When author Barbara Gates acquired breast cancer, she found healing by recognizing the toughness in her animal community and also learning to trust her body and also the earth.

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August 23, 2010
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While recovering indigenous cancer treatments, ns tried to discover at least a few minutes each day come relax into the large hug of mine yard, to proceed my day-to-day practice the literally lied on the earth. One morning, mine neighbor Sheryl called through the fence, “Barbara, come quick. You’ll never believe this!” as soon as I looked v the fence, I can see the usual heat of cats at their bowls in prior of the garage and also then, in ~ the far end, in vast daylight, a raccoon feeding at the farthest bowl. Sheryl whispered, “It’s a female.”

Indeed, this mama raccoon, she teats distended and red, clearly ravenous after job of nursing her babies, had actually the audacity come forage side by side with the cat in check out of us people. I imagined she exhausted, starving. Challenged to survive, she had felt compelled to leave her cubs in their nest in the shed of part overgrown garden and, without the defense of night, to brave this territory. Now, watch oblivious come the cats, she relocated from bowl to bowl. Suddenly, one cat, defending his food, humped and also hissed. The mama raccoon reared, bared her teeth and also flattened her ears. Darting in ~ her, Sheryl shouted, “Git!” and the raccoon fled. The town hall this exchange, ns felt a kinship through this raccoon that i didn’t understand.

When ns submitted come the technology of radiation, i felt disowned by life. Ns sat in the small hallway in a “lineup” with other green-gowned patients staying clear of each other’s eyes and also watching ominous fellows roll with on gurneys. In the therapy room, technicians brought on conversations over and also through me, arranging mine limbs as if they belonged come a corpse or to be some extension of the equipment. The door clicked shut and also I to be left alone v the Star Wars devices gliding end my breast, and also the high-pitched yammer that the machine.

To counterbalance the touch the the radiation, the machines and the technicians (this touch without contact), I made decision to acquire a massage. Surprised as soon as the masseuse presented herself as a beginner, ns commented ~ above her solid hands, she sure sense in rooting for knots. She called me the for plenty of years before she worked on humans, she had actually massaged horses. As her fingers operated the braided muscle of mine back, ns daydreamed the the tight flank that a mare contract from hours of work-related in the ring. Ns felt my own back as “flank.” v the touch that the horse masseuse and also her story, ns took further threats of imagination, risks in the very way I saw that or what ns was. Ns knew my animal body; i felt sister to the mare; i remembered the raccoon.

Through ring of radiation, I continued to take naps on the earth, to peek v the slats in the fence, and also to spy on that mama raccoon. As I watched her, ns was shaken by opposing feelings. Sometimes I delighted in her, mine heroine. Exactly how brazen she was. What courage she had in complete daylight to insurance claim her place amongst the cats. Various other times, ns disparaged her together thief. In her black color mask, she stole indigenous bowls set up because that the cats. Go the ferocity of she hunger serve her? No! She fear Sheryl, who, rather of offering her food, chased she away. Distraught, I observed myself in this persona. I well-known the pain of the “intruder.”

That pain feel familiar, a difficulty to overturn. Old actions came come mind. After my parents to be divorced, I observed myself as intruder in both mine father’s and my mother’s homes; now in Berkeley, I regularly felt like a gate-crashing brand-new Yorker, and in brand-new York, prefer an infiltrating Californian. Ns wept right into the grass because that the mama raccoon, moved by she ravenousness to rest in, and also for myself, propelled by mine hunger to belong.

As treatments continued, mother at my daughter Katy’s preschool offered to administer my family with dinners. The nourishment I knowledgeable went far beyond the meals themselves. A woman that made among the an initial dinners said, “I thought about you as I was food preparation this and also imagined what foods items would do you strong.” later on that evening, together I ate the lentils and also chickpeas, the tomatoes and carrots, ns remembered this mommy remembering me. Each evening, Katy, mine husband Patrick, and also I ate lasagnas, corn soup and chiles rellenos—grandmothers’ formulas and favorite recipes pass from friend to friend, native these families to ours.

And I continued to it is in nurtured each morning by the soil itself. One morning, throughout an earth-nap, i heard Andy from down the street do plans with Sheryl. Ns listened come them talking with the ago fence. Andy would be gone because that a week, so can Sheryl be certain to placed out extra food because that the cat whose care they shared? Sheryl could be counting on to treatment for cat (and as they got used to the raccoons, for the raccoons, too, in spite of efforts of some next-door neighbors to remove them). My creative thinking stirred. Human being had put out bowls for feral cats in backyards transparent this neighborhood, throughout Berkeley, Oakland, Albany, Richmond and beyond. That knew just how far? as soon as she fed at the cat bowls, this mama raccoon tapped right into a good network the was already there. Was i tapping into such a network together well? might I continue to remainder in this vast net that connectedness, always there, needing just to be recognized?

An image of the countless bowls available me a details romantic solace, however it didn’t analyze for me as a mother. Throughout those months of treatments, i was consumed v fears because that Katy—my tender five-year-old, vulnerable, dependence on me. Often I came to my nap worrying. Is Katy sturdy? Am ns passing on mine upset, my fragility? If i die, what motherly spirit will aid Patrick protect and also nurture her? will Katy understand to look for the bowls that may be out there?

In daydreams around the mama raccoon, I saw her returning to her nest. Strengthened after feeding, she nursed she cubs. Together they grew older, she possibly led castle on foraging expeditions, reflecting them the yards that the ar almsgivers. However on she rounds, she can be trapped in a damaged fence, hit by a car. What if this mama didn’t make it back?

At the end of at some point of worry, my friend Marie said to me, “I have to think that if i weren’t there, the cosmos would take treatment of mine children.” This seemed inconceivable. Together a threat to trust in this. Yet just positing the believed was summary comforting at that scary time.

Now together I sit under in mine old napping spot, visions the the mama raccoon call up warm in my belly. All of sudden I watch it. Mammal to mammal, i feel the pull toward this impassioned mom fighting for food so she can convert it into milk. What is the an essential to mammalness? Mammaries. A mammal mommy is may be to defend her babies in their nest. They grow only since she have the right to nurse.

With chest cancer, I faced a situation in my really mammalness, a sickness in my mammary. Once I was in treatment, Katy and I ongoing a favourite pastime, sharing baths together. Scooping the soap dish right into the water, Katy poured a cooling enjoyment over mine raw, radiated breast, end the hard contour the the hematoma left indigenous surgery. How I loved these bath tub blessings. As I recall them now, floods of other memories go back to me.

So many concerns of this city gal, feeling exterior the cycles the life. When I was about to provide birth, ns did no trust my breasts. Although lock were larger than I had imagined to be possible, the nipples dark and swollen, i didn’t believe that these breasts of mine could ever create milk. When Katy was first born, vigorous and also rosy, how amazed ns was the she could so naturally root for and find mine breasts. Just how relieved, how proud i was—a slipping into grace—when she suckled and also the milk flowed.

This absence of trust is therefore familiar. Together a teenager, ns was afraid my body wouldn’t know exactly how to menstruate, the it wouldn’t know just how to kiss, the it wouldn’t know just how to make love. In ~ forty, as soon as for the an initial time I focused all my initiative on having actually a baby, ns didn’t trust that I’d be able to conceive (despite Patrick’s lively sperm, which, ~ a year of failed attempts, we experienced in all your exuberant task on a slide under the microscope). When pregnant, ns worried. Could I grow a baby and carry she to term? would certainly my body know how to provide birth, how to suckle?

Distrust adhering to distrust (it appears absurd and sad as I look at back), I wondered about that this woman’s body would certainly know exactly how to live the end its nature as mammal, together animal. Now, five years after I first recognized myself in the mama raccoon and also wept below for mine craving, i cleave come this exact same soil. Many times I have felt barred indigenous the primal cycles.

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Yet also now, just feeling these distrusts, I feeling a shift. Lie on the earth beneath the dawn redwood, there’s a welling up of specifically what i mourn. I watch a family tree of mammal mother to i m sorry the raccoon belongs, to which I too belong. V this raccoon mama, ns knew the ache of gift excluded; currently I glimpse a feeling of belonging—to this yard, to this my house terrain where, v the millennia, life has actually germinated, suckled, foraged, died and also reseeded.