by Joni Edelman
Sometime in the early 2000s, a friend was visiting my house for a playdate. Nothing special, just the typical crackers and raisins and toys all over the house sort of thing. We were just sitting on the couch, chatting and eating ice cream — you know, like stay at home moms do — and mid sentence, she paused, “Joni, what is THAT?”
‘That’ was a book on my ottoman (not coffee table because, hello, no coffee tables with five toddlers running around). ‘That’ was a book by Anne Geddes, a large coffee table (ottoman) book. It featured photographs of women — in all states of pregnancy and postpartum — their babies, and sometimes babies that weren’t theirs. You get what I’m saying; there were babies and ladies. Oh and also, they were nude, or partly nude.
I said, “It’s a… book?” Other Less Free-Spirited Mom says, “BUT THEY ARE NAKED. Aren’t you afraid your kids will see this? They are TOTALLY NAKED.”
Astute observation, Queen of Obvious. The commoners are so lucky to have you.
“No. I’m not really worried about them finding it because I read it to them. I don’t want them to be embarrassed by seeing nude babies and pregnant women. Bodies are normal. Whatever.”
The playdate became less frequent after that.
You guys still with me?
That was about 15 or so years ago and I’m no less ‘progressive’ now. I was already sort of odd compared to my peers. My parents were hippies — like free-love and stuff and things (by ‘stuff’ I mean braless concerts and by ‘things’ I mean pot, lots of pot.) My parents never shamed my body, and though they failed in a lot of ways, I’ve never been uncomfortable with the human form. I’m an RN and for years I looked at vaginas for 12 hours a day. It’s a just a body.
We are skin and bones and muscle and fat and hair. No we are literally ALL just of that stuff differently configured.
I’m getting to the point. Hang in there.
Five years ago I had my fourth baby and 18 months after that, her brother. By the time I thought it would be a great idea to start a whole entire second family my older children were 10, 12, and 15. I thought I was done having babies so I never gave much thought as to how my older kids would (or would not) be involved in the pregnancy/labor/birth process. I became pregnant, and we just went with the flow.
We opted to homebirth and offered them the opportunity to be present — ⅔ of them decided that they weren’t that afraid of blood, and stayed to cheer me on (the other ⅓ was just in his room down the hall) My 10-year-old, Owen, was the first person to spot Ella’s head in the water and my 15-year-old, Kelsey, was the first person to hold her.
Here’s a video. Get a kleenex.
It just simply never occurred to me that any of this should have been hidden. And it begs the question, when did we start to think birth and death and life should be hidden? Who taught us that shame? Where did we learn to sexualize our bodies such that to see them is a forbidden and lustful act?
BRB need to go get a Master’s degree in anthropology with a focus on human sexuality.
As the babies grew and my big kids grew, we shuttled everyone around to sports things and band things and all the things teenagers do, and we brought the baby (and eventually babies). And I nursed uncovered at every event. And then I tandem nursed and basically my boobs were out, like completely OUT, for at least three solid years.
At more than one event, I was given the put your boob away, lady stink eye. And at more than one event one, or both, of my boys gave the stink eye right back. I didn’t have to tell them to defend their sister’s (and brother’s) right to eat. They just did it. We nursed at a gym, at a concert, at a Giants baseball game, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, on a ferry, on a beach, at a park.
I never said, “This is my right, and I’m going to do it.” I just did it. And none of them ever thought it wasn’t normal.
Because I never said it wasn’t.
Did my sons see my breasts and nipples? Yes, I’m sure they did. They also saw my vagina, because a baby came out of it and they were watching. And they see my face everyday and the top of my head too because my tallest son is 6’3”. And you know what? They are totally not even traumatized a little bit. Well, they may be a little traumatized by my face. It gets pretty cranky looking when they forget to take out the trash.
What did they learn from those experiences? Well, hopefully, they learned that human bodies are just that, bodies. We respect them and we revere them and we don’t shame them. Because they don’t deserve any of that.
This is where the change starts. With my kids and your kids and the kids who see us feeding our babies without embarrassment. Things become normalized one act a time.
I’ve given my kids the opportunity to see something I hope will serve them in their lives. My son’s partners will never have to be concerned that they won’t be supported. My daughters will know the normalcy that is child birthing and feeding and rearing.
Teenagers are easily embarrassed. And I guess I should have expected that mine would be too. But they just weren’t. Why not? I don’t know. Maybe it was the Anne Geddes book.
Not sure how to tell your kids about breastfeeding, here is an article with helpful tips.
I’m Joni. I’m lucky enough to have 5 amazing kids (19, 16, 15, 4 and 2), one fantastic husband, an awesome sister and a yarn addiction. When I’m not raising up people I’m a freelance writer, RN, and the momma behind mommabare. Love is my religion. I like cake and crafty crap. And yoga. In that order.
You can follow Joni on Instagram here and on Twitter here.