For new moms, breastfeeding tests modesty


January 1, 2008

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Watch that tense woman before her mirror. She’s struggling to manipulate the flailing baby and the floppy shirt while grappling her breast and the baby’s mouth toward one another. Only five days old, the baby rears back his head, screaming. Milk sprays across the baby’s face. The mom battles tears, afraid every woman on earth can match up baby and breast except for her. Even worse, no one will notice her failures while because they’ll be staring at her exposed breasts.

That woman? Me. I am a prude.

As a new mom, I’d have to feed my baby wherever I went. Timing trips around meals wouldn’t work: I never remembered how long it had been. (Nor, to be honest, did my baby. Stephen cried at random as if he’d never been fed before.)

My mother suggested I pump. Hah – picture me forgetting bottles in the diaper bag with this much milk encrusted within, forging uber-bacteria powerful enough to decimate humankind. (“It’s a madhouse at the Forgetful-Mom-Plague shot clinics. Get in line early.”) I’d like to make history, but not that way.

There was no choice: I had to master modest nursing.

A baby-blanket tent should have worked, but Stephen didn’t appreciate the mood lighting or Tigger décor. He only knew it was a muggy summer and I expected him to dine in stuffy darkness. I wanted coverage. He wanted to breathe. He won.
A front-pack infant carrier claimed I could nurse in it. Snap this, button that, and fasten the other thing: this contraption would have intimidated a bridge-builder. Ten minutes later, the baby and I could have been safely sucked through the funnel of a tornado. Next step: nursing. Um, no. Not unless I detached body parts and the boy pointed his chin toward the moon. Ten years later, I still have not found the quick-release latch on my breasts.

It was to be me and the baby alone, then, with no gadgetry. Back to practicing before the mirror.

For our undress rehearsal, I enlisted a friend to point out any breaches of security. The toughest part was latch-on. Stephen hated this experiment: he’d just get the milk flowing when I’d pop him off to practice latching on again. You tease!, he screamed. Why bring me into this world only to starve me?

Next came a foray to the mall. My mother accompanied me: nine days postpartum, sleepless, and terrified of onlookers who would doubtless build bleachers and charge a dollar. Hurry, hurry! Will he latch successfully? How much skin will you see? Wait for a little old lady to splash her with coffee while screeching, “Put your shirt on, you filthy pig!”

Here’s what I learned:

1) Do not shop with your mother when nine days postpartum.

2) Dressing rooms are safe places to nurse.

3) Teenage males, on realizing you are nursing (although they drool at unclad divas on CD covers) will blush like primroses.

4) Nurse across from the pet store. Shoppers watch the pets -- and turn away from you!

Most importantly, I learned I could nurse the baby without attracting a ringmaster and oglers. No matter how awkward the trip, or the five poopy diapers, that trip heralded freedom. Henceforth, I nursed in church, at the park, in a doctor’s office, in my parked car, and in a restaurant. I nursed everywhere in Nashua without a hassle.

At four months, we visited my mother’s house. My stepbrother sauntered over, and before I could speak, laid his hand on Stephen’s head. “Hey, kid, look up!”
It couldn’t have been more perfect. “He’s eating.”

My stepbrother jerked back as if he’d grasped burning coals, clutching his wrist. I laughed out loud. All those years he’d tormented me, and as it turned out, I could frighten him by feeding a baby!

Better still – success! He’d been right on top of me without seeing a thing!
Envision a woman in a dressing room 16 months later. Positioning herself before the mirror, she lifts the jacket to test the outfit for access. Taking this for an invitation, her toddler climbs onto her lap for a nip. While he nurses, the mother glances into the mirror and sees herself – covered and confident.

Jane Lebak is a writer from Nashua.

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