This is my last bag of frozen breastmilk. I pumped it five months ago, on April 23, 2011, the day before Easter. It was the last bag I’d lay in to the freezer in observance of this year’s Lenten discipline. And now, after months of us carefully rationing and gradually depleting the ranks of its fellows, it is the very last bag remaining.
It’s so final, to look at that bag and think this is the last breastmilk I’ll ever give my daughter. We quit lactating back in July, but Natalie hardly noticed, as she progressed enthusiastically from botbots to spoon-fed purees to sippy cups and Baby Mum-Mums. Now, if I offered her the thawed contents of this bag in a bottle, or mixed it in with her daily breakfast cereal, she’d gamely consume it without a second thought.
She’d have no idea that it would be the last time she’d ever taste her mother’s milk.
There’s no reason to save it, really. My lame excuse for hanging on to it (in case anyone asks) is that I’m saving it for the next time Natalie gets sick, so she can benefit one last time from its medicinal properties. But it’s been several weeks since Noodles last tasted breastmilk, and she hasn’t gotten sick yet. Meanwhile, this bag has just hit the five-month mark, which, according to many, is the end of the useful life of frozen breastmilk. There’s no reason to keep it around. It has no talismanic powers. It won’t make me lactate again. And do we really need to preserve any relics from our pitiful breastfeeding campaign, now that the ordeal is past?
So I’ll give it to her. Of course I will. Maybe even today. But when I do, I’d like to observe the occasion with appropriate ceremony. This is powerful stuff we’re about to run out of. It should be served with honor.
On the other hand, it failed us. Our unhappy and ultimately futile attempts at exclusive breastfeeding were the one false note in our pregnancy-childbirth-infancy continuum, which otherwise was nigh on perfect. I can look at that bag of breastmilk and confess to some serious hard feelings. Clearly I have not forgiven it.
What kind of ceremony, then, would be appropriate?
I don’t do anti-ceremonies well. There’s just no good way to vent one’s spleen in a manner befitting the ages, as far as I can tell. In perhaps the most iconic anti-ceremony of my life, I walked out of divorce court, marched myself straight to a table for one, and raised a glass of champagne to the ex, “you magnificent bastard.” I don’t regret the toast, but in retrospect, I wish I’d chosen better words. If there were any.
I’m much prouder of my contemporaneous decision to shut up, to leave the silence ringing between us until he turned and left the courthouse first. The last word I ever said to him was “no.” And while the fresh bitterness of my D-day toast has faded and gone flat, the silence continues to improve with time.
Lesson learned: mean words will fail you. Sometimes it’s better to say nothing at all.
So we’ll have no mean words for the last gasp of my lactation. No anti-ceremony. And no overstating either the good or ill effects of our breastfeeding experience. Instead we’ll simply speak the truth, perhaps the best valediction for a mixed blessing:
You sustained life.
And now life goes on.
And so it shall.