Well, not quite. Ruth isn’t five for another two or so months. Should I “raise the roof” for myself? Or sigh the heaviest of sighs?
Not for the aesthetic quality of my breasts, for god’s sake. I mean, let’s be honest. They were never all that perky to begin with. Just regular old run of the mill breasts. In truth, I have less shame and more appreciation for them now than I ever did in my teens and early twenties. At that point, I was too concerned with their lack of roundness, their station on my chest. I was always hoisting them up, padding them under with lacy, overpriced and, of course uncomfortable, undergarments. Now, I am content to let them be what they are. Hand me my nursing sports bra that does nothing more than anchor them to my chest, flattening them into the (what used to be) dreaded “uni-boob” and I’m good to go. I love my breasts. I’m no longer angry at them for not standing a little more at attention (the same could be said for the rest of my body as well. We’re friends now that we’ve gotten over our mild bout of adolescent rivalry). Having children can do that to a person raised on Barbie and perfect-bodied sitcom models. It can crack open all of your illusions about what makes people beautiful. My body has grown and nurtured two, going on three, beautiful, healthy and robust children. Me, my body, my imperfect breasts. We did all that.
No, it’s just that, all of that body-loving, illusion-shattering, and baby-nurturing comes at a price. I’m not talking about breast pumps, nipple cream, boppy pillows and nursing bras, though those things are expensive. I’m talking about autonomy. You know, that thing that we’re raised in American society to value above all else: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? two out of three of those things translate into “leave me the fuck alone” or “you’re not the boss of me”. Many a-person throughout American history has given his or her life to protect the idea that we should all be able to do what we want, to have personal freedom , to be autonomous.
Yet, that concept gets a little foggy when it comes to children. Because, though we make the choice to have them and then to raise them how we decide, including how we choose to feed them, no matter what, our personal freedom once we become parents seems to be boxed in a bit more than before. Our choices are no longer unlimited and endless, but have a definite scope. I guess it’s because our choices no longer are only about ourselves. Our choices from that moment on always include our children in some way or another.
What I’m getting at here is that I love my children. I love my body for nurturing them throughout pregnancy and then long after (many years after) via extended breastfeeding. Yet, there is some part of me, after five plus years of being pregnant and breastfeeding, that just wants to be self-contained. If not mentally, which I probably will never be again in my life now that I have children, then at least physically. What I’m speaking of is that part of me that still wants to hog the bed, to stretch out, to eat an entire bowl of popcorn all by myself, to have elbow room, and to not always be either not drinking beer because I have a tiny fetus in my belly, or to be at the beck and call of a young child asking for milk, wanting me, needing MORE of me. My emotional, mental and physical self.
I can’t help but feel like I shouldn’t feel this way. Like the way our society is set up (especially for women) is a two-way trap that there is no way to escape with all of your desires intact from. You can either be a “good mother” and stay home and care for your children or you can be a “strong woman” and not let motherhood stop you from nurturing your personal goals and ambitions. I have been aware of this dichotomy for a long time, since having my first child. That was when I was pretty much slapped in the face by the realization that, as a woman, I couldn’t make the “right choice”. That, no matter what, society would always see me, in one way or another, as a failure.
I wonder how women for so long were able to both fill their social roles and feel as though they were doing right by themselves as well. Before being a mother was something dirty and shameful, a challenge to hurdle, blocking the path to your true “womanhood”. Before our duties in life went from revolving around family and sustaining our community to pursuing careers disconnected and separate from our home lives. I feel envious. Of people who simply were women, who birthed and fed babies without guilt, shame or confusion, or this out-of-place feeling of resentment towards their own children for taking too much of their personal autonomy away, instead of being constantly caught up in trying to define and identify myself as a woman like I am, and probably most other modern day women are. I’m envious of women who walked around topless, whose breasts were not over-sexualized and apprehended by societal norms, stuffed into uncomfortable underwear and deemed the private property of men. Whose breasts were just breasts, meant for and perfectly functional for feeding hungry children.
I made the announcement to Greg the other day about my five years of breastfeeding and he said, “You should teach a course on breastfeeding! You should RUN the La Leche League!” I laughed a mirthless laugh. “No,” I said, “I would be a bad teacher. Because I wouldn’t have any tips. I would just stand there and say, ‘Just do it. You can do it. Your baby can do it. Just do it. No excuses. It’s hard but I don’t have any tips. You have to figure it out with your baby. Just do it.’” “Yeah,” he said, “You’d make a bad teacher.” “I guess so,” I said with a weary laugh.