The Human Pacifier
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 1, January-February 2002, p. 14
I'm sitting in the rocker with my son in the blue light of dawn. We've been at this a few weeks now, getting to know each other after nine months of anticipation. I am searching for feedback; a sign that I'm doing right by him, getting closer to figuring out what ails him when he seems so inconsolable.
I hear voices. Well-meaning voices telling me, advising me, warning me to not let this tiny boy grab the reins and yank me down the race track. I look at the child in my arms, his eyes slightly crossed as he tries to steady his gaze, and I feel somehow, in spite of the fact that I've only been his mother for forty-two days, that he gets it. I mean, he knows what he needs more than I do. He is my sherpa guide, my compass.
He is barely out of my womb when I am asked how long I plan to nurse. I look at Nicholas suckling at my breast, and I ask him about his long-range plans. He burps.
He cries and I nurse him. They warn me not to do this too much, or I'll become a "human pacifier." They are friends, strangers, sometimes relatives. One neighbor is concerned that my baby will learn to depend on me for comfort.
My baby never took to a pacifier, or his thumb, or knuckle, or any plastic teething ring no matter how fascinating the texture or color. He wants to nurse. He likes to stretch his free arm upward and hook his fingers onto my tank top or bra, like he's riding the train and that's his strap.
In his laid-back mood, he nurses with both hands on his head, kind of massaging what little hair he has, like he's giving himself a shampoo. Sometimes, he thumps his chest then mine, like he Tarzan and me Jane. And sometimes, he's got too much on his mind and he just lays his palm flat on his forehead. My heart melts and breaks when, with his eyes closed, he reaches up to my lips with his outstretched hand so I can kiss his fingertips while we nurse in the shadows.
As the months pass, I learn to let go of my ego, to get out of the way, and, not surprisingly, we find our rhythm. Some days, we are tuning the instrument. Some days, we make music. Some days, I feel out of tune with both of us. But there is one constant amid the rapid changes of new motherhood, one thing I can offer my child regardless of time, place, and circumstance: comfort.
He is lying in the crook of my arm, nursing, after a long morning of cramps and gas. I feel so relieved for both of us. He couldn't be more comfortable if he were lying naked in a cloud. After my cyclone of emotions, from empathy to confusion, anxiety, exasperation, and guilt, I finally feel calm. He is at peace at last. For the moment, anyway. Sitting here nursing my baby, he is pacified, yes, but so am I. Being a human pacifier works both ways.
Nursing for comfort, his, mine, and ours, is so much more than soothing him when he cries. When we sit here after a difficult morning, after I've questioned my competence as a new mother, wrestled down my nostalgia for a past where everything seemed easier, struggled with tolerance and compassion and reminded myself (sometimes out loud) that all will pass and he will be happy and well-adjusted and remember none of his intestinal fury and my quiet panic, the shallow-breathing, and lilting lullabies sung tentatively over the shrill tones of his cry, I feel that nursing him in this slow and fluid silence is all about emotional replenishment. He and I re-group after the contradictions and ambivalence of that particular hour or day or week. It feels to me, in these moments, like I am refueling myself, bringing myself back to center, to the symbiosis that will dissipate in tiny, imperceptible ways as he grows. And it feels like he is, in these moments, reorienting himself, getting comfortable in his skin, clearer about me and my intentions.
Letting my baby pacify himself at my breast feels right to me because it feels so right to him. He has made it abundantly clear that this is his chosen method of self-soothing. He wants a pacifier that's human.