I come from Minnesota, which means I squirmed the first time I saw a seventy-something Swedish woman on the beach in a bikini, wrinkles, sags and all. Bodies are mostly meant to be private after all (maybe a part of this view evolved out of our colder climate – it’s not like there’s more than 2 months of bikini weather anyway), and we certainly want to hide those wrinkles, sags, stray hairs, and then any part that has anything at all to do with bodily fluids.
But now I’m a mom and that’s really just not pragmatic (I’ve also spent another half decade outside Minnesota since that first encounter). Babies spit, babies drool, babies bubble on their lips, babies poop and pee, and babies burp and fart like fat men watching a football match at a backwoods Wisconsin bar (and then look up at you with adoring eyes, batting impossibly long lush lashes and breaking into a smile of unreserved mirth). And, most of all, babies need to eat (or, rather, drink). And, let’s be honest: breasts were designed to produce and serve up nutrients. Once you have a baby they cease being solely there to enclose in a bikini top and start being just moobs (or, perhaps more accurate in the first year food moobs).
A few days into parenthood I was looking at our daughter when I had the feeling she was unquestioningly wise, almost sagacious, as if she was simultaneously a newborn and the oldest being on the planet. Because in a way babies are really very wise: they know exactly, directly what they need in life, have a penetrating gaze when it comes to the essentials. Which is far more than I can say for most adults, or even a decent philosophy professor. Babies are very honest – they never hide a fart or gulp down a burp, and they are absolutely certain when they want to eat – and when this want becomes an absolute necessity.
In the US, of course, public breastfeeding is still an issue of great contention. Scandal, perhaps, even for some. Breasts?!? In Public?!? And women buy chest-covering breastfeeding tops or try to find private spaces or worry about what those around them will think. Meanwhile, the baby is trying to gnaw through their shirt. Because to their little mouths these aren’t bared breasts. They’re food moobs that the baby would love to be burying their face in, eating with abandon, milk all over their nose and cheeks and chin.
Wednesday I saw a woman on the bus (in Bishkek) lift up her shirt and pull out a moob for a squirming and hungry toddler. Nonchalant and nobody cared. I’m not quite there – I did, after all, grow up in Minnesota before breastfeeding again became more norm, and don’t recall ever (or hardly ever) seeing anyone breastfeed in public. I’ll try to find a quiet spot to sit down – like the table in the corner – and cover both the baby and my shoulder with a light scarf, both to cover me and block the baby from outside distractions. There are times when pumping and feeding from a bottle really is more convenient (like when I’m driving, or when the baby suddenly wakes up and decides she’s hungry just as we’re deboarding a plane), but that too has its limitations – pumping takes time and milk won’t last forever outside of a refrigerator. So most often, moobs it is, Minnesotan sensibilities aside. Thankfully that seems to work pretty well here with waiters and all going about their other business. Perhaps we cold borrow some of this nonchalance and matter-of-fact approach back home.