More people have seen me topless in the last two months than in my entire life leading up to this point–and I’m including the first five years or so when I ran around many a Greek beach in nothing but a diaper.
I came to this realization last week when I opened the door for the postwoman wearing only a skirt, a Brest Friend breastfeeding pillow around my waist, and a nursing bra, open on one side, with a baby attached to the otherwise exposed nipple. Now, I know both the regular mail lady and her usual substitute, and both are friendly women. The regular postwoman, in particular, makes my day a little brighter every time I see her thanks to her pleasant demeanor and unique sense of style–she is always full of questions about Amalía and she wears cornrows, sunglasses, and a pith helmet and has amazingly painted nails and gold-capped teeth. When it wasn’t my BFF mail lady but her replacement, who laughed mildly as I apologized for my appearance, I realized that regardless of how nice the government employees who show up at one’s door are, one should not appear before them in any state of undress.
That was a new low, but in the past few months of what lactation consultants call “exclusive breastfeeding” (by which they mean not velvet-rope VIP access to the breast but breastmilk only) I have developed the kind of callous indifference to my breasts that I normally reserve for, say, my feet–not everyone sees them, but if someone should catch a glimpse, big deal, these appendages get me where I want to go.
Here is a list of places I have breastfed in the 70 days since Amalía was born (70 days! I’ve been a dairy farm for almost as long as Kim Kardashian was married!):
on the sands of South Beach
in the bathroom of the Ritz-Carlton
on the dressing room couch at Anthropologie
sitting on a fountain on Lincoln Road
around the fire pit at the Standard Spa
I feed Amalía about six times a day, so it’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about–has she eaten? When will she next need to eat? Take this blog, for example. Not only is it later than usual, but there was so much folklore I thought about addressing, and here I am making lists of places I’ve breastfed instead. I considered examining Halloween, and how it allows us to safely explore our dark sides. But Halloween got rained out here in Miami (although Amalía did make the most of her chili pepper costume, which her papi and I chose as an act of racial profiling, since she’s Latina). Then came Day of the Dead, which I’ve so admired in previous years while traveling in Mexico, as a vibrant intermingling of the land of the living and the land of the dead, and the bridge between them, which, as written in The Bridge Over San Luis Rey, is love. But this year I didn’t build an altar to my dear departed loved ones; I was too busy feeding my newborn loved one.
Now, most of the time I’m feeding Amalía I’m exposing less skin than the average woman walking down Lincoln Road. I have a drape called Bébé au lait in a black and white scroll pattern called Jaipur, which was given to me by a dear friend and new grandma, and which I use when feeding in public. It’s perhaps the chic-est thing in my current wardrobe and I’ve gotten multiple compliments on it. The best part is, a flexible rod through its top holds it comfortably away from me so Amalía and I can look at each other while she feeds. (Although she’s a noisy enough eater that I can pretty much tell what’s going on blindfolded.)
But the truth is that I use the drape less out of modesty and more out of respect for others who may not want to watch me breastfeed as they go about their business (after all, I don’t like to watch people eat on the subway, even though I understand it that it might be their only chance to scarf down breakfast). Still, although I use the drape, I’m not stressed about anyone catching a glimpse (as the postmistress can tell you). And while this is not my body’s shining moment, lookswise (I have a paunch my doctor says will stay swollen for up to four more months–and I’ll be delighted if it goes away then!–and my breasts are about two sizes larger than I’d like them to be) I have to say that it feels so liberating not to worry that others are judging me by the way my body looks.
I got my first bra–a 34B–in fifth grade, when I was 10 years old, almost five feet tall and around 100 pounds. It was the 80s and the clothes the cool girls wore–blouson shirts or loose buttondowns with the name Benetton emblazoned across the chest–made me look like a pregnant preteen, not a Seventeen covermodel. I spent most of middle school trying to figure out how to manage this oddly proportioned body, dressing like Anne of Green Gables one day in my mother’s cast-off Laura Ashley, and Elizabeth Taylor the next in formfitting, nipped-waist dresses and huge, wide belts meant to emphasize the small waist that would be hidden under the voluminous folds of a t-shirt if I were to wear one. I also had a penchant for hats (a great way to stop people from looking at your body, it seems, is to get them to stare at your head!). It was such a relief when I made it to high school, everyone else got breasts, too, and I could start dressing like an average 16 year old.
So I’ve come a long way from being concerned with what everyone thought of my breasts to not caring who sees them. And I’m starting to think that the reason I’m so nonchalant about who sees my body (now cleverly accessorized with a baby!) is that right now, after sharing it for 10 months, it doesn’t feel so much like it’s my own. It’s community property, and it gets an important job done. And while I complain about the extra pounds I’m currently carrying and the fact that I always smell like curdled breast milk (a not-altogether-unpleasant but admittedly cloying scent that reminds me of some milk-based desserts I tried in Pakistan), there’s something pleasant about having a body that’s indispensible to another (little) person, whether I like the way it looks or not. Maybe that’s bad news for the mail-lady on my route, or the dressing room attendant at Anthropologie, who might not want to share in our moveable feast. But, happily, I don’t really care.