After we had placed our dinner orders and were waiting for our meals, S smiled and said, "You have a fan."
I wasn't sure what he meant until I turned to find our smiling "neighbor" leaning over the back of my seat in an attempt to catch my attention. I laughed. The little boy's mother turned him around with an embarrassed apology, but I didn't mind. As a matter of fact, I've grown accustomed to those sorts of things because it happens a lot--and has for years. Children are drawn to me, like tiny moths to a flame, and on the frequent occasion that little ones follow me as if I'm the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and babies reach for me from strollers and high chairs, people have teased me by saying, "Maybe it's the breasts," to which I have always responded with laughter.
Once S and I were in the car, we laughed again about my unexpected dining companion, and many of his counterparts over the years, and I said, "Do you really think the attraction has anything to do with my breasts?"
"Maybe," he said. "They look so warm and soft and nice. Little kids don't know to see them as anything other than a form of comfort."
It makes sense, doesn't it? We are born with the instinct to find our mother's breast and to suckle from it. Viewing breasts as sexual objects and understanding that they can be used for erotic pleasure and sexual gratification comes to us much later in life, for some, replacing that initial need for nurturing and comfort. But not for all of us. For some of us, the need to come to the breast--or to take our partner to the breast--remains throughout our lifetime, and can gratify and sustain us as well as any common form of breast play.
I realize that over the years, I have used my breasts more often for nurturing and comfort than I have for sexual pleasure, beginning 14 years ago when I became a breastfeeding mother. As soon as my son was born and the doctor had held him up for our inspection, I took him in my arms to admire that consummate perfection, and he snuffled and began to root for my breast, latching immediately, and with very little effort. I understood, at that very second, the true purpose that my breasts served: to nourish and sustain another human life.
Later that day, as baby and I were resting from our big morning, snuggled up together in my hospital bed with his mouth latched onto my right breast as he dozed contentedly against my chest, lulled to sweet slumber by the rhythm of my heartbeat, a nurse came into my room to check my vitals, and when she saw the baby asleep at my breast, she frowned a little and said, "Baby goes to the breast for 15 minutes, and then is put to the opposite breast for 15 additional minutes before he is put down. There isn't a need to keep him on the breast for longer periods of time, especially when he's sleeping."
"Not even for comfort?" I replied. "I know he isn't feeding right now, but he's very content."
I was young, and a first-time parent, but I was this child's mother, and I knew what felt right for us, so, against the nurse's advice, I kept my little one nestled against my bosom, refusing to detach him from his haven of security, and it became a practice that I employed over the years, not only with him, but with his brother and sister (and father), too. My breasts truly didn't belong to me; they were readily available for the need and repose of my little ones and the man who had helped create them, and this seemed so natural, so normal, as it heightened my own femininity and brought on greater awareness of my role as a woman, a wife, and a mother.
I had found my purpose. And it was a beautiful discovery.
The children came to the breast so often that I began to teasingly refer to myself as a "human pacifier". When they were tiny, I would kangaroo pouch them by sliding them down the front of my blouse with their tiny heads peeping out, and cuddle them skin to skin to soothe them with my warmth and heartbeat. They would settle against me contentedly, reassured by my closeness and by my love. When they learned to walk and had shown those first signs of independence, they still sought their mother's comfort; often, they would put down one of their little dump trucks or dolls to toddle over to me so they could rest their cheek against my breast for a fleetingly tranquil moment, as if to remind themselves that I was still there, before their newfound freedom called them away from me once more.
And their father has taken great comfort in the swell of my bosom over the years, too. There are moments when he will come to kneel before me just so he can rest his head against my breasts. He'll close his eyes as his face relaxes, and after several long moments, he often says, "I can hear your heart beat."
It is a heart that beats for him.
There are times, too, in a marriage, when words are not enough to express the encompassing emotions that threaten to carry you away, and I realized that several years ago when S lost his mother. His grief and pain were palpable, and I was struggling to help him through such a terrible time, but nothing I could have said would have been sufficient. He didn't say anything, either. Instead, he came into my arms to rest his head against my breasts, drawing his comfort from them, and allowed me to hold him until he fell asleep. It was the only thing that I could hope to offer, and, much later, he told me that it had been enough.
My decision to become an "extended comfort nurser" was not always met with approval, but it was a choice that I will never regret. I am the blessed mother of happy, healthy, self-sufficient, and independent children, and the wife of a devoted and extremely content husband, so I remain staunch in my belief that I made the right decision for us. Because my breasts were made available to my children when they were small, they now believe that I am available to them whenever they need me, and they are secure in the knowledge that their mother will always be there for them, as a source of comfort and support.
We take two vacations a year, and one is a fairly large trip that includes many family members. During one of these winter vacations about four years ago, we decided to spend a week at Disney World. My little lady had only been off the breast for about six months at the time, and all of the excitement--and the large, noisy, strange crowd of people--threw her for a bit of a loop. One morning, we elected to take the ferry rather than the tram into the Magic Kingdom, and as we churned our way through the choppy waters, surrounded by exuberant, chattering people, my daughter became overwhelmed, and reached for the front of my shirt to find my breasts. Just as I was prepared to stroke her head and tell her that everything was all right, one of our family members noticed what she was doing, and grew flustered. Because of her embarrassment, she quickly, but kindly, pulled my daughter's hands away from my breasts with a gentle admonishment of, "No, no, K. You mustn't touch Mama there."
I was stunned, and so was the baby. She had never been taught that breasts were a forbidden place. She had only known that they provide food and comfort. This is how shame is born, and why stigmas arise. Sometimes, unintentionally, people take the most innocent and perfectly natural acts, such as reaching for a mother's breasts as a source of reassurance, and transform them into something wrong, which is why, I believe, that many people, particularly women who have grown accustomed to recognizing their breasts as mere sexual contrivances (when, in fact, they are so much more than that), cannot fully enjoy a nursing relationship, whether it be with their child or their partner.
While it is lovely to know that my breasts are pleasing to my husband's eyes, and sate his physical desires, it is far more glorious to understand that they fulfill his emotional needs.
And this is what sustains me.