Tuesday, August 7, 2012


In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I'd like to talk about boobs. 

There are a myriad of reasons that I find myself shocked and ashamed of our country when it comes to birthing and mothering. One such reason is our country's annoying sexualization of the human body. This is something that has always bothered me, but when I conceived a child, I became more bothered by it than ever. 

I've always been closer to the nudist colony side of the modesty spectrum, so it's not entirely shocking that I have a problem with the shame and self-consciousness over our bodies that plagues us in this country. After giving birth, it now feels downright ridiculous. I have often heard that giving birth strips you of your self-consciousness and I wholeheartedly agree with that. It's kind of difficult to give birth and be modest at the same time. I mean, that baby is going to come out of your vagina whether or not you feel cool with it. And, at least a few people are going to have to witness it. So, let's face it, once a room full of people (some of whom you've never met before) have seen your bare ass up in the air as you try to push a human being out of you while on all fours, or you've had a nurse stick a bed pan under you so you can pee in bed (and then that same nurse cleans you up after said peeing has occurred), or you've had four hands inside you at once as they try to help your baby out, or you've had a blot clot the size of a tangerine fall out of your vagina, right onto a nurse's foot…..well…..you are less inclined to feel the need to cover up your bare body out of shame or embarrassment.

After I gave birth—in a room full of eight people, two cameras, and a video camera—I saw little need to cover up. Halfway through the pushing phase of labor, I yanked my hospital gown off, and remained naked until about an hour after my baby was born. The rest of my hospital stay, I only put on clothes when family came to visit. The rest of the time, though there was hospital staff coming and going constantly, I hung out in bed with my baby on my bare chest, rocking nothing but the enormous mesh underwear the nurses bless you with after birth. I wanted my baby to have all the skin-to-skin contact she needed (and you are urged to do so by doctors/midwives/baby books). I also knew my baby needed to nurse constantly. Why would I put clothes on when I had to take them off every hour? 

And so, the great boob exposure began. Every nurse, doctor, midwife, pediatrician, blood drawer, housekeeper and delivery person on the maternity ward had to deal with it. The interesting thing was that I rarely even noticed that my boobs were out…..unless I got a strange or uncomfortable look. And yes, there were some uncomfortable looks. That is where my annoyance over the sexualization of the female breast began to grow. I was in a HOSPITAL where one would expect a bare human body to be no big deal (as far as doctors and nurses are concerned, at the very least), AND I had just given birth so my baby obviously needed feeding round-the-clock. Also, the nurses wrote me daily reminders to make sure to get plenty of skin-to-skin time with my infant. But, even under those conditions, a couple of nurses and doctors looked visibly uncomfortable to walk into the room and see me sitting in my bed in only my underwear.

Then I went home. And began living in the normal world, as a mother of a small baby, a baby who is breastfed. 

My breasts haven't felt like sexual objects since before I was pregnant. As a pregnant woman, my body became a body—a beautiful, strong, miraculous body able to create and nourish life. And that feeling only multiplied after giving birth and breastfeeding. My vagina births babies, my breasts feed babies. And why can't we appreciate that? Why does everything in this country have to be about sex? Why do I need to use a "hooter hider" to feed my baby in public (I had one gifted to me, but never use it). 

I'm not saying that I never cover my breasts while feeding my baby in public—when I am in public places that feel breast-feeding friendly, I don't hesitate to whip a bare boob out, and when I'm not, I'm a little more discreet. But, being discreet sometimes feels as if I am valuing random strangers' discomfort/horror over my baby's need to eat. And that. That makes me feel sad, because this country has imprinted its sexualized ideals into my psyche thus causing me to feel I have something to hide or be ashamed of for fear of offending somebody. OR, I am feeling the eyes of someone leering at me who clearly has a sexualized view of breasts, and I simply want to make that stop. 

My point is, I am now in a mind space where I often forget my breast is even exposed (there have been several accidental boob exposures after forgetting to snap my shirt back together after a feeding) yet I am often reminded that the vast majority of the population hasn't been freed from limited thinking. We are a highly sexualized society, with half-naked women on billboards and magazine covers, half-naked women starring in movies, pornographic material clogging up our computers, young girls dressing provocatively well before they've even developed breasts. But, at the same time, we are highly ashamed of our bodies and find birthing videos and breastfeeding in public offensive. There is a total disconnect here. 

I'm not a crusader, but I do think this is an important discussion—discussing it is what makes others think and consider an issue. In an ideal world, I'd love to see this country change its thinking. But, for now, I suppose I am making others think about the issue every time I accidentally (or knowingly, without a care) flash them. I'm doing my part, one boobie at a time. 

All I know is that right now, as I write this, my baby is lying next to me in bed, latched onto my breast, drifting off to sleep completely content and it's one of the most beautiful, heart-warming moments of my day. It's crazy to me that this could ever be seen as offensive. The end.  

First feeding

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