Archive for the ‘boobs’ Category

Why Don’t You Leave Your Name And Your Number And I’ll Get Back To You?

June 2, 2009

This, for those of you following at home, is called phoning it in.

I am so exhausted from a weekend visiting in-laws – during which Emilia took up drumming and basketball and other activities more ordinarily associated with teenage boys than preschool girls – and I think that I’m coming down with something and, also, probably suffering from an iron-deficiency and so I’m having real trouble summoning the creative energies to say anything profound or funny or even remotely interesting.

Shown: Hoodlum, Preschool Female v.2.0

So I am, for today, just going to have to direct you elsewhere:

1) I’m not sure, but I think that whoever is writing this blog knows my kid. Hang on: maybe it is my kid. Whichever one of you taught her how to blog, you’re fired.

2) This is me wringing my hands about Bill O’Reilly. Look how much fun I’m having! My joy is almost palpable. NOT.

3) You know how you’re always telling me that I never update you on stuff, like how is my nephew Zachary, the one who was so deathly ill last fall? Well, I don’t need to, because my mother is on top of that. You’ll be interested – or not – to know that he’s well enough to be having teh sex. I’m going to pretend that I didn’t just write that.

3) I didn’t write this, but I wish that I had.

4) Boobs.

That’s all that I’ve got. Sorry.

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Requiem For A Boob

May 28, 2009

When I was a kid, my mom used to joke about her boobs. “They’re tube socks!” she’d hoot. “I have to roll them up to get them in my bra.”

I would cringe and recoil. “Mom,” I’d hiss. “You’re embarrassing me.”

“Why are you so red, honey?”

“Because you’re embarrassing me.”

“I’m just talking about tube socks.”

“You’re talking about your boobs.”

“Sweetie, my boobs are tube socks because I bore and birthed you and your sister, so if hearing about it embarrasses you, well, tough.”

Then she’d cross her eyes and stick out her tongue at me. I’d run to my room at that point and discreetly peer down the front of my shirt and wonder whether I’d ever have any kind boobs, let alone the tube sock kind. Although I’d have preferred not the tube sock kind, at that point in my adolescence I’d have been happy with just about anything.

Ah, the deluded innocence of youth.

I grew boobs, eventually. They were never all that impressive – I was always skinny, with the type of cleavage that, in nature, attends skinny bodies – but they were there, and they were kind of cute. Perky. The kind of breasts that you never called tits or gazongas or hooters or even just boobs. You referred to them to them in the diminutive – boobies – or in the unsexed abstract – chest. So it was that when I got pregnant and, later, began lactating and those puppies grew – like, seriously, epically grew, like frightened puffer fish – I was both alarmed and thrilled. I had hooters. I had gazongas. I had BOOBS.

For a few uncomfortable but nonetheless thrilling years, I had a rack, and it was spectacular.

And now it’s gone.

Gone, disappeared, deflated, defunct. It’s as if, after watching me wean Jasper and my husband get his parts snipped, Nature herself gave my body the once-over and said well, you won’t be needing those any more, will you? and unceremoniously removed them from my person.

They’re gone now, and I miss them. I miss them, not only because they really were kind of epic – and what girl doesn’t fantasize, occasionally, secretly, about what it would be like to have epic boobs? – but because Nature, in all of her douchey wisdom, did not restore my chest to its modest but nonetheless entirely presentable profile. Nature, being the stone-cold bitch-goddess that she is (the very same one who gave us menstrual cycles and the pain of childbirth and the indignity of random chin hairs), turned my boobs into tube socks. Just like my mother’s.

Except smaller. Small tube socks. The tube socks of an adolescent boy with irregularly-sized feet. Because, yes, one is actually – oh, god – smaller than the other.

Which is why, when I found myself, yesterday, in the fitting room of the lingerie department, desperately trying to find a bra into which my breasts would not just disappear like a pathetic wad of crumpled tissue, I lasted all of three minutes before bursting into tears.

It’s not that I want – what are the kids calling it these days? – a bangin’ bod. I’d be happy with a bod that just pinged a little. I just want to not to not look in the mirror and cringe. Which I know goes against everything that I said a few months ago, but a few months ago I had boobs. Muffin-tops and extra ass-padding are one thing when you have the upper curves to balance everything out. They’re quite another when your upper body looks like a deflated pool toy.

I’m straining to accept this new incarnation of me, to learn to love it as I’ve learned to love all the other incarnations. But I am finding, now, as summer approaches and I wrap my head and heart around the fact (is it fact? is it? I am still struggling with this) that I will have no more children, that I am still, in my way, vain, and that I want my beauty back. Maybe not the same beauty, the same body, the same sweet boobs of youth, but something, anything, that makes me swell with just a little bit of pride when I look in the mirror.

Or maybe just a tit-inflater. Anybody got one of those?

Rainy Days And Mondays And, Also, Zombies, Get Me Down

March 23, 2009

I don’t have anything personal against Monday. It’s not like Monday’s ever done anything to me that she – oh, don’t give me that, you know Monday’s a she – hasn’t done to every other living being on the planet – pine beetles hate Monday too, pass it on – it’s just, you know, Monday. BLAH. I’m just never ready for it.

(I know. I work at home. In my pajamas. So what am I complaining about? I work at home in my pajamas, surrounded by chaos, with a baby chewing on my leg and a three-year old shrieking at eardrum-shattering volume and cats dragging dismembered Dora dolls under the sofa for further gutting. It’s like Resident Evil around here, but with babies instead of zombies and no Milla Jovovich coming with a team of commandos to save me. So.)

Where was I? Right. Monday.


It is Monday and I have had neither sufficient caffeine nor B12 vitamins to kick-start anything approximating energy or will or lifeforce and so all you get from me today is what you got last Monday: weak jokes and some links.

1) CNN linked to me today. But it was about breastfeeding stuff and we all know how that goes. Wee bit of a traffic spike, but also: mean e-mails! And stupid comments! Telling me to COVER UP MAH BOOBEEZ K THX!

Can I just put this out there? Could everyone out there who is skeeved, squicked or otherwise disgusted by breastfeeding (in any and all of its forms) please find a more interesting way to express your belief that your right to not be skeeved, squicked or yucked overrides my child’s right to be nourished than EW BOOBIES GROSS WHY CAN’T YOU JUS COVER THEM SELFISH BISH?!?!? Or, maybe you could, just, you know, look away?
Thanks.

2) My mother is persisting with this whole blogging thing. And now she’s threatening to be – quote – ‘a thorn in (my) side.’ Also, she wants to tell you about the ‘deep V’ tanline caused by her grandma-boobs and bitch about her bifocals and, maybe, give other grandparents advice on how to torment their children by corrupting their grandchildren. This is either going to be really terrible or really awesome. Probably both.

3) The Basement. It’s not a happy place today.

4) No, I didn’t purchase the DVD of the movie Twilight this weekend. I wanted to, though. Mostly because I’ve heard that Robert Pattinson’s commentary is bust-a-gut hysterical (Robert Pattinson, who is on record describing his character thusly: “When you read the book,” says Pattinson, looking appropriately pallid and interesting even without makeup, “it’s like, ‘Edward Cullen was so beautiful I creamed myself.’ I mean, every line is like that. He’s the most ridiculous person who’s so amazing at everything. I think a lot of actors tried to play that aspect. I just couldn’t do that. And the more I read the script, the more I hated this guy, so that’s how I played him, as a manic-depressive who hates himself. Plus, he’s a 108-year-old virgin so he’s obviously got some issues there.” How can you not love this guy?) and I could totally get on board with having my gut figuratively busted.

Instead, I just read pretty much the entirety of Cleolinda’s commentary on everything Twilight. And busted a gut. Seriously. BETTER THAN THE BOOKS. Almost.

5) They should do a remake of Resident Evil, but with cats. They could get a Siamese to play Milla Jovovich’s role. That’d be funny.


This is the shit I think about on Mondays. It’s a kind of hell.

(Closing comments because, seriously, I am exhausted UP TO HERE with debating breastfeeding. Comments are still open at the CNN-linked post, but having responded to one stupid comment there I am already spent and have given up. Reading about Twilight is a far better use of my time today.)

Shame And The Written Mom

March 13, 2009

Husband: “So, that whole thing, earlier this week? That made you a little crazy, didn’t it?”

Me: “Yeah. Kinda.”

Husband: “Why? Why did it bother you so much?”

Me: “——-?”

Me: “——-.”

I tell stories for a living. Mostly, I tell my own stories, the stories of my motherhood, and reflections on same. I do it because I love to do it. I do it because it has become, in some ways, almost like breathing: automatic, unavoidable, necessary. I do it because I believe in it: making public the lived experience of motherhood is, I think, crucial to empowering mothers, because it allows us to share, out in the open, where everyone can see, what motherhood is really like, once we’ve stripped away the glossy magazine covers and the laundry detergent commercials and the longstanding cultural insistence that family be private, that mothering be private, that we just hush, and not talk about how hard and how terrifying and how utterly, confoundingly, gloriously complicated this whole experience is.

I also do it because I’m vain, and because I crave approval.

Someone (actually, more than one someone) commented on the post of the other day that if I’m committed to telling my stories publicly, to mothering publicly, then I should just accept that I will face criticism and judgment. Moreover – some commenters added, here and elsewhere – since I am semi-well-known for what I do (I never know how to talk about this semi-sort-of-little-bit well-knownness. Being well known in any capacity on the Internet is, I think, kind of like being well-known in Korea for that one karaoke video that you “acted” in that one time: meaningless to anybody outside of a micro-specialized niche of aficionados, and so very probably meaningless in any broader socio-cultural context. Which is to say, nothing to brag about) it is disingenuous and/or hypocritical for me to claim to be bothered by criticism or judgment or whatever slings and arrows get hurled my way. I blog because I’m shameless, right? And I’ve earned some recognition for being shameless, right? So what’s the problem?

The problem is that I’m not shameless. I sometimes wish that I were: Socrates described himself as shameless, and argued that any true philosopher is by definition shameless, because the true philosopher loves wisdom/truth above all else, and certainly above any concern for social approval. If you’re going to interrogate social mores to the fullest extent possible, you need to be above them, at least intellectually. Shame (understood classically) is what we feel when we cower under some disapproving social gaze. It is not – contrary to what someone asserted in comments the other day – what we feel when we know that we’ve done something wrong (although we might feel shame under those circumstances); it is not necessarily associated with guilt. One can believe whole-heartedly that one is entirely in the right with a given action or behaviour, but still feel shamed by the disapproving reaction of some portion of one’s community. We can feel shame for living in poverty, for loving a member of the same sex, for breastfeeding publicly, if any measure of social disapproval is directed at those things. It doesn’t mean that we feel guilty for those things, that we feel in any way blameworthy – it means that social approval matters to us, and that social disapproval stings.

I am vulnerable to being hurt by social disapproval. It doesn’t matter whether that disapproval comes from one person, or a hundred, or a thousand, or more. I’m vulnerable to it. I fell vulnerable to it earlier this week. (All please note: what follows is not an invitation to direct further opprobrium against anyone who expressed such disapproval. These are my feelings, I am owning them and trying to make sense of them, nothing else.)

As it goes, the shame that I experienced earlier this week had – at least at first – little to do with my writing or my public persona. I felt shamed (note the distinction here: I did not feel ashamed of myself – I felt that I had been shamed, effectively, by the exercise of social disapproval toward some action on my part) for an action that I took in real life, that took place in the arena of lived space as opposed to written space. I did something and was observed and my actions were held up (in a misleading manner, which, as everyone knows by now, bothered me to no end) for interrogation and judged. Which, if that interrogation and judgment had occurred in some private space, or had remained unknown to me, might have been no big deal, but it occurred in a public space and was made known to me and so I felt – in a way that was different from how I would feel, have felt, about being judged for my writing or my online persona (I usually take that in stride. I’ve had lots of practice) – shamed. My real-life self had been observed doing some real-life thing and that real-life self was judged, publicly, and so that real-life self felt shamed.

My online self, my written self, was, of course, not completely detached from this experience. I made public my act, by Tweeting about it. I fully intended to blog about it. I had most of that post already scripted in my head. I was a little bit in love with it, to be frank: it was going to sort through all of my complicated feelings and ambivalences and reflections about what had transpired. I was going to tell the story as I wanted to tell it. It was not going to be a story about whether nursing another woman’s child was the right or wrong thing to do – there was no doubt in my mind that there was nothing wrong with it, even though I knew that it was not something that everybody would do, and even though I knew that some people, even people that I love and respect, would find it off-putting – it was going to be a story about what the experience was like, and about my complicated feelings surrounding it (for example, that it was an act that was both intimate and not intimate, that it felt both ordinary and extraordinary, that I initially felt a little afraid to do it, etc). But I was not able to tell that story, because sometime in the late hours of Monday I heard word that I had already been judged for my actions and I made the mistake of seeking out that judgment and reading it for myself and becoming upset by it and the rest, as they say, is history.

Part of my upset, in other words, was that I felt robbed of my story. It had become someone else’s story, told in a different way and with different and misleading details and I no longer had any control over it. It took on a life of its own and my feelings about it changed and I felt that, in addition to having been shamed, I had been robbed of my experience and my ability to define the terms of expressing and sharing that experience. I don’t necessarily have any rights to those things, but still: the deprivation of them hurt. Had I written about the experience myself and received shaming comments (by which I do not mean comments that expressed disagreement, but which attached moral judgment to that disagreement, i.e. it is wrong to do that, you were wrong to do that, women who do that are disgusting, etc.) I could have addressed them directly, on my own terms (or, yes, deleted them). I could have incorporated them into the larger story – which was not, as I originally imagined it, about mothers being shamed, but about trust and intimacy and support and community in motherhood, and also, maybe, about eros in motherhood (not in the sexual sense, but, rather, the classical sense. What of our profound physical and emotional connections to our children? How are these disrupted or affirmed by something like nursing another child?) – and controlled the impact of that shaming upon, and its place within, the story that I was telling.

That, obviously, was not to be. And so the story became something else entirely, and I struggled with and against the experience of feeling shamed and with and against the feeling of having lost control of my story, and it made me, yes, a little crazy. A little crazy and a lot exhausted. But beyond that crazy there was reflection, and reflection is good, right? I know now that I’m not as thick-skinned as I thought; I know, too, that I am – rightly or wrongly – possessive of my stories – told or untold – in a way that is much more intense than I understood. I learned more than I wanted to of the personal experience of shame, and I know that I have no desire to revisit it. But I am a writer and a woman who remains committed to sharing, publicly, the experience of her motherhood and of her life, generally, and so I know that critique is inevitable and judgment is inevitable and, probably, some further experience of shame is inevitable. The first I will embrace, as best I can; the second I will tolerate, as best I can. The third, I hope to continue to fight, however weakly, however awkwardly, however ineffectually, because although criticism is good, and judgment to some extent inevitable, shaming – when it is directed at any action or behaviour that is (and I realize that these are fluid concepts) well-intentioned and/or harmless and/or necessary and/or none of anyone else’s damn business regardless of how public the action is or how well-known the actor is (Salma Hayek, call me!) – is neither of those things. And the only way that I know how to fight that kind of shame is by continuing to tell my stories as if shaming didn’t matter. As if I was, in fact, shameless, in the best sense of that word.

That, and I’m going to make sure that the next time I go traipsing down the Internet rabbit hole in pursuit of stories being told about me? That I just don’t.

They Shoot Wet Nurses, Don’t They?

March 10, 2009

Her name was Laura, and I nursed her baby.

We had met, initially, at breakfast and immediately hit it off. We sat down with our coffees and immediately got swept up in a conversation that ran the gamut from the advantages of Twitter over Facebook to the challenges of leaving one’s baby for a night. Which is precisely what I had done: I had left my baby to attend a symposium on parenting. And it was, as I told Laura over coffee, in some ways profoundly liberating, and in others completely terrifying. Also, my boobs hurt. Badly. I had forgotten my breast pump and an hour of hand-expressing in the shower that morning hadn’t helped much. I didn’t mention that part, though. I just said, I miss my baby.

She said, I know. Her own baby – a dark-haired sprite, just one year old – bounced happily on her knee. I would find it hard to leave her.

Yeah.

I liked her. I offered to help her sort out her Twitter/Facebook conundrum, and introduce her to some New York area bloggers. She invited me to a parenting event in Albany later in the month. We chatted throughout the day. The chirps and coos of her baby reminded me of my own chirping, cooing baby, who had accompanied me in the previous month to two conferences, who I was unaccustomed to being without, especially in this environment. My heart hurt, and my breasts ached. They ached. I kept my arms pressed against my chest for most of the morning.

At lunch I fled to my room and tried, unsuccessfully, to hand-express. I returned to the symposium, and sat down near Laura, and another woman that I had met that day. We were supposed to have a conversation about our parenting successes, or something like that. I said, you’ll have to count me out. I’m in a lot of pain and don’t know what to do. I huddled on the chair, squeezing the rock-hard contours of my chest as tightly as I could without screaming. I explained about the missing breast-pump, the terrible ache of my engorged breasts, the hours remaining before I would see my son. The other woman asked, is there a store nearby? I shook my head – the concierge had told me that there were no pharmacies in the immediate area. Laura cocked her head thoughtfully, and looked at her daughter, who was beginning to fuss. Would you consider, maybe… I know it sounds sorta weird, but… I have no problem with it, and she’s hungry… She looked at me, and waited.

Really?

Really.

I paused. My head spun, a little. Would I do this, really? Would it be weird? And then I thought, no. There’s nothing weird here. Boobs are boobs. Breastmilk is breastmilk, in all of its liquid gold glory. I bond with my son when we nurse, but it is not because he is latched to my breast. It is because I have him in my arms, and because I love him. Our intimacy derives from that love, and that love would be just as forceful if I fed him with a bottle. So would it be weird if someone else fed him from a bottle? No, of course not. These are only acts of nurture, whether they involve the bottle or the breast. And this is what the breast is made for.

I nodded, and reassured Laura that as a nursing mom I did not take any substances or medications that might compromise my milk.

And so. I took Laura’s daughter in my arms and she smiled at me and I lifted my shirt and she happily bent her head and drank her fill.

(Was it weird? No. It was different. Describing the thoughts and emotions that accompany nursing another woman’s child requires more space than I have here. It was intimate, but not inappropriately so – no more inappropriately intimate than someone holding your baby and cooing in his ear, whispering sweet baby nothings. If anything, it brought me to a deeper, more visceral understanding of my body as a miracle of biology, as a work of nature that is built to do certain things, one of those thing being – in my case; this is not necessarily true for every woman, and no woman is lesser for not being able to do it – nursing babies. My breasts are not sacred or magical objects, they are not quivers full of milk-arrows that can and must only be directed to blood-offspring. They provide milk. They nourish. They are both utterly mundane and terrifically awe-inspiring for that fact.)

I was grateful – so, so grateful – for Laura and her child; their generosity and open-mindedness and open-heartedness saved me a great deal of pain. At the end of the day, a mother was released from some considerable discomfort, and a child was nourished. Wonderful, no?

Well, as it happens: no. Not for everybody. Someone was watching, and someone did not like what they saw. Someone was watching and decided that what I had done was deviant. Irresponsible. Disgusting. Eww. So she wrote a post describing, in entirely misleading terms (we were total strangers! we had no discussion about it! a lady just blithely and irresponsibly passed her baby to a total stranger without a word! and that stranger – me, if you’re keeping track – might have been diseased!) (she has since admitted to me that her representation of what happened was misleading), what she saw and explaining why she thought it was wrong. And it was wrong, from her point of view. Unsanitary. Dangerous. Wrong. Her commenters went even further: why, I might have AIDS! Be homeless! A drug user! Sexually loose! In fact, was what I’d done really any different from wandering into a bar and asking some strange man to grope my titties? Really? Also: AIDS! Or some other horrible virus. That, and my boobs – this helpfully noted by the author – were probably unsanitary, to boot. Also, I’d probably been drinking.

I can’t even begin to describe how hurtful it was to read these things. This was me they were talking about. And Laura, who was as lovely a woman as I had ever met. Laura and I had just met, sure, but I think that we both hoped that we were becoming friends. And we share a belief – a healthy, woman-affirming, baby-adoring belief – that we mothers are all in this together, that we’re all served and enriched when we trust each other and help each other. She had a hungry baby; I had excruciatingly painful breasts that needed to be released of their milk. We came together with our needs. You’re welcome to say that you couldn’t see yourself doing this; you are welcome, even, to cringe and shudder a bit in distaste. Whatever. We all have our issues. Just don’t flaunt your disgust. And certainly don’t use it to publicly shame mothers who make choices that you might not make. What I do with my boobs – what any mother does to ensure that her baby gets fed – is none of your business. And your public expression of disgust and alarm hurts. It hurts me, it hurts all of us. It reinforces the idea that breasts and breastfeeding hover on the very razor’s edge of shamefulness, that these things on our chests are somehow, in some way, dirty and icky and bad, unless we operate them under the very strictest rules of propriety (only if they’re covered up! only if it’s your own baby! only if it doesn’t make us uncomfortable! only if WE SAY IT’S OKAY!)

Memo to everybody: these? Are not your boobies. They are mine. And my babies? Also mine. I will nurture and nourish them as I see fit, and I will champion any other mother to do the same. Your disgust, your judgment threatens to undermine us, weaken us, take away some of our power as mothers who demand to make their own way and their own rules. Which, fuck that.

This is MY motherhood. These are MY boobs.

Hands off.

Memo to everybody: in case you missed what I said above – “You’re welcome to say that you couldn’t see yourself doing this; you are welcome, even, to cringe and shudder a bit in distaste” – I’ll say it again (it seems that I need to): you are welcome to disagree with I did, and/or with what Laura did. You are welcome to say that you would not do this. You are welcome to voice a contrary opinion. I encourage it. I’m fascinated by so many elements of this discussion (not least, something that one commenter brought up – trust and community. Under what circumstances do we choose to trust or not trust each other, to take each others’ words, or not do? Laura trusted me when I said that I was healthy and not taking anything that might compromise my milk. Perhaps this had everything to do with my appearance, or with the fact that I was obviously a nursing mother, or perhaps just with the fact that she had decided that I was simply worth trusting. I was moved by this. We need more of this kind of generosity of spirit in daily life) and I enjoy hearing different opinions. What I don’t like: inappropriately expressed judgment or shaming. That’s the whole point of the latter part if this post: shaming hurts everybody. If you’re here to express an opinion, respectfully – great. I’ll support and defend that. But if you’re here to call names or point fingers or say anything that you wouldn’t say to someone you loved, then maybe just turn back now.

Let’s be kind.

Which means, too – and forgive me if it seems hoity for me to take this on – that everybody is very welcome to NOT direct opprobrium at the blogger mentioned here. This has no doubt been hard on her, and although I remain hurt and (yes, am juvenile) angry, I do not want her to be put through any more of a ringer than she already has. Please. Both she and I deserve some peace around this.

Comments on this post are now closed. I’m happy to read other posts on the subject – yes, even they disagree with milksharing – so if you write about it, please do let me know.

Dear WestJet: Customer Service, UR DOIN IT RONG

September 29, 2008

WestJet – as you know if you saw the addendum to my last post – finally had something to say about the flurry of letters (including one from me) and posts concerning their policies on in-flight nursing after I was asked to cover up on one of their flights a few weeks ago, and damn if they didn’t manage to just make things just a little bit worse.

They did state – in direct contradiction to their first replies to some of you – that their policy is to never interfere with a nursing mother, and to not ask women to cover-up. Which: good. But they insisted upon prefacing that statement with a few pissy remarks concerning the blogosphere’s persistence in bitching about this matter which – according to them – occurred this past July and for which they’ve already apologized. So, hurray! The WestJet Owner Responsible For Placating All Those Stupid Complainers didn’t bother to read any of the letters or the posts or MY LETTER or MY POST addressing the incident involving ME in September – she just glanced at the screen and saw the word BREAST and assumed that it had something to do with something else from some other time – and decided to disregard. Which: awesome.

They suck. Am going to try to get an hour’s sleep or two before I decide whether or not I have sufficient energy to stay angry about this. You can find relevant links in the addendum to this post (just scroll to the bottom. I don’t even have the energy to put the extra links in here. AM SO DONE.)

Under The Blanket

September 9, 2008

It was the kind of thing that would have outraged me, had it happened any other day, any other week. It was the kind of thing that would have had me out of my seat, demanding explanation. It was the kind of thing that I would have written letters about, that I would have blogged and twittered and shared, about which I would have said, I would have hollered, to anyone who would listen, look, this just shouldn’t happen, we need to make sure that this doesn’t happen, why the f*ck does this still happen?

But it was the wrong day, the wrong week, and I just wasn’t up for it because my heart was too heavy and my head was too full and the last thing I needed was an argument with a flight attendant about whether or not I really should cover myself up with a blanket while nursing.

When she approached me in my seat near the back of the plane, blanket in hand, I ignored her. Jasper was tucked in at my breast, wrapped in his own blanket, his head pressed against the white half-moon of flesh that was barely visible beneath him. His head was damp from the stream of tears that had been running down my cheeks from the moment of our departure, the tears that I’d held back while saying my goodbyes. I bent my head over his, shielding my face, my breast, my baby, my tears from view with the veil of my hair. I didn’t even look up when she spoke to me.

Excuse me, perhaps you’d like to cover up with a blanket?

I don’t answer.

I brought a blanket for you.

She crouches slightly, bending closer. I gather my voice. I’m afraid that it will crack.

I’m fine, thank you.

She stands up, still holding the blanket in front of me.

Well. Perhaps I’ll leave it with you?

I don’t answer.

She reaches across me, across Jasper, and drops the blanket on the empty seat beside me. If you need help with it, let me know.

Thank you, I say, my jaw clenched, my throat closed. I am trying to not cry anymore than I already am.

Some women are more comfortable nursing with a blanket. I can’t see her, my head bent as it is, but I imagine that she stiffens defensively.

My tears are getting hot. I swallow my anger.

Thank you.

And then she walked away, and I kept my head bent over my baby for as long as he nursed and as long as he slept and until the tension in the back of my neck became too much to bear.

I didn’t say anything. I had always though that if that happened to me, I would say something. That I would I would ask why she was pressing the blanket upon me, that I would ask if it was WestJet policy to ‘suggest’ to nursing mothers that they cover up, that I would say that if I was comfortable with blankets I would have one with me, that I would say that no nursing mother wants a stranger bent over her while she nurses, asking if she wouldn’t rather cover up for privacy, that I would, if I had the nerve, ask are you serious? Are you really serious? Do you not see that I might be offended, be made more uncomfortable, by your hovering, by your suggestion that I cover up? To say, no nursing mother should ever be told to cover up. To say, it is my right, it is my child’s right, to nurse and be nursed here, right here, right now, in the manner that best serves us both. To say, fuck your blanket.

I always thought that I would say something, if it happened to me.

I hadn’t figured that I might, if happened to me, be caught in an anxious, unguarded moment, that I might be feeling vulnerable, that my heart might be sore, that I might not be the cocky self-assured self that I can be when I’m protected by my words, by the screen, by the condition of being virtual. I hadn’t thought that, in the reality of such a moment, I might just fold under the weight of my anxieties and my hurts and my self-consciousness about those anxieties and hurts, about my self-consciousness, full stop, and just want to disappear. Under a blanket, maybe.

Which is precisely the problem, as I’ve said before. A nursing mother is very often a mother at her most vulnerable. A nursing mother traveling – a nursing mother traveling on her own – a nursing mother traveling on her own and weeping – is almost certainly a mother at her most vulnerable. To approach woman under these circumstances to suggest that she do something to modify her behavior is to exploit her vulnerability. It is – and maybe this is too strong a statement, although on the basis of my own experience I think not – to bully.

I wish that I had the emotional strength right now to be more outraged about this. I wish that I had the emotional strength, even, to express a measure of outrage that amounts to more than this heavy sighing, this defeated complaint. I wish that I had the mental and emotional wherewithal to write a letter, to send an e-mail, to make a phone call. But I don’t. I’m spent, completely and totally spent. Everything that I have is going toward supporting my family and keeping my own emotional ballasts stable. There was, there is, nothing left over.

All there was to do, all there is to do, is to take cover under the blanket, and hope that it doesn’t smother.

*******

One of you, anonymously, took the initiative to get the contact information for media relations at WestJet. If you’re so inclined to express your opposition to policies advocating the blanketing of nursing babies on airplanes, here it is: Gillian Bentley, Media Relations, e-mail: gbentley@westjet.com.

Many of you have told me that you’ve already sent e-mails linking to this post. You are all so, so awesome. It’s warming, to be so surrounded by heroes, bare-breasted or otherwise.

You Got A Problem With My Boobies, PUNK?

August 8, 2008

Yesterday, I took my brood to the library. It’s a lovely library, with soaring ceilings and vast windows and big, plush leather chairs and – of course – miles and miles of books. We settled into a corner of the children’s section on a comfy sofa, Emilia with a stack of picture books and me with Jasper, on the boob.

It was raining outside; we were damp from our walk. Droplets of rainwater fell from my hair onto Jasper’s cheek and he pulled away, gurgling his disapproval. My breast dropped from his mouth and sagged, exposed, below the edge of my yanked-up t-shirt while he squawked.

“He’s mad at you, Mommy,” Emilia remarked without looking up from her book. “Because your boobies are wet.”

I laughed, and almost didn’t hear the polite coughing from the nearby stacks. A woman stood there, books in hand. She didn’t meet my gaze, but looked over toward a table of computers where three young boys – probably eight or nine years old – sat playing a game. She coughed again and raised her eyebrows in their direction. Her meaning was clear.

I tucked my wayward breast back into my shirt and pulled Jasper upright. My immediate impulse was to be embarassed, contrite. To gather up my children and my things and go find somewhere else to nurse, somewhere where I wouldn’t risk exposing young boys to the indecent display of my breast. To feel badly for making such a naked display of my motherhood in front of children.

My secondary impulse was to let my boob drop out from beneath my shirt again and use my free hand to make an indecent gesture at the woman.

I did neither. I simply looked away and pulled Jasper closer to my chest, tucking him against my breast so that his pale round head covered the pale round globe of the boob. And struggled to control my anger.

That woman had hit a nerve. Had we been at a bus stop, or a park bench, surrounded, say, by seniors, and someone had directed a disapproving look my way, I would have ignored them. But this woman had articulated her disapproval on behalf of children. Her problem, she implied with her look, was that I was exposing children to something inappropriate, something indecent. And for a moment, I bought it, and felt ashamed. Surely young boys shouldn’t see an exposed breast in public, right? Why, that would corrupt them!

Bullshit.

It’s so ridiculous as to not even be worthy of explaining, but still. Sometimes important things need to be stated as loudly and as often as possible: BOOBS ARE NOT DIRTY. BOOBS ARE NOT SHAMEFUL. BOOBS SUSTAIN LIFE. OF BOOBS PUT TO THEIR NATURAL PURPOSE WE SHOULD BE PROUD. OF ALL BOOBS WE SHOULD BE PROUD.

Women who nurse – and, for what it’s worth, women who don’t nurse – should feel proud – and should be made to feel proud – nourishing their children anywhere, anytime, in front of anybody. Especially in front of children, who, more than anybody, need to know that a mother nursing her baby is a natural, beautiful thing. That breasts aren’t just something for adults to leer that. That the human body is built for amazing things, and that the life-sustaining miracles that it performs are nothing to be ashamed of. Of course we teach them that some beautiful and satisfying things are private – but a mother caring for her baby is not one of those things. It is for everywhere, and should be celebrated.

It’s World Breastfeeding Week this week. It should be a week for celebrating our freedom of choice in how we nurture and nourish our children. Instead, all the stories about nursing that I’ve seen have provided more evidence that we don’t really have that freedom. A woman who was nursing in an H&M store in Vancouver was sent to a change room to nurse her infant. A woman on a WestJet flight was asked to cover up with a blanket. A woman nursing her baby in a library in Bowmanville, Ontario, got the stink-eye from some random stranger. We were – we are – all of us, at some point, made to feel ashamed for mothering.

Sure, we protest. But I’m getting really fucking sick of needing to protest. I’m tired of it. And this is why it sucks (no pun intended) (okay, sort of intended) so much: when women are made to feel ashamed for breastfeeding, they’re being shamed at the most vulnerable times in their lives. They are exhausted. They are stressed. They are, often, struggling with depression. And still they fight on, working so, so hard to care for their babies. They are champions. And yet it is during this time, the most trying time of their championship, while they struggle to keep their footing and to keep going, that others kick them down and shame them.

And that just makes me so angry that I can’t even see straight.

I’m not going to protest. I have no spare strength for protest. But I will do this: I will continue to bare my breast for my baby at every opportunity. Any time, any place. And if anyone so much as looks at me askance, I will look right back, and I will say – if only with my eyes, although I so wish for the courage to speak these words aloud – YOU should be ashamed of yourself for trying to shame me. You should be ashamed for belittling a mother. Shame on YOU.

And I will hope that my daughter is there to hear it.

Baby got boob.

********

Okay, for serious now, I am taking a small break, just a few days. There’ll be some guests here while I spend a few days restoring myself. They’ll take care of you. I’ll be around reading comments and such, but mostly I’m going read and rest and flash boob. Wish you were here, don’t you?

Joy, And Pain

June 10, 2008

I wrote a post last week that I now regret writing. Sort of. I suppose that it’s more accurate to say that I now have reservations about having written it: regret is the wrong word, seeing as the writing of it (and the responses to it) proved immeasurably valuable to me. Writing about how painful and difficult breastfeeding has been in the first weeks of my baby’s life was a necessary rant, a venting of my frustration with the seemingly infinite degrees of pain involved and with the near-total lack of resources for dealing with that pain, and the responses I received were invaluable in helping me overcome some of that frustration (advice on changing holds and being diligent about nipple creams was especially life-saving. I’m now at the stage where nursing feels less like having my bare nipples dragged over rough pavement and more like having them lightly sanded. Still painful, but tolerable.)

But when I wrote about that frustration – and the pain causing that frustration – the last thing that I wanted to do was discourage anyone from nursing their own babies. So when I read this comment – “Wow… I’m only 9 weeks preggers and a friend asked the other day if I’m planning to breastfeed… my answer was that I was planning to try… but holy shit – I think I’m now terrified by all the comments and your post itself…” – my heart broke a little bit. I don’t want to cause anyone to not breastfeed. Not just because breast is best blah blah blah, but because – once you get past the pain – and you do get past the pain, you really do – nursing provides some of that post-partum bliss that everyone promised but that in reality seems in such short supply.

I haven’t persevered with breastfeeding because it’s the healthiest option for my baby – that’s a bonus, of course, but having been a bottle-fed baby myself I know that formula-fed babies turn out just fine. Nor do I persevere because of some vague hope that breastmilk will magically confer extra IQ points or artistic genius or a scholarship to Harvard upon my child – I’d sacrifice one or two of my kid’s IQ points and risk condemning him to community college or trade school in order to avoid having my nipples torn off, no question. I’m selfish like that. So, no, I haven’t stuck with the nursing through all of the pain and frustration just because the medical establishment and La Leche League tell me that it’s what good mothers do. I’ve tried being a conventionally good mother, and have found that it’s much easier and nonetheless effective to just be a loving and devoted slacker mom, which is to say, I have no opposition in principle to formula and bottles.

I persevere in nursing, simply, because there is no sweeter joy than looking down upon my baby’s tiny, perfect head as he bends over the nipple and nestles there, his wee arm curling ’round the outer curve of my breast, grazing my skin with his impossibly tiny, impossibly soft fingers. Even as the pain pierces my chest and my tears splash upon his brow, the joy is there, the love is there, keeping my hand pressed upon his back and under his cheek, pulling him to me, ever closer, his gurgles and sighs and the sweet smell of his skin a balm for the pain. The knowledge that I can do this for him, that I can nourish him, that I can comfort him, that I can be all the warmth and comfort of the womb and then some, is balm for the pain and sunlight against any encroaching dark. This is why I nurse.

I know that it will get easier. I know that we will reach a point, he and I, when the force of his suckle will be met by the toughened strength of my breast and we will nourish each other in comfort. And I know that when it ends, inevitably, I will look past the weeks of past and frustration and fix my heart upon the sweetness and joy and mourn the passing of this precious, precious time.

This is why I nurse. This is why I hope that every mother makes the effort to nurse, that every mother has the chance to hold her baby to her breast at least once and know how sweet that effort.


But it would be a lie to say that that effort is anything other than what it is – an effort, one that is often painful beyond imagining.* I wish that I’d understood that before I undertook that effort the first time. This time, I know, and that knowledge is carrying me through the pain. It’s nonetheless painful, but it is a lot less emotionally draining this time around (the emotional drain comes from withstanding the boob pain while also struggling through the pain of shredded nethers and trying to wrangle a manic toddler on little food and even less sleep. That, nothing prepares you for.)

Painful beyond imagining, but oh so rewarding. That’s not just breastfeeding; that’s motherhood. It’s so worth the effort. It really is.

*Often, not always. As a number of commenters have reminded me, it’s not tough for everybody – some women cruise through breastfeeding with ease (the same is true of pregnancy, labor and childbirth – not everybody gets morning sickness, not everybody labors for hours and hours – or, as in my case, weeks – and not everybody delivers under extraordinary circumstances and sustains physical damage like I did). No two experiences of any aspect of motherhood are the same. Embrace your own, and do what you need to do to make the best of it, whatever it looks like. xo

The Boobityville Horror

June 2, 2008

It’s been two weeks since my little big boy blasted his way into our lives, and I’d had every intention, this weekend, of crafting some wonderfully mushy letter to him, welcoming him to the world and rhapsodizing over his wonderfulness: his beauty, his sweetness, his calm, his impossibly tiny little bum. But I can’t. My boobs hurt too much.

It’s not that I write or think with my boobs – although this might be a more interesting blog if either of those things were true – but it’s impossible for me right now to write or think about anything but my boobs. They’re that sore. I’ve gotten through the circle of hell that is Early Engorgement, only to find myself in the deeper circle that is Chomped Off Nips (chomped off nips that aren’t healing efficiently, such that – TMI alert – one of them has a nasty tendency – TMI TMI – to ooze blood into the breast pump that I employ, sometimes, to give that particular boob a break from the tenderizing effect of Mr. Chompsalot’s sturdy gums during his more enthusiastic boob frenzies.)

So it is that when I think about writing a touching letter to my infant son at this particular moment in time, the draft sounds something like this:

Dear Jasper,

Welcome to the world. I adore you. Please stop chomping* off my nipples.

Love,

Mommy

(*Chomping is a bit misleading. Mr. Chompsalot isn’t chomping so much as sucking voraciously, such that the scabbing from week one isn’t fully healing and, um – TMI TMI TMI – pulling right off. But it feels like the boobies have been well and fully chomped to bits – not mention dragged over pavement – so I’m going with ‘chomp’ as my descriptive verb of choice.)

I’ve spoken with a lactation consultant. I will speak with her again tomorrow. I know that his latch was problematic in the first week because of the engorgement; we’ve rectified that, for the most part (it’s still hard to get a good latch when either boob is so sore that I continually recoil from his hungry little mouth.) I resort to the pump and bottle only when the pain is intolerable, and I need to give one or the other nip a break. I’m doing, so far as I can tell – based upon my previous breastfeeding experience (which went spectacularly badly for the first few weeks and then turned around) and my consultation with lactation specialists – everything more or less correctly. So why is it all so difficult? And why does every single freaking breastfeeding resource in the world, everywhere, insist that breastfeeding doesn’t hurt and that if it does you’re doing it wrong so you really shouldn’t have chewed off nips but if you do oh well you’ll just have to get past that by, say, taking a Tylenol and biting down on a damp rag to muffle your screaming? (“Do not stop nursing! If your nipples are exquisitely tender try numbing them with an ice cube beforehand.” Thank you, Dr. Sears! You forgot to mention putting tiny earmuffs on my infant’s head so that he isn’t deafened by my shrieks of pain, and, also, that I’ll need four fingers of straight single malt to go with that ice if there’s to be any kind of useful numbing. But whatever.)

I mean, am I missing something? Is breastfeeding really just blissfully straightforward for everybody but me? In which case, I’d like to have a word with the gods, because putting me through three weeks of labor, a terrifying delivery and shredded nethers only to condemn me, on top of all that, to severe boob pain seems perverse and unjust in the extreme. I feel like a fallen brood cow that somebody forgot to euthanize. I don’t like it.

Anyone got any magic remedies for ravaged nipples and general boob-related malaise? Other than multiple shots of single malt scotch, that is, which I’m already considering.