The day after I came home from the hospital with my brand-new daughter, I found myself sitting in an armchair with the baby nurse, my husband, a neighbor and a chirpy doula named Lori all leaning over me, staring in wonder and cooing encouragement. It wasn’t my baby they were looking at; it was my breasts. As they poked, prodded and discussed the shape of my nipples, I began to feel my breasts take on a life of their own. Maybe it was from lack of sleep, but I swear I saw them float up in front of me and say, “We’re in charge now, honey. Get used to it.”
Like many other new mothers, I had been having trouble getting the “natural” process of breastfeeding to work. After several frustrating attempts, the baby was annoyed, I was in pain and my husband was convinced I was starving his daughter. And that is how I ended up with a small army of well-meaning people staring at my exposed chest.
For someone who’s known to hide behind the locker door when changing at the gym, the oddest thing was, I wasn’t embarrassed. I realized that, like it or not, my breasts were no longer something for my husband and me to enjoy in private; they were public domain. In fact, I found myself eagerly discussing my breasts not just with my personal breastfeeding-support team and long-time friends, but with moms in the park and in my music class, even with women I bumped into on the street. I once wound up discussing breast pumps and nipple creams for 20 minutes with a stranger in line at the supermarket. I never got her name, but I know she had cracked nipples and preferred the Medela Pump In Style.
What’s more, my breasts now appeared as new to me as all the other baby gear that was taking over our apartment. For starters, they were a full size larger than they’d ever been and featured a Jackson Pollock-like array of blue veins and purple stretch marks (which, thankfully, have largely faded).
T-shirts that had been breezy and loose the previous summer now made me look like a waitress at Hooters.
After all that initial scrutinizing and poking, Lori the doula helped me figure out my problem and introduced me to the miracle of breast shields. Soon I was breastfeeding like a pro and accustomed to my breasts’ dual role in my life. I never quite gave myself over to the idea that they’d become merely a pair of glands perfectly appropriate to show on the subway or in a fancy restaurant. In fact, despite occasional leakage during moments of passion, my husband still finds them sexy. But most important, my daughter loves them. Her smile when she sees my bra being unsnapped and knows a four-star meal is coming is worth every vein, stretch mark and clothing crisis.