“I’m scared,” my sister-in-law sobbed into the phone.
I stopped myself before I said something unhelpful or asinine like, “Don’t be scared.”
Instead I replied, “I imagine you are. I wish I knew what to say or do.”
Peter’s youngest sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. The surgeon scheduled her mastectomy for the end of the week. She called Tuesday morning as I was getting ready for work with a request.
“Do you think you could have your mom call me?” she asked. “I need a mom to talk to. I wish my mom was here.”
Her plea almost incapacitated me. My husband’s mother was gone before I even met him. I know if I were in the same situation, the first person I would call after Peter would be my mom.
“I’ll call her today and ask her to speak with you,” I promised.
“They’re taking my breast,” she said. “And I need a mom to talk to. No offense to you, but I need someone like my own mom,” she apologized.
My sister-in-law is older than me. Even though I am a mom, there is no way that I am a mother figure for her.
“Don’t apologize. I understand,” I assured her.
I was secretly relieved that she wanted to talk to someone else. I can understand her fear about the breast removal since any surgery has risks, but I can’t say that I would be able to relate to her sense of impending loss.
That evening after work, I decided to confide this to Peter.
I tried making light of it. “If I were in your sister’s place, I think you would miss my breast more than me.”
He smiled, but looked at me quizzically.
“You know, the whole purpose of a breast is to provide milk.” I stopped. I was no longer joking.
When I was pregnant, I had decided to breastfeed. It took Philip’s near dehydration when he was a few days old to realize that my body was not producing milk and never would. I still have no idea why my milk never came in despite nursing and pumping. I learned from one of my co-workers what it should feel like, and I simply never experienced that.
Through tears I continued. “I feel like my breasts betrayed me.” My voice barely a whisper I concluded, “I wouldn’t care if they were gone.”
I cried, the pain, the feeling of personal failure and the sense of loss still lingering almost five years later.
“You didn’t hurt him,” Peter said quietly. “He is okay.”
I know he is right. I know I should forgive my body.
I just resent that I didn’t get to be a complete mother figure.