Breasts are utilitarian.
I realized this after giving birth and beginning to breastfeed my baby. This realization was, I can almost guarantee, not a unique experience for a woman…with breasts…who decides to feed her newborn.
And, for a little while, my breasts were more than newly discovered nourishment for life. They were two parts of my body that hurt, and bled, and cracked, and that I hated as much as I felt gratitude for them—until this nursing-mother difficulty subsided and meshed into normalcy; into a part of life that was routine.
I’ve breastfed two children so far. I’m currently within my second round of nursing a toddler, which is an entirely different experience than a smaller baby.
My toddler now, for instance, tells me when she wants to nurse. I no longer have to guess. She also looks around the living room for a toy to bring with her. (These days, I’m typically found breastfeeding a baby that simultaneously looks at a book underneath my armpit.)
I started to wonder, “Is she too old?” But I repeatedly come back to, “No.”
She wants to nurse and, frankly, she’s not even 18 months old, and she really only likes to drink water. (Trust me, I’ve tried everything—she really likes water…and breastfeeding.)
I stopped nursing my oldest child a few months after she turned two, and that was largely a schedule issue. (I was taking a yoga teacher training, and it ran past her bedtime; forcing me to finally give up our still ongoing nightly nursing.)
I don’t know exactly when I’ll stop nursing my youngest because, as parents often find, we can have plans, but plans with kids are meant to change.
While I am a (pro-)nursing mom, I get sick of seeing boobs pop up constantly on my Facebook newsfeed, and on the online websites I read. It’s partly my own doing, since I actively support artists, like photographers, who themselves support breastfeeding. I read parenting sites. In short, I—a breastfeeding, nursing-advocate mother—am the ideal candidate for these types of stories.
Yet they still get old.
Perhaps it’s especially since I see my own breasts several times a day, and since I’ve had friends that breastfeed, and because I do feel that it’s normal and natural (for those that choose to nourish babies this way). Maybe it’s because of this utilitarian, practical experience with my breasts, that these pro-breast posts begin to feel not only unnecessary, but almost counterproductive.
In some way, it has begun to feel slightly exclusionary of women who choose to not breastfeed. We nursing mamas are so ready to defend are rights that I’m noticing a near-equal amount of articles about why it’s okay to choose formula feeding.
It’s kind of like the “post-baby body” campaign. I’ve written on this topic myself, primarily to offer—like many other new mothers—that comparison to our bodies “before” and “after” children isn’t healthy, for ourselves or for our children or for feminist society in general. Still, we need to talk about why it’s important to normalize breastfeeding. We need to address, too, that our bodies change from having children—we change.
My breasts have bounced between sizes I never thought I would see myself in—A to C to DD. Unexpectedly, however, I didn’t care about what size my breasts were, because my focus has consistently been on “simple” things like wearing bras that won’t leak or shirts that I can open up easily.
I’ve also walked around the NICU with pretty much only pants on, and I’ve accidentally given the UPS guy a glimpse of me in just my bra. This is part of life as a nursing mother, and this functional comfort with my body is a lot of why I think it’s such a wonderful experience for a woman to go through.
I fell more in love with my body after each child that I bore. Each cycle of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding reminded me of how strong, capable and loving my body is for me and for my children. But my boobs are mine. They don’t belong to my husband. They don’t belong to my kids. They—like the rest of me; mind, body and heart—are mine to care for, love and offer to others.
I wish for every mother out there who wants to breastfeed the opportunity to experience it.
I want for each mom the freedom to not feel shamed for properly caring for her children in public.
I hope for every woman–my own daughters one day, too—the ability to feel comfortable in our own skin.
Maybe it’s time we not put the boobs away, but we consider that there’s a point where empowerment and pride shift uncomfortably towards financial branding and—pun intended—over-exposure; when we are potentially, inadvertently creating more of a problem than uncovering one.