The baby bit my nipple last weekend, putting an abrupt end to our breastfeeding. It wasn’t even while I was nursing him – which may be why it happened. I’d just fed him while sitting at my desk. I saw my husband, Bruce, was still in bed so I brought the baby into the bedroom, and we got back in bed. Everyone was wide awake. The scene was actually a bit raucous, as far as babies and beds go, the difference between laying quietly on a raft that’s floating in a pool and laying on a raft on which someone is jumping up and down, trying to flip you over. Bruce got out of bed to go to the bathroom, and the baby was climbing over the covers and up and down my legs like they were mountains. He then saw my breasts and crawled up to them and started playing with my nipple in his fingers. He stuck his whole mouth on my breast and began sucking. I assumed he wasn’t getting anything because we weren’t in our proper nursing position: me in a chair or leaning against the bed’s headboard, the baby lying on his side facing me. But when he picked his head up, white liquid dribbled out the side of his mouth. It was then that he leaned in toward me again, clamped his mouth around my nipple and bit.
“Ouch!” I said, but he didn’t release his grip. I wanted to smack his head with my hand, but for some reason I couldn’t. I don’t know if it was because he’s my child or because I was in pain and wasn’t thinking logically. He let go after about 10 seconds – which is a lifetime when someone has their teeth around your nipple – and I began to cry. I tried to hide my face so he wouldn’t feel bad. He didn’t. I looked up at him, he started to laugh. He had no idea what he’d done.
I then looked down at the white bed sheet and saw a drop of blood. He’d bit so hard, he broke the skin. I felt nauseated. The world can be divided into people who stand tall in the face of their own blood and those who turn grey and want to vomit. I am the latter. When I saw the blood, I ran into the bathroom and stood over the toilet. Nothing happened. As I stood up, I began to sob because I knew I would no longer be able to breastfeed. He had six teeth now – four on top and two on the bottom – and they’re sharp, like fangs. I know. I’ve fed him bits of cheese and pieces of chicken, and he’s bit down on my finger. It’s like a snake bite, minus the venom. The thought of putting my nipple back inside his mouth made me shudder. I couldn’t do it.
I should probably say, lest anyone think otherwise, the baby did not bite my nipple off. He simply nicked the side of it. But it was enough to put me off. David Hyde Pierce, who plays Frazier Crane’s brother, Niles, on the television series “Frazier,” does a masterful piece of physical comedy about people who can’t stand the sight of their own blood when he attempts to correct the crease in his pants by ironing them, finds a loose thread in his hem, snips it with a scissor and inadvertently nips his finger, making it bleed. He passes out at the sight of his own blood, which eventually leads to his setting a fire on his pants and the couch. He comes to long enough to put out the fire with the dinner he has made for his date, but he then sees his bleeding finger and passes out again, enabling his father’s dog to leap up onto the couch and scarf down the dinner while Niles is unconscious.
I found myself telling anyone who would listen about what happened, imagining they would be sympathetic and understand how I could run screaming from the breastfeeding, but no one seemed horrified. In fact they would offer suggestions about how to deal with it if the baby bit me again. My cousin, whose son had bit her a few times while breastfeeding said if it happens again, flick the baby’s cheek or chin with my finger. Bruce suggested that people are like dogs. If they bite down, you have to jab your finger into their jawbone until you pry the mouth open. Whatever you do, you don’t simply pull away. It only makes the biter clamp down harder. I thought of a pit bull and then of Lorena Bobbitt. I felt weak, the antithesis of the mother who sees her child under a car and lifts it off of him. I’m the mother who tries to lift the car, nicks her finger on the bottom of the bumper, and faints at the sight of her own blood.
With the breastfeeding over, I felt a deep sense of loss, as if there was a death. It had taken so much perseverance and effort for us to make it work, and now it’s finished. It’s not just the end of something but a sign the baby is growing up. We are already moving farther and farther away from those first few weeks, which were exhausting but thrilling because the miracle of childbirth was still so palpable. That period is now over, and I mourn it just like I grow sad every time he outgrows another onesie. But for me, blood trumps sentimentality. I’m sad but not stupid.
For the last few days, I’ve used the breast pump to express the milk from my breasts instead of nursing, and it’s been strange for both of us. The baby will come over and sniff around the breast pump and the bottles, like a dog might sniff around a spot on the floor where food had recently been. He seems to miss something though he’s not sure what. He’ll tug at my shirt sometimes, near my chest, and it tugs at my heart, because I know he wants something that I can no longer give him. Nursing was our special time. No matter how much it seems sometimes like he prefers Bruce to me, he and I always had the nursing. Without it, I fear I’ve lost our special bond. But as I pumped this morning, Bruce gave Eddie a bottle, and when they were done, Bruce put Eddie on the floor. The baby scampered across the living room rug like a crab until he reached my feet. My little buddy, I thought. He’s come over to see his mommy. He then climbed up my leg like it was a rope, stood himself up, and began yanking at the tubes of the breast pump, nearly pulling it off the table.