Monday, May 27, 2013

The "down" side of breast feeding (or "Honey, should I get a boob job?")

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.


  1. Great post! I really enjoy reading your blog, although I don't comment that much. I have considered the boob job too ;)

    1. Thanks Madre! It really was a fleeting thought, but unexpectedly tempting.

  2. LOL
    I fed our boys on demand: 15 months; 20 months and 73 months.

    The good news is: your boobs will bounce back again but only after a frightening drop into the tennis-ball-at-the-end-of-the-sock-OMG-what-are-those look for a few months after you wean. I'm now 45, having finished feeding just before I turned 43...mine head more down than up...but the up has definitely improved over those two years - I eat loads of protein and nuts/coconut oil and that seems to have helped. :D No boob job required.

    1. Best news I've heard all day! Thanks Karyn!!

    2. ... yes you are beautiful beautiful of who you are and what you have lived. You can do without new boobs...

    3. 43 months! The middle one was 43 months, not 73. Your boobs will recover, not sure about my brain. :D LOL

    4. I kind of figured that was a typo. ; ) Still, 43 months is pretty impressive lady!!

  3. I was just thinking about this the other day, about how my now fairly full bosom will be deflated and saggy like it was after I stopped nursing #1.

    And my thoughts immediately turned to, "Yay I get to shop for new bras!"


    1. I like your positive spin! I'll have to wait until after I stop nursing and hopefully at that time I'll be in a country where there is cute bra shopping...

  4. This morning as I was getting ready for work I said to my husband, "Man breast feeding really changes your boobs." "How so?" was his reply. Guess he didn't notice. I explained that they're all loose and soft now. He was absolutely disinterested in this conversation. I suppose it's because he just sees breasts as what they are.
    I wish I could get to the point of comfort you've reached. In Kenya I still felt as though I had to cover up or go into another room. I don't know if it's bc I'm not just white but GLOWINGLY pale or I just can't shake the American mindset of it being 'inappropriate.'
    When we returned from Kenya I thought I'd nurse for 2 years. Now, I can't wait the two months until my son turns 1!! It's wonderful and I've really enjoyed it. I too nurse 'on demand' when I am with him. I'm over dealing with the stress and issues from other American's. I don't understand why it's okay for 10 year old boys to carry around Victoria's Secret catalogs and have a bathing suite model as their backdrop on their cell phone, but watching me nurse... covering as much as that 'swim suit' is inappropriate.
    But, I'm really looking forward to the new bra purchases, too!!!
    As always, I love your posts!!! I'm still delighted I discovered this blog!

    1. "How so?" !?!?! Oh, bless that man! I think I became so comfortable with baring my breasts because it was so hard to breast feed for so long that by the time the pain subsided (nearly 2 months) I was too relieved to care who saw. And as much as I enjoy nursing I too am looking forward to the day when my body is my own again!!
      Thanks for your compliments too!! It warms my that other organ under my breasts - my heart! :)

  5. For further aversion therapy, consider the post-boob boob job: small grapefruits nestled snugly at about shoulder height and refusing to bow to the conventions of gravity. Alison says "new bras" and that's much better consolation (altho of course, one has to look at oneself in the mirror) ... And the thing is? Most men (most of 'em) still have a vestige of a teenager: WOW she's gonna let me touch 'em?
    And the general shape of "them" is utterly immaterial...: )