Boobs and Burlesque

Walking down to the station this morning I was feeling light and carefree. It is the first beautifully sunny day for a while, and I am wearing my mother’s summery orange dress, which she brought on holiday but never had a chance to wear as it poured with rain most of the time. I was listening to The Beatles, stepping in time to the beat of ‘Revolution’, singing along with ‘Don’t you know it’s gonna be (dum de dum) alright’, swinging my bag and laughing with delight that last night’s anger seemed to have evaporated. I was reflecting that I can still be happy – I don’t need to wear my sorrow on my sleeve; I don’t need the world to know all the time how much I miss my mother. Those who need to know, already know, and won’t begrudge me my moments of joy.

But only a few minutes later I could feel anger bubbling away still just beneath the surface – not intense, not wrenching, and no longer directly about anything; just sitting there ready to boil over at rude people on the overcrowded Underground, the train I just missed, and the one I subsequently caught that was delayed.

Tonight two old friends (the friendships being long-standing, rather than the acquaintances aged) are treating me to dinner, a burlesque show and cocktails, as a late birthday treat. The theatre requires one to dress in period (20s) or burlesque theme, and it was fairly fun and easy to find a simple, flapper-esque outfit in my cupboard, and purchase a feathered headband and fake pearls as a garnish. I am sure we are going to have great fun


(yes, there had to be a but)

I have been quietly anxious about it all week. Trying to articulate to my husband why this is so, I have concluded that it has two main strands. The first, in contradiction to my lightheartedness this morning, is that I am not really feeling ready to celebrate anything. I am not in the mood to just enjoy things, and do ‘fun’ things. Relaxing, yes; but fun, no, not really. I feel a tugging resistance within me.

The second is to do with my breasts. Yes, my breasts. When I went back to South Africa for my mother’s memorials, I had to leave my two children in London, because we are in the process of applying for their British citizenship, so they have no passports at the moment. It seemed a logical time to wean my youngest, who was 16 months old at the time – exactly the same age as my older son was when I had to wean him due to going on very strong painkillers following a punctured nerve in my left arm during a routine blood test. I have always aimed for the World Health Organisation’s suggestion of a minimum of 2 years of breastfeeding, both because I am very aware of the health benefits, and because I enjoy the closeness with my children, especially as a working mum. However, I liked the synchronicity and ‘fairness’ of feeding both boys to the same age, and knew it would help with getting my youngest to sleep through the night.

This has, as I knew it would, meant that over the past few weeks my breasts have slowly dwindled away. They have lost their roundedness, and perkiness, and feel somewhat empty. The scariest thing is probably the fact that even my mother’s bras now seem slightly too big for me. I always knew this day was coming; genetically speaking, the likelihood of inheriting my mother’s post-baby breasts was pretty unavoidable. Still, am I really in the mood to watch beautiful, sexy women with amazing breasts on stage tonight? No, but I will go anyway, and I am sure I will get into the spirit of it. I know that running away from these things never helps, so I might as well start facing up to it straight away. Anyway, I have adapted my ‘mourning’ poem:

Mourning (Version 1, 08/06/2011)

My hair
Is far easier than mourning
My mother.
My hair will grow back.


Mourning (Version 2, 15/07/2011)

My breasts
Is far easier than mourning
My mother.

Although my breasts, too, will never come back.

8 thoughts on “Boobs and Burlesque

  1. Oh I love it!
    Especially the ending with your delightful poems. Had me laughing out loud!!!

    It is great to have someone giving people insight into the grieving process that aging often is, and why should men not also know about our aging process?

    This has your usual flair – intelligent, witty, honest. Personally I think it is a beautiful post

  2. When I stopped feeding my youngest, for months afterwards one boob was bigger than the other. I would look in the mirror and fiddle and push and prod, trying to get it back into place, but no go. First stretch marks, now uneven boobs. It was so unfair. What next, I thought. That was about 22 years. They’re the same size now; a bit droopier and certainly not their 22 year-old plump pertness, but hey, I have three children instead. And your mother has four glorious children ….

  3. Laurel, you are lovely! And I need to suggest to your breasts that they “hang” in there (sorry for that )…on Monday I shall be forty-eight years old and I have, after years of longing for them, perfect breasts. There was nothing to droop, so they couldn’t and I put on a bit of weight (middle aged spread, I hear it called) and some landed on my chest! So sorry that I didn’t get to meet you in Cape Town, I am hoping that it will be in London in the not too distant future.

  4. I wholly understand your sense of anxiety about going out and about. Aside from everything else I’ve been fretting that grief had made me plump! Hope the evening was fun for you c

  5. Thank you all you lovely people! The support is greatly appreciated – it is amazing how nerve-wracking it can be to be brutally honest with and about oneself, and how difficult it can be to judge how one is going to feel after clicking the ‘publish’ button. And yes, a couple of months with a voracious mourning appetite and no exercise has meant weight gain too, which is never good for self-confidence, though I’ve been so focused on the grieving process that it hasn’t bothered me that much for once (most of the time at least). Still, I am looking forward to feeling fit and toned again!

  6. So, Friday night was Fun. With a capital F. From the word go, it was good – outfits, dinner, company, burlesque, conversation, cocktails, dancing. A proper girls night out, and not a moment of angst, while my wonderful husband held fort with the kids. It is certainly true that we appreciate things more when they are rare treats!

  7. Very moving. Thank you.
    I was on the tube this week. Very rare occasion. One which I avoid! But I glad I did. A young couple came on board with their baby son. Both the father and mother were so attentative. Their baby started to cry. And I watched as both tried to work out what was the matter. Was he too hot. Bored. Or was he hungry. I felt like I was intruding by observing. Such is the alienating nature of the tube that such a natural experience could seem so strange. Anyway, the father brought out a blanket and held it around the mother while she attempted to breast feed him. To hide her breasts. But the baby cries increased. To me the cries sounded more angry and more desperate. Interestingly enough I noticed more women becoming drawn to this. After a short while the blanket was withdrawn. The mother spoke to her son and said sorry. That the blanket was away. The father took of the baby’s socks and fanned him. The bottle was taken out and he was fed. After which he calmed down. And the father took him. I thought how very very sad. That we live in a society where the most natural thing of a mother feeding her baby can be seen as something to be hidden. Shameful even. The baby wanted the comfort and to be fed by his mother. This I felt deeply. And I wondered what message continues to be handed down to the generations. But even with all this conflicting thoughts/emotions. I am left with how loving those parents were. Beautiful.

  8. What a touching, thought provoking post. As a man people may not think that we understand,
    but ever since I went through puberty I got self conscious with my chest, “stoneys” as the guys say.
    I am still always conscious about it as I still have them and often try to hide them. It is easier now as i have a hairy chest, but as a teenager, I was always terrified to take my shirt off.
    As well as having a “grower” instead of a “shower” in the trouser area. At boarding school I hated showering with the other boys, often feeling judged, And would shower really late or early to avoid being seen.

    So yes, in a way, I do understand your shrinking breast feeling, and often wished I had what other guys had.

    And I hear you about not wanting to have fun, your sense of anxiety. Your posts have really made me learn so much about you, getting to know more about your thoughts, past, emotions and what you are about.

    So, thank you, for helping me see and feel….

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