Published on January 30th, 2015 | by Bronwyn Davies Glover5
BRONWYN DAVIES GLOVER On Surviving Parenting As A Survivor
As a white, cisgender, able-bodied, queer woman – a raging homosexual, a feminist, an anarchist, a believer in social justice, restorative justice and the power of anti-oppressive politics, it never occurred to me that another part of my identity, a secret part, would have any place in my role as a parent. I was aware of planning for non-violence in my parenting, tackling ableism, cisgenderism, classism, racism, transphobia, homophobia, sexism with creativity. I was excited and nervous about what that would look like and all the possibilities it held for my never-been-in-the-world before tiny one.
I didn’t think about surviving sexual assault, date rape, and the heavy role of being shamed into allowing my body to be treated as a bartering object for much of my youth as having any place in my role as a parent.
But suddenly it appeared.
Like a wailing child begging to be held.
Tiny triggers all over my body that I had worked to close, to let breathe, to let go, were ripped open. My tiny opened them without knowing. And I had to let them, without consenting.
My tiny got their first tooth around 5 months old. I poked and prodded, desperate to witness this milestone the moment that it peered out onto the fleshy babyhood of their wide, infant mouth. It seemed like it was a big deal. Something as simple as growing in the world was suddenly magical and magnificent.
And then shortly after that, one afternoon, breastfeeding my tiny in our run down artist loft with our velour curtain waving from the new spring air coming in through our window, my tiny bit me. They bit my breast. Not intentionally. Not angrily. Just like a teething baby learning something new and trying out how it felt. They bit me and then wanted to keep nursing. Without asking. Without checking in if it hurt or made me suddenly so inexplicably overwhelmed that every orifice in my body shed tears.
And there it was. My survival. Silenced amidst the many preparations for being a birth parent who would breastfeed. Faces, words, never-ending moments in dark rooms and dark cars with doors locked shut. Suddenly, there it was in the small space between my rounded arms and the tiny body I held. And I panicked.
I had been told by countless birth parents, their heads nodding and eyes slightly closed, just how very beautiful a symbol my tiny’s soft, wet, pink mouth was and how everything would change the moment a tooth appeared.
I always smiled and agreed. I assumed they were talking about love, loss and growth. I assumed it would mean something similar for me even though I could not imagine a day when my baby would have teeth. I assumed it would be theoretical, this change they spoke of. Through my feminist and politico-queer filter I would smile but secretly shake my head at their lack of awareness of just how prepared people like me who decide to birth and raise a gayby, really are.
I didn’t read any book about preparing to parent naturally and non violently as a survivor. I didn’t have any conversations with anyone who said that my body might resurrect stories and lives I have lived in ways I couldn’t begin to anticipate because suddenly their weight would include my perfect gayby and that I might feel unwanted resentment, rage and disorientation.
That afternoon that my tiny latched onto my breast and, not knowing how to use their newly grown, sharp solid eating machines, clamped down tightly, ripping slightly into my flesh around the tender part of the nipple – I panicked.
My breathing stopped. My heart felt too hard underneath the very breast my tiny had just bitten. My baby. My body. Mine. It was like slipping out of a dream.
“What happened?” My partner asked.
I couldn’t speak. I lifted our darling away from my body and ran out of the room. I closed our bathroom door. I turned away from the mirror so I didn’t have to look at what I was feeling.
No one talks about survival in regards to carrying a child. No one discusses birthing a baby from a body that holds silent whispers of non consensual touch when you look in libraries, listen in prenatal classes, meet other parents, share stories. No one mentions birthing and feeding a tiny life that may be born into the very assigned gender of your perpetrators. And no one talks about what happens when food is life for your child and your body is food and that when your baby is hungry it eliminates your ability to consent. It takes away the very choice that we work so hard to reclaim as survivors. It triggers those whispers. Those parts of you that you don’t want to slide in under your fingernails and out your belly button to become part of you and your baby, the most surreal ecstasy of pure love, to make them ugly.
And I wondered why. Why aren’t we talking about this in our simultaneous attack on both those who breastfeed (as vulgar as that is) and those who feed with formula (as neglectful as that is)? Is it our fear of cycles of abuse that decides we don’t discuss these issues with women, gender queers and trans men carrying babies? Is it misogyny minimizing the importance of the stories our bodies tell, the histories they hold? Is it victim shaming at work, doing what it does best, keeping us quiet?
So that day, 21 months ago, I took a breath. And let myself cry. And cry. And get angry. And then I decided that I would talk. To other mothers, to mapas, to papas, to parents, to my community. Because I don’t have a list of what to do when the triggers appear. And because I want to create one. Because I don’t have a safe space of self-identified survivors who breastfeed their tinies but I am certain they are out there. And because the silence that has swallowed my secret stories has no place silencing any of us anymore. And if we don’t talk, we won’t breastfeed, not because we don’t want to but because we can’t if we want to keep loving our babies.
It is so real. And it is hard to keep opening your body if your body is used to being closed. But if you want to give to your tiny like I want to give to mine then these discussions have to happen.
Because our survival is what make us real. It is what makes us beautiful.