I woke the morning of Tuesday, May 22, 2007 to a horror nothing could have prepared me for; my eight-week old son, Cyrus, had died overnight. My sleepy, sing-song, morning greetings to my baby were met with lifelessness. My memories of that day are mere flashes of moments:collapsing on my knees and screaming at the bottom of the stairs, my daughter’s father performing CPR on my son on my kitchen table, being questioned by the police, holding Cyrus to my breast as I sat in my rocking chair one last time before the EMT’s took his body away, endless calls to family and loved ones.
One memory is so clear, and one I can still feel in my body when it surfaces, and that is the burning pain of my breasts. As a breastfeeding mother, my body was producing milk to meet the demands of a hungry, growing infant. As the day wore on, with no child to nurse, my breasts became engorged. I vividly remember sitting on the couch in my living room and feeling the pain of breasts that were too-full of milk. As my breasts became more full, they became hard and hot with shots of searing pain layered over a constant, throbbing, ache.
It wasn’t just the physical pain that was causing my suffering, but there was also the grief this pain held. I had no baby to feed anymore and my own body was betraying me. My body didn’t know that my baby was dead. That first night was filled with so many moments of looking down at my swollen, aching breasts and seeing my tears rain down upon them. The grief and the physical pain were inseparable and inescapable.
Amidst the people coming to help, funeral plans, and just trying to get through each day, I also had to try and soothe my aching breasts until my body realized it did not need to produce any more milk. I tried multiple remedies: showers, hot compresses, cold compresses, boiled cabbage leaves, all to help ease the pain while my body adjusted to the new supply and demand.
My most cherished memory of my brief time with my Cyrus was on a chilly, spring day in our home in the mountains of West Virginia. The wood furnace was blazing and I was stretched out on my couch, listening to Marvin Gaye, and breastfeeding my son. I sang “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You” to him, as he nursed.
“Oh, if I could build my whole world around you, darling
First I’d put heaven by your side
Pretty flowers would grow wherever you walk, honey
And over your head would be the bluest sky
Then I’d take every drop of rain
And wash all your troubles away
I’d have the whole world wrapped up in you, darling
And that would be alright, oh yes it will
If I could build my whole world around you
I’d make your eyes the morning sun
I’d put so much love where there is sorrow
I’d put joy where there’s never been none
Then I’d give my love to you
For you to keep for the rest of your life
Oh, and happiness would surely be ours
And that would be alright, oh, yes it would”
In that moment I felt a peace and overflowing of love that words cannot come close to touching. I felt no small comfort in hearing from the medical examiner that my baby died with a belly full of my milk. Though my pain and grief swirled together and found a home in my breasts, for not one moment do I regret nursing him. I am so grateful for the memory of that moment on the couch with him and every time my body was able to nourish him and keep him close to me.
Links & Credits:
Song written by Harvey Fuqua, Johnny Bristol, and Vernon Bullock
Cyrus’s memorial card – art and design done by friend and artist Rob Sheley