Published on September 15th, 2017 | by Jade Sanchez-Ventura0
I woke up happy with the weight of work that’d been on me for the last month lifted for no reason I could specify, the moon maybe, and I don’t go in to teach on Tuesdays so it was lovely to lie in bed, even if the lying in bed was made possible by nursing my son. Not nursing the way one, the way I, nursed an infant, but in a lounging, lazy way because my son is two now, just turned two a week ago, and while I know he gets some nourishment from it, and the books tell me that if I were to stop I’d be surprised by how much more he otherwise drank and ate, this serves other, more abstract, needs. Among them, I think, play. In these morning sessions he rolls around and over me like a tiger cub and if I let him he can go for a longer time than I like to admit. I often let him.
I’m spending money I don’t have to spare on physical therapy with a pelvic floor specialist. I never rebuilt this mythic pelvic floor after giving birth, and I’m feeling the constant lifting in my lower back, plus last week I did something to my upper back and it hurts to sneeze or lie down in certain positions. In our first session, the therapist reminded me that nursing depletes; that it doesn’t matter if I don’t have that big nursing appetite anymore, it is still using up estrogen, and less estrogen means weaker muscles, more fatigue: “It’s good for the baby,” she said, “not necessarily so good for the mama.”
I was surprised. I don’t think of us this way: namely, as two independent beings whose needs don’t complement each other’s. I thought we were in a physical symbiosis shaped by evolution into a complex waltz of interdependence. I thought we were making each other better.
I know that this was once true. I felt how the hormones released by nursing cushioned me through months of sleep deprivation, keeping me looking somehow vital. But it doesn’t seem to be working anymore. I don’t know the exact cause, or when it happened, but I feel tired. Really tired. Yes—to use the doctor’s word—depleted.
While I took my morning practice of stretching and breathing, my partner brought our son into the kitchen to get breakfast and coffee going.
“Raisins! Raisins! Raisins! Raisins!”
“You can have raisins after you’ve had breakfast.”
“Raisins raisins raisins raisinsraisinsraisins.”
“After your yogurt.”
As I walked into the kitchen, he exhaled and walked out. My son and I ate breakfast off the same plate. I could feel my partner’s frustration becoming bigger and darker, heard it in the opening and closing of the closet door. I used to review every word when this happened, looking for how I made it and could go about unmaking it. I sometimes try and tease it out of him, but other times, like today, I get angry. I rarely just let him be, which is the one thing he asks for. But trying not to fix it, him, is like holding back pee—it just gets more urgent the longer I wait.
We got ourselves and our son out on the sidewalk, dressed, fed, proper bags packed, reasonably on schedule. My partner was still in his dark mood, and I still angry, but I kissed him anyway, as I do every day, and insist on making eye contact, in case it turns out to be the last morning I ever see him. He humors me in this. He got on his bike; I strollered up to the park.
The hill felt steep, but anything felt better than going to work. I’ve been breaking my self-care rules this last month—giving up lunches to help a student, a boy, who doesn’t thank me for it; sending emails after bedtime; apologizing to my partner for doing less childcare, and then trying to atone by giving up precious alone time. One night last week found me hanging my wet laundry at midnight, after staying up late to lesson plan for, yup, my class on feminist critical theory. I looked over at my son and husband asleep in the other room and thought to myself, “This is insane.”
The Tot Lot was dreamy, my friend and her daughter and their dog meeting us, and everyone managing the sharing of raisins and toys. Someone had left a white shopping bag of sidewalk chalk and after our friends went home, my son and I sat doodling together, and unbidden, I drew a yellow sun and the words, “Rest in Power Jordan Edwards.” I pocketed the small piece of yellow chalk. The trembling as I imagined his mother.
From the Tot Lot we got into his nap, the park doing it’s best to sabotage us with a lawnmower, a school trip, and an unusually loud skateboard. I kept him asleep, and finally settled onto a bench in the quiet Nethermead, resting instead of doing reading for my Thursday class. While I was looking at the tree line the cloud of an atomic bomb mushroomed in my imagination. I’d text my partner, I planned, “Meet me at home.” But then I thought, “Why? The radiation would already be in my womb.” Those exact words. My womb. Stop thinking those thoughts. And I did for a while, even closed my eyes for a few moments. But then I imagined someone shooting me in the head. There would be no suffering, I thought, if happened like that. Stop it. My brain wouldn’t though, and next I was imagining someone coming up and raising a gun and me launching myself into them to protect my son. I’d catch them by such surprise that I’d get the gun and then shoot them in both knees. Then I’d call the ambulance while standing over them with the gun trained. I looked around, wondering what address I would give.
I passed him still asleep to my mother who, bless her, had come to watch him for a quick hour and a half while I finished up a freelance gig in a coffee shop; keeping myself awake with an artisanal pop tart and an iced coffee. From there, it was hurrying off to a meet up with two women who also write and are mothers to boys the same age. We’ve been meeting every other week for over a year and our sons now know each other’s names, and our names; a fact we marvel at. Today though my son kept pushing one of the boys and making him cry and he was rough with the cat and it all came to a glorious crescendo when he threw a large, plastic box of Play-Do toys on his friend’s head.
“That’s it,” I said, and picked him up, readying us to go. No matter my friends’ reassurances, I was embarrassed. I worried that my son was the bad one.
My partner met us at home, and we kissed shyly from the morning. He’d brought me a chocolate chip cookie as a token, and even though I said, “You don’t have to apologize for being in a hard place,” I appreciated it. I ate it and watched the news while they did bath. The firing of Comey made me laugh.
My partner had to run out to an appointment, and the way my son was looking, I expected a speedy bed time. As I read The Snowy Day aloud I thought about which TV show I’d watch. I talked to my son about all the throwing and pushing but he was already falling asleep. He didn’t even want to get to the end of book, closing it, and then coming in to nurse. He was asleep, or almost, in that way he is when I ease out and reclaim my boob, after which he rolls over to suck his thumb and finishes putting himself to sleep and then, these days, going all the way through to morning. But as I was about to slip away, the cat came in meowing and scratching and woke him up. This never happens. But it happened. I wanted to kill her. Instead, I locked her upstairs.
I lay him down again but he was caught in the purgatory between wakefulness and sleep. I knew I should give up and try again in twenty minutes but I was now desperate for some time to myself. He rolled on me and off again. Discovered his toe sticking out of his pajamas. Sucked his thumb while fiddling with a nipple, and I thought, “I’m going to die.” Not that I wanted to, just that if I had to stay there for one more minute it would kill me. Like a statement of fact. But I stayed anyway, feeling insane, and suddenly I was remembering the sophomore boy whom I’d invited to my apartment when I was a freshman in high school, and a few months into fourteen. We’d spent one afternoon together, during which we made out, and then I invited him to come over one day before my mother was due home. I wanted to make out some more. He took me to my bed, and lifted my shirt. I lowered it. He tried to unzip my pants. I stopped him. He rolled on top of me, and began humping me with all our clothes on and surprised me into stillness. I had heard of this, knew it was called “dry sex,” and I stayed, not feeling anything, while he moved fast and then faster above me, his eyes closed. He was heavy. He didn’t say anything, nor did I. I thought of pigs. Eventually, he seemed satisfied and rolled off me and went home. I remembered wondering if he’d cum and would ride on the subway with semen in his boxers. The next day bruises surfaced on my thighs. And then I was thinking of all the times I’ve lain there waiting for a boy, for a young man, to finish getting his pleasure, to finish with me, so that I could get up, get some clothes on, get some fucking sleep.
I’ve been taught to be of service.
And that was the thought that sprung me out of bed. My son followed, uncomplaining, while I walked to the bathroom. I explained that I was going to shower, and he found his new favorite magazine and sat down on the bath mat.
“Train!” He called happily.
I got out and he showed me the picture while I dried.
“Train,” I agreed, smiling back at his beaming face.
I put on a flannel shirt and returned to bed, where I held him in my lap, and we read the magazine with the train picture and then he nursed for about thirty seconds and fell asleep, my partner getting home at the same moment. He joined my son in bed, and I went upstairs, and stayed up far too late. My grandmother once told me she used to sit up half the night smoking cigarettes at the Formica table in the kitchen, while the kids and her husband slept. She meant it as a sad story, a sign that things were not all right with her, and now here I was, at my own table, by my own lamp, my family asleep, relishing the quiet of no one asking anything of me.
Except my own body, asking for sleep, which I ignored.
When he was born, I held my son to my chest in a tub of water darkened by our shared fluids and felt we were floating in the primordial swamp of all creation. Now this boy runs on solid ground, an ever-lengthening expanse of sidewalk between us. It’s confusing for both of us. We’ve had a few rogue crying storms this last week when it. Had. To. Be. Mama. This had not happened for months upon months. And he nurses with a need that surprises me. Sometimes when I say no, he howls and kicks. Sometimes the storm passes and he moves on. Other times he is cast too far out to bring himself back, his emotions huge for him, and I gather him panting to my breast, eyebrows lowered as his feelings settle and still.
“Crying,” he says, looking up at me.
“You were crying?”
And he nods, not releasing my nipple from his mouth.
Raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, Anna Ogier-Bloomer holds an MFA in Photography & Related Media from Parsons School of Design, where she was awarded the Photography Department Prize in 2011. She received her BFA from The School of The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where she was the recipient of the Yousuf Karsh Prize in Photography and a Dean’s Travel Grant. Ogier-Bloomer has exhibited at galleries and museums nationally, including the Bridge Art Fair in Miami/Basel, The Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and at the Attleboro Arts Museum in Massachusetts, as well as solo and two-person shows in New York and Cincinnati. She has received grants from Chashama in New York, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and CSArts Cincinnati. She is on the graduate faculty at the School of Visual Arts and has been an adjunct Assistant Professor at the City University of New York. She currently lives in New York City with her husband and daughter, and travels often for her work.
These photos, made during the first two years of my new role as mother, demonstrates the complexity of doing the most difficult yet most meaningful work I’d ever done. The physical act of motherhood begins at conception and continues to evolve through a child’s life. Here, I turn my lens on these physical elements: pain on the surface of the skin, illness, emotional outpouring of love and distress, the engorgement of the breast. These things simultaneously bring excruciating physical pain and unparalleled emotional joy. Through images of my own mother, I attach a thread from one generation to the next. I confront the complexity of these seemingly contradictory states of being, and the ways in which women feel the pull of motherhood, their children, and their physical self and appearance in a way unlike anything or anyone else.