The four (now five) of us stood in the familiar kitchen. Our two best friends were over for dinner and the new baby finally slept in his swing. I mixed something in a bowl and watched whatever was on the stove. Turning to face our friends, I clutched a glass of lemonade in my hand and leaned my tired body back against the counter.
My friend was staring at me.
She squinted her eyes shifted her lips slightly sideways. I realized she had something to tell me.
I took a sip of lemonade as Maggy gestured to her chest, “Molly, I think your top is on inside-out.” She tugged at the fabric of her own shirt.
Curious, I looked down. I had carefully chosen my outfit that night – after all, it was a Friday evening during the summer. Guests were coming over and I was going to be cooking and entertaining as I always had done. The only difference was now I had a baby. Still, I put on a simple white nursing tank and dressed it up with a long colorful skirt and big earrings – despite knowing that the baby would definitely yank on them.
“Oh, no – it’s not inside-out.” I answered. “It’s a nursing tank.”
I hadn’t thought about it until now, but the seam on the outside of the tank did make the shirt look like it was on inside-out. My shirt was essentially cut in half, with an opening under my breasts to allow for easy access. I felt a little embarrassed, like I had been caught. Even though breastfeeding is encouraged by science and medicine, you’re not supposed to draw attention to it. Breastfeeding is private – everyone knows that.
In that moment, I was reminded that my body was currently not my own. It belonged to my baby, in order to keep him alive. At the same time, my body felt like everybody else’s business. I couldn’t hide the fact that I was breastfeeding any more than I could hide my enormous pregnant belly. I couldn’t hide the baby – on a Friday night, in the kitchen with our friends. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and trying to put on a disguise that it was a normal summer night. But even though my shirt was on the correct way, my insides were definitely out – out for everyone to see.
If we think of our body as a container, we hold all our stuff there. Literally, our body houses our blood and organs and mind. It also houses our energy, our past, and our pain. Our body is both reactive and intuitive – discomfort or even disease will manifest in our bodies, as a reaction to something being wrong.
Of course, during pregnancy, birth and motherhood, the ultimate mind/body connection occurs. Motherhood begins as a physical creation within the body, but anyone who is a mother knows that it doesn’t leave you once you birth the baby. It’s not like having a procedure and walking away with only a faint scar once it’s healed.
Breastfeeding for me was a reminder that my body’s purpose was for my child. And the idea kind of terrified me – it conflicted with society’s message to me my whole life that my body was my own property and within my control. As a new mom, I felt out of control. My body did its work, but I wasn’t driving the bus. And I felt like everyone could see right through me – Is she just faking it? She’s not really a mom, is she? Just because you have a baby, does it automatically make you a mother?
During times when we feel conflicted with our body’s messages – like our insides are out, our hearts are on our sleeves, and we are surrendering to nature – it’s ok to shield ourselves from the world. It’s ok to put on our armor – a pretty dress and some cover-up under our tired puffy eyes. It’s ok to add layers of protection like knit scarves and necklaces – small decorations that simply say, I’m doing the best that I can right now.
Photo credit: Samantha Davis Photograph