by Victoria Hill

The real boob tunnel

I want to take you back to a moment in time–I’m sitting in Katie’s office on the third floor of the old Birth Center in that trusty IKEA chair, wearing my BrestFriend pillow, holding my too-big-to-handle boob in one hand and my red-faced screaming baby in the other. Everything is impossibly slippery from tears, spit, sweat, and milk, and I’m hunched over the whole set-up, bringing my face closer and closer to my son as he pushes and punches against me with all of his might.

Katie’s hand might be there guiding me, and she might be giving me some instructions or encouragement–I honestly do not know. If she is, it sounds miles away. My mind is completely absorbed with the task of getting closer and trying again, as if just peering closer and seeing things properly will help me get my damn nipple to stay in his wailing mouth.

This is what Katie refers to as “the boob tunnel.” And boy was I stuck in it.

But then–it happens. Out of sheer exhaustion (or maybe somehow force of will), that angry little baby latches on. Every part of my body tenses, waiting for him to drop off any second. That’s when Katie’s voice finally cuts through.

“Okay, great! Now you need to relax. Take a deep breath and drop your shoulders for me.”

I’ve gone back to this moment over and over in my mind. I swear to you it felt like the first time I connected that horrible, crushing, all-encompassing tension in my mind with what was happening in my body. I took a shakey breath, dropped my shoulders, and relaxed into the feeling of breastfeeding my son.

How I want to remember the boob tunnel

That was my moment, and I’m sure many of you can recognize it. Maybe your circumstances or surroundings were different, and maybe you weren’t breastfeeding at all. But it was the moment where you took a breath, let your shoulders drop, and relaxed into whatever mothering decision you were faced with at the time. I felt the anxiety leave my body, and I was grounded with the weight of this little life held against me.

I return to that moment so often because it became my ritual. Every day, eight times a day: Scoop up the baby, pop a boob out, latch him on, and relax. Let the tension leave your body. Over and over and over again, it was the rhythm of my motherhood.

This was also a time in my life where every ritual I’d ever had was shattered and scattered around me. My relationship with my family was demolished. My life with my partner was remade. My body was unrecognizable, and my emotions were out of control. But eight times a day I had the opportunity to come back down to earth and relax into my new reality–and I did. In the backseat of my car, rocking in our nursery, with a group of friends at the library, in the mother’s room at work. With a baby or a pump, it was always the same: Boobs out, latch, and relax.

I’m thinking a lot about ritual these days. The holiday season brings so many with it, and the New Year invites us to begin new ones. This year they also happen to coincide with a shift in my breastfeeding ritual. At 11 months, my nursing relationship with my son is changing (again), and weaning feels closer than ever.

Looking at Katie’s schedule compared to mine is comical–it’s literally a blank expanse. Because for 11 months now my “schedule” has been driven by ritual, intuition, and observation. And yet even as our nursing sessions drop from 8 to 7 to 6 and counting, I’m faced with the long, wide open days of new motherhood without the constant comfort of nursing.

This year is going to bring with it so many opportunities for reinventing the rituals my life and my motherhood. But for now I am floating somewhere in the middle of the old and the new. I’m working hard on savoring this present moment and reflecting on how much breastfeeding has given me. And I’m returning to that moment in Katie’s office once again to remind myself of the feeling of being grounded–even without the familiar pattern of boobs out, latch, and relax.

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