Tucked in a window seat waiting for our plane to depart, I nursed my baby while my husband attempted to fascinate our 4-year-old with the emergency placard. Having almost completely abandoned modesty, I looked down at my partially exposed breast and 15-month-old baby sucking the milk, the elasticity and the remaining youth from my mammaries. I looked at the slack skin and imagined the shape - a windsock on a calm day - of my breasts, which had nourished my first born for 2 years and would likely another 2 with my second.
Actually, "nourished" is not the whole story. When you feed your baby "on demand," we're not talking some quiet moments separated by half of the day before naps and bedtime. We're talking: after the baby falls, or if he's frustrated, or scared, or in a new place. Or bored. Nursing, for us, has been for comfort as much as nourishment. Maybe even more. It's not unusual for my baby Emmet to nurse an entire hour in the mornings as he gently and slowly wakes to face his day.
Partly, this is because I'm not working full time with this baby, so I'm home and on deck to be used as a human pacifier. And partly it's because my family currently lives in Kenya, where nursing on demand is simply how you soothe and quiet your baby. Any time Emmet fusses or cries, Rukia, the woman who helps us around the house, nudges me, saying "anataka kunyonya." Meaning: he wants to nurse.
It's hard to argue otherwise. Nursing has always quieted and comforted him. And denying him something that would so easily placate him didn't seem to make sense.
Sweet, huh? I guess. But tell that to the windsocks.
I looked back down at my "lap child," calm settling over his flushed cheeks, quiet amid the preparations for take-off, even as other babies were starting screech, and I smiled. And then I looked again at the deflated pacifier of a breast, and I sighed.
"Colin, should I get a boob job?" I whispered across the seats.
I said it just to say it, and not entirely meaning it. I say things I don't mean all the time. Just to throw something out there. To shock or challenge or test the waters.
I'm not exactly a "boob job" kind of girl. I rarely wear make-up. I may own a pair of heals, but I don't think I could find them. I've never had a manicure. My style is probably best described as comfortable lazy with bohemian aspirations. Not exactly cosmetic surgery territory.
Plus, I have the good fortune to have a husband who adores me and even desires me despite my outward lack of detailed attention to my appearance. So, of course I expected a response of either "Why would you want to do that, love? You look amAHzing." Or "Bwa ha ha. Very funny Kim."
Instead, I got: "Huh. I wonder how much those things costs?" with a glint of hopeful excitement in his eyes.
To be fair, my husband is also not a likely candidate for someone titillated by fake body parts. He prefers "the natural" and his only addiction is to the news. So, I was taken aback by his, albeit baited, reaction, but I guess I shouldn't be.
Despite the fact that we currently live in East Africa, where exposed knees were not long ago considered more sexually scandalous than exposed breasts, we are still Americans, with a generally Western aesthetic sensibility. A sensibility born of Barbie's cartoonish proportions and nourished by the buoyant bust lines of Disney princesses and drilled in with the Judy Blume battle cry, "we must, we must, we must increase our burst!"
A sensibility that saw our fathers drool over Jane Mansfield and our brothers over Scarlett Johansson. A sensibility that has forgotten the why of breasts and has no room for what results of their intended purpose. And if HBO continues to produce some of the most compelling television, we'll be stuck looking more and more at pert naked busoms from the comfort of our living rooms. We simply don't have models of beauty that show what a realistic post-breast feeding breast looks like. So it's a shock when our own turn southward.
But, so what? I've always enhanced what I had with bras that come with the words "miracle" or "wonder" in them. I can continue to do the same.
But maybe I shouldn't. My new shape is the result of nourishing and comforting my children. In the same way that my laugh lines mark years of happiness, my less than pert bosom marks me as someone who has had the privilege to nurse her babies. Some women desperately desire to have success in this arena and fail. They'd probably gladly trade my saggy boobs for a chance at it.
By the time the plane landed, all this running through my head, my fleeting flirtation with the idea of plastic surgery had been put to rest. Given the youth-obsessed culture women inhabit, I can completely understand why some women would choose to restore their bustline to pre-baby altitude. But for me, I've decided to see my new slack rack as a badge of motherhood, and to try and see the beauty and honor in my new shape.