I swipe a burp-clothe-gloved hand under each breast to wipe away the slick, soupy mess that has accumulated there. I have always had large breasts, but since my milk came in, they overwhelm me. It’s the hottest summer on record in the Pacific Northwest and in the 25 1/2 days since my daughter was born we haven’t had a single drop of rain. Like most people here, we don’t have air conditioning because this type of weather isn’t typical.
Our thermostat has read 98 degrees in the upstairs of our home for several days. The kitchen and her nursery are up there. As much as possible, she and I have been holed up in the basement during the day with the lights out, shades drawn, fans blowing… alone. The sound of the fans help us sleep, what little we’re getting.
There is not one inch of me that is not swollen and prickly from heat, shifting fat and spiking hormones. I would go naked but I don’t like to see my stomach like this so I wear a cotton maternity nightgown and a milk-stained nursing bra. I would go bra-less but I need absorbent pads because I leak when she cries, which is a lot.
It started two weeks after we got home—the no sleeping and crying. It was just long enough for family to leave town and just short enough not to catch my breath. It’s been a struggle finding air ever since.
She is my first and she reduces me to my elements.
My hands feel more like claws, tight and harsh next to new skin and I fear breaking her little body because I think I already broke her spirit. I don’t know why she cries. I’m sure it’s something I am doing, or not doing, or worse, can’t do. I think she can sense through her raw nerves and involuntary reflexes that I’m no good at this. Maybe that’s why she cries? A desperate plea for rescue and comfort?
I think that’s why I cry.
I think I cry because I sense that I’m on the edge of something hot and deep like that time we flew over the mouth of a volcano on our honeymoon in Hawaii. Up until that moment I had never seen anything as awe-inspiring and soul-shifting as those guts of Mother Earth. Looking into her atomic glow made my cheeks burn and my eyes water. Just like now. Knowing I was relatively safe in the helicopter I was intrepid. I wanted to fly closer, as close as possible without risking anything. Unlike now.
Now I’m not intrepid; I’m terrified. I’m scared that instead of amazing and beautiful the guts of this mother are deadly. I don’t want to fly any closer. I want to go home.
Before I can even feel that feeling I snap back into the reality that I already am.
My sweaty, bloated body with its milk and its weight is lying in this darkened basement and although I might wish for it, I am not alone, nor will I ever be again. The heat of this life is inside me now, in my breasts and my bones that are shifting back into place and also, especially in this baby. She’s a piece of me broken off, tossed up and flung outward upon the world in a burst of molten lava.
She flows and rips back to the center of me with every breath, expanding my world one inhalation at a time and now I will never breathe the same again…nor do I want to.