For the past year or so, I’ve been trolled on Facebook for a breastfeeding video.
Millie, just barely over a year, was hot and tired. She hadn’t thrown a tantrum… that’s not really her style, but she made it clear that dinner wasn’t her priority. She didn’t want to be worn, or have a yogurt, or watch an episode of Mickey. The comfort she was seeking was me. She needed love.
And how do we give our kids love?
We feed them, bathe them. We cuddle, and rock, and sing. We offer pacifiers, water, milk, juice. We offer them a breast for breastfed babies.
At the moment we’d come to a breaking point. I wanted a glass of wine, she wanted to nurse, and as the adult I made a choice. Her wants, more like needs, trumped my need that was really a want. I had ways to handle my stress and disdain for the heat, my exhaustion, my hunger. She had one. And I was it.
Among the comments that I received were “disgusting”, “child abuser”, “porn”. People were so concerned with how my breasts would look after I nursed my children.
Addie didn’t nurse for long; between new motherhood and a not so great latch, engorged breasts, and her diagnosis, I exclusively pumped for her for a year and a half. And post-pumping, when the milk was gone, my body bounced back- and those breasts went back to just being Chelley’s boobs.
When I had Millie, again I went through painfully engorged breasts. Exclusively breastfeeding her while pumping donor milk for over a year, felt like a lot for my body. Three years later and still nursing, though nearing the end of our journey, has changed me a bit. As we’ve weaned to once in the morning, it’s a nice routine, she and I tucked in together on half the bed, cuddled in before my 6am run. Even when she asks later in the day, I know she really wants something else and she has the means to ask for. Playing boardgames, like Doc McStuffins Operation, has really taken over as a distraction here. She is looking for comfort- and typically, a little more time with me, one-on-one, is what she seeks. She’s looking for the same love, comfort and security now as she did a year ago- only this time, as I did then, she now has other methods of coping.
As I was getting out of the shower the other day, I looked down. Huh, some of those people were right. They’ve changed and I look different. As I was shrugging off the daydream of Chelley circa 2003, the girls busted through the bathroom door. They smiled at my body- their eyes not meeting mine, but scanning my bare skin, as I stood there holding my towel.
We are not a family of shame and embarrassment. I do not run to shield my body from their eyes. I am proud of the muscles that define my arms and the dimples on my legs. I strive for progress of health not some ideal perfection. But as I stood there, wet and warm from the hot summer morning and the water from my shower, I felt uncomfortable… until Addie reached up, placed a hand over the lines that scatter below my belly button and asked, “Is this where I was?” I felt my stretch marks relax under her palm.
“Yes, baby girl, this is where you were.”
“And mama’s booboos?” Millie. “I love booboos.”
“I know you do, baby.”
“When I’m a mommy, I’m going to nurse my babies,” Addie.
“Me, too,” Millie chimed in. “And they’re going to love our booboos.”
“And you, mommy! Because we love you,” Addie added.
And I realized…
This body is different.
It sags in places it didn’t before. There are lines, dimples, ridges and edges. Soft corners.
And yes, my breasts are different.
They have grown and shrunk with life growing and birthing. Sustaining, nourishing, healing. The first knowings of love and comfort. And I am so glad I didn’t heed the warnings of the internet. That the sole reason I should not be nursing [anymore] is that it would ruin my body. Seemingly forgetting about the child. The relationship.
Years of abuse tried to destroy my body. Cigarettes, late night parties, too much alcohol, men who didn’t hear no. Stop. Please. Those are the threats to this temple. And still it prevailed. Giving me the opportunity to bear children, to love and care for my body, regardless of the hard that’s been inflicted. To run all the miles and enjoy all the whole foods. I have the ability to share my body with my children. And they love my body.
They see where they grew and stretched the skin. Where it has changed. They see were I have worked hard, the muscles defining- and they work hard beside me, laying out their own yoga mats.
“See mama, I’m a snake. Hsssssssss.” Millie slams her body into the mat and pushes her chest up, arching her back, pushing her belly into the floor. Addie follows, putting her hands down and pushing her butt up into the air. She howls, “I’m in downward dog!” And I’m sweating, lifting weights, delighted in their enjoyment as I push through my own workouts. My warriors working together under my guidance.
They see what I am doing, see what I’ve done. Someday they may know of the destruction I once laid upon this body… the nights that come into my memories as a blur, still.
But the amazing thing about destruction is that what we build from it is our choice. And what we rebuild can be better.
I am no longer 18. I can’t suit up in 30 pounds of goalie equipment and throw myself into a split. I no longer bike 100 miles in an afternoon, or day drink whiskey at brunch on a Thursday afternoon. But I can cross a finish line, watching my children beam with pride. Their sense of satisfaction in my accomplishment seemingly greater than my own.
My children see my body as I step out of the shower. As I get dressed in the morning. And they love each part of it- watching as I rebuild it from birth. Ever-changing, growing. I am redefining myself as I define what a healthy body image is for them.
I am so glad I did not listen to the people who were so concerned about my breasts, because the people I love the most love all of me… regardless of the fact that I may not have the same perky, full, or round breasts as before- they now have their own story. They’ve served their scientific purpose. And sure they used to look really nice in a low cut top, but now they’re a part of the woman raising the future.
A future that is female.
And that’s worth listening to.