Much ado about the boob

Just as the hedonism of singledom was measured by serial dating and your ability to play the field, the benchmark of motherhood seems to be: How much milk can your breasts produce?
By the time you are barely done gloating over your newly acquired we-don’t-need-no-underwire boobs, there is a whole big lactation war out there waiting to be fought and won. It is an area where advice will come gushing even if sometimes, the milk
won’t.

Lactation is big business. So are lactation laddoos, special barfis doused in ghee, and dairy-rich food to make you sick. I later found out that all you need is a wholesome diet, and perhaps just enough fluid to quench your thirst – whether it’s juices, soups, water-rich fruit, or herbal teas. It’s quite simple really. The more you feed, the more you make.
But, like many other women, I too was struck by the Methi Police.
It started with an aunt whose daughter had given birth just a few months earlier and she was the current custodian of all things lactation in the family.
‘Ask her to have methi dosas and methi sabzi everyday. Also methi in her dal, soup, maybe salad too.’ She told my mother. My mother told me. I barked.
‘But I am producing enough for the baby, thank you!’
‘What’s the harm with more milk?’
My mother was clearly on a methi mission for the next few days. A suspicious bottle of fenugreek tablets made its appearance. Soon followed methi laddoos, methi parathas, methi dosas, methi kadhi, methi paneer and what have you.
And before I was fenugreeked out of my bones, a screech of caution from a friend arrived. ‘Stop this methi bullshit, else your perspiration and breath will smell of methi and that’s the end of your sex life!’
All methi went out of the window, even though the sex life was nowhere back in sight.

(An excerpt from my book, I’m Pregnant, Not Terminally Ill, You Idiot! Read more about it here.)

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Boob-side story

Before maternity chic became official, women spent a large part of their pregnancy camouflaging their bumps under huge tents or oversized clothes, and ended up looking like bag ladies. Today it’s all about preg-couture, or inventing ways to highlight your new assets- your bump for sure. And definitely your new curves, boobs, hair, skin – whatever looks better than before.

Soon after you cross your ‘look-I-am-still-the-same-size’ zone, which could take three to five months, your anatomy starts protesting. The first shrieks come from your breasts, which are obviously not too happy in the same old bras, however sexy they make you feel. Underwire, which was once the champion of the cleavage (especially for the small-busted), is now the enemy. Every time I wore one of my favourite La Senza bras, I felt breathless, almost in bondage. Sports bras were the next choice for comfort, but your breasts feel strangely vulnerable and unprotected under them.
Eventually, there comes a point when you give in to the ‘support bra’ – those clinically displayed, non-sexy, colourless gear (‘only black and white available,’ they will tell you). When you first look at them, you reel in shock. Which self-respecting woman of moderate style would wear them? They look like your grandmommy’s bras, cover most of your breasts and a large part of your chest. And cleavage? What cleavage? Ergo, you feel like a nun. But, like hell, they are comfortable and make your boobs feel secure and looked after again.

If you found support bras gauche, wait till you get to the nursing bra stage. These are fitted with torture straps (or so they appear to be) in front that allow you to release your boobs, one at a time, without having to undo the bra. I thought it was too much technology for a bra, but a few months later, when I was trying to balance a baby on my boob, prop up a feeding pillow and unhook a bra at the same time in order to nurse, I was thankful. I personally found them comfortable, but opinion seems to be divided on that.

(An excerpt from my book, “I’m Pregnant, Not Terminally Ill, You Idiot!“)

Why I went the extended breastfeeding way

For a long time, I never took my boobs seriously. Actually I didn’t have much to take seriously. I was always the flat-chested girl in the first row in school who knew all the answers, who always raised her hand when the teacher asked a question, who always finished her homework well before everyone else, who had impeccable handwriting, and whose answer sheets were passed around in class by the teacher to show fellow students “this is how a paper should be written”. I was the girl who always stood first in class (except in class nine, when a girl with boobs beat me, and that really hurt).

But all I really wanted was to grow up and have boobs.

Time passes. Youth, love, career dilemmas, conflict, angst, heartbreaks, travel, highs, lows, life happens. Somewhere along, boobs happen. I am a woman!

And then one day, I am a mother. Re is put to my breast seconds after being born and he suckles in earnest, making me come to terms with the fact that I am now chief food source. Bravo! They say. He’s latched on! You are lucky!

And Re, my boobs and I start a long and meaningful journey together. My modest 32B girls are now ensconced in a 34C and feeling pretty chuffed!

Like everyone else, I had a deadline for breastfeeding. Six months. That’s all I can do, and I will, I told myself. It seemed like a barometer for most mommies, who cleverly collaborated with their doctors to distort the WHO recommendation of the ‘minimum’ requirement to the ‘sufficient’ requirement. But then motherhood is all about bending rules to suit oneself, isn’t it? To each, her own.

When it was six months,  Re and I were just getting into the zone of sleep-nursing; it became totally okay for one or both of us to fall asleep in the act. I figured, why give up just when it has got easy? So I extended my time-limit to one year.

On Re’s first birthday, I was asked (mostly by mothers who had weaned, because they are eager to know if you had), the inevitable, “Is he weaned yet?”

I mumble, “No, still going strong.”

They gave me that look. That look of ‘why the fuck did you have to raise the bar’? That look of ‘poor you, such a martyr’. They gave Re the look of ‘you greedy child, why don’t you give your mother some respite?’

My mother-in-law had her two bits. She had nursed her son (the OPU) for six months; she felt I should stop now, as I had done my fair bit, else it would get embarrassing. “He will never leave you,” she said.

It can’t be such a bad thing, can it? He is, after all, my son.  In any case, I wasn’t looking for advice.

My mother was proud of me. She couldn’t nurse me beyond a month, and she still regrets it. She was happy for Re.

Between year one and year two, I was at the receiving end of many a concern and raised eyebrows. I know that breastfeeding is a topic that reduces most mothers to militants and I know I was a minority for choosing extended breastfeeding, but my point was: If I don’t judge you your formula, you can’t judge me my boobs.

It continued to baffle me why I was being questioned for carrying out what nature ordained, and women who didn’t were deemed ‘normal’.

By year two, I was probably labelled a psycho, but now I was beyond caring. People suddenly stopped asking me questions. Perhaps they were afraid of the answers, but I wasn’t sure.

And then my friend Yasmin sent me this article and it made me smile and feel happy about myself.

We all know the effects of extended breastfeeding; our grandmothers did it, perhaps it skipped a generation, but millions of women in all parts of the world are still doing it. It’s just something that’s talked about in hushed tones, and I can’t fathom why.  I had my little group of extended nursing friends who believed in the same things I did. We met once in a while, exchanged stories; it helped me keep my sanity.

I also had my little secret for why I didn’t want to stop, unless Re chose to. I found weaning to be too much work. Finding an alternative, dealing with a cranky baby through the transition, the sudden onset of illnesses post withdrawal of the elixir that provides the best immunity ever, tummy troubles, mood swings, aggression and other behavioral problems in your child. Plus I could diffuse any pain, any crying bout, any tantrum, any sleeplessness, any accident or injury, any mood swing just by popping the boob.

Now why would I change that?

Re finally weaned on his own at 33 months. And I can’t help thinking that perhaps, perhaps, a teeny weeny bit of what contributes to the mostly smiley-happy Re today is the extended breastfeeding?