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Under wraps Parenting

Under wraps

Why I don't breastfeed in public.

Confession: I’m not a modest person. I’ve been known to sunbathe topless in my (privacy fenced) backyard, and in college I spent many a weekend night dancing at a local club clad in only a leopard-print bra because I thought it was stylish. If you attended my university in the early 2000s or live in my neighborhood currently and haven’t witnessed—at a minimum—a generous amount of my cleavage, you’re quite possibly living under a rock.

So why am I shy about flashing the girls when I’m feeding my baby girl? I made the decision to breastfeed long before ever getting pregnant. I’ve always touted the nutritional benefits of nursing and am proud to have successfully breastfed my daughter for her first six months (and plan to continue for at least another half-year). I support public breastfeeding and even posted indignant things during Facebook’s “War on Nipples.” As for the mom and her 3-year-old still-nursing son on the cover of Time? I say suck away, kid. Suck away.

But when I’m out and about and it comes time for me to nurse my daughter, I’ll retreat to the backseat of my car or duck into a restroom stall. If we have friends over, I’ll usually excuse myself to another room. And that’s a whole lot of prudishness from a girl who used to seek out nude beaches.

I’ve tried to figure out just why it is that I don’t mind exposing myself for certain purposes—sexual? comfort? liberation?—but not for the most important one of all: passing along the nutrients my baby needs to grow into a healthy child.

Is it because I fear the desensualization of myself as I grow older? Because I’m afraid of potentially making others feel uncomfortable? Or is it simply because, postbaby, my boobs just aren’t as cute and perky as they once were and I’d rather them be remembered in all their prepregnancy glory?

A girls’ night out finally opened my eyes as to why I’m not openly unhooking my bra inside restaurants and among store aisles. Before I had my baby, I swore I wouldn’t be one of those women who had a kid and then dropped off the face of the earth. Or worse, who referred to herself only as “Mommy” and couldn’t speak on any subject not pertaining to a 2-year-old.

I’d still hang out, I insisted. I’ll leave the baby with my husband or get a babysitter, I vowed. I probably even said things like, “I won’t change that much” and “How hard could it be?”

Ah, babyless naiveté. Back then I thought that if I could get a few hours away, I’d want to spend them drinking $10 martinis and eating overpriced appetizers with my girlfriends. Of course as every new mother knows, if you’re lucky enough to stick the baby with someone else between the hours of 7 and 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, you’re not going anywhere except to sleep.

And so there I was, six months postbaby, seeing many of my friends for the first time since giving birth. I looked around the table, noticing their taut curls and even tauter tummies, and realized that every one of them was single and baby-free.

Our conversation didn’t center on cloth diapering or when to start solids. And you know what? I liked it. It was there, among my bosom buddies, that I realized why I keep my bosom covered when it comes to breastfeeding.

I want to maintain my identity—at least to the adults in my life—as me, and not as mommy. While I’m thrilled to be a wife and mother, I still want to be the girl who, every once in a while (and after a few margaritas), just might jump into the pool in her underwear.

Maybe this is immature. Or irresponsible. Or plain impossible. But when people look at me or talk to me, I want them to see Allyson, who also happens to be Austen’s mom; not Austen’s mom, who also happens to be Allyson.

Some may take this to be some sort of midbaby crisis, a sign of too many sleepless nights or an indication that I wasn’t ready to shelve my bygone habits in favor of mommyhood. But really it’s just a desire to incorporate the story of my old life into these child-filled chapters, rather than start a whole new baby-only book.

I want to be a mom, a friend, a wife, a daughter, a writer, a co-worker. It’s not that public breastfeeding limits any of these roles, but there’s no question that it emphasizes one over the rest. And because I’ve worked hard to be all of these things, I choose to keep my daughter’s feeding time private, between just her and I. Whether I like it or not, I’ve changed since having Austen. I’m way more interested in poop than I ever thought I could possibly be. My heart breaks more easily. I’ve become a morning person thanks to her 6 a.m. toothless grin. But I’d still like to hold on to the pieces of myself that existed before baby.

Which is why, when it’s 90 degrees outside, you’ll still find me sunbathing topless in my backyard. Although these days, I’ve got a two-foot, chubby little baldy by my side (shaded, of course).