedding anniversary. Here’s how it went down. We had raviolis for dinner at home since my husband couldn’t get home early from work today so we could go out. I left two on my plate. I am still trying to lose those 45 pounds. But they are really good raviolis, and my husband was in the process of taking the plate to finish them off when I said “oh wait” and took a few forkfuls of the very nice, tomatoey sauce because it has really good things in it for the baby. And then I remembered. This morning was probably my last breastfeeding. Ever.

I know that weaning can be really difficult. Friends have told me of sleepless nights and engorgement. But my baby was one of those who pretty much decided she was done. She just really likes sweet potatoes and cheerios. And though nursing was pretty successful for both of us for ten months, it never reached those transcendent otherworldly planes I have read about. It hurt and I had blebs and then her teeth came in and I never felt like I had a huge supply (as witnessed by the fact that I leaked once and could really only pump about five ounces from both sides combined at best). We are close. We are snuggly. But nursing was fairly utilitarian for both of us. Which maybe made it a self-fulfilling prophecy. I always said I wanted to make it to Memorial Day. I just never kind of thought that she’d hear me and then say “ok Mama I agree.”

I stopped pumping at night last night. And this morning she latched on for about three minutes and then happily guzzled her organic formula. And had a great day.

So when I reached for the tomato sauce and thought “these great lycopene thingies will be really good for the baby” and then stopped suddenly, I was genuinely surprised to feel myself tear up. For the first time in years, what I eat will not go directly to someone else. For the first time in years, I do not have to weigh every mouthful. For the first time in years I don’t have a little being dependent on my good judgment for her very sustenance. And while it is liberating, it is much sadder than I expected.

I still don’t know what it means to eat your children. But I know what it means to have my children eat me. And then move on.

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