I consider myself a pretty modest person when it comes to my body. Case in point, I was dress shopping recently and was having a difficult time deciding if I could pull off this little black dress. It fit nicely enough, but it was lower cut than what I would normally choose. The thing is, it totally covered me and stayed in place when I was holding my youngest (a necessary test for every mother of a grabby baby or toddler…nothing worse than flashing a room full of wedding guests). I took a close, hard look in the mirror and realized I didn’t look as exposed as I felt. I suppose I’ve always leaned towards more modest attire, not that I wear turtle necks to the beach, but I typically like to be properly covered. But regardless of how I feel about appropriate coverage on a normal day, the truth is, child birth is no time for modesty.
As Allison discussed in her birth story “Leaving Dignity at the Door,” things happen during birth, labor, delivery and breastfeeding that leave moms feeling, well, exposed. It can be a disconcerting feeling when you know everyone in the room is focusing on an area of your body that, under normal circumstances, is totally off limits to perfect strangers.
Before going into labor, I wondered how comfortable I would feel with being more exposed than what I’m normally comfortable with. Knowing I desired to labor in the water, I took a swimsuit top with me for the birthing tub. But the pain of labor can do funny things to your inhibitions. The moment my midwife told me I could get into the tub, I began stripping off my gown. My husband immediately ran to my bag to pull out my top. As he attempted to hand me the top, I swatted away his hand and told him I didn’t care. “JUST GET ME IN THE WATER!” Perhaps part of me figured they were professionals and had seen it all before, but honestly I just didn’t care. I had other things on my mind at that moment.
Fast forward to the water birth of my third child. Again, I was lying in the tub fully exposed (I had even left the top at home by that point), holding my daughter as my midwife cleaned from my legs and stomach the sticky, stubborn meconium that had passed just after birth. I admit, it did feel awkward to be an able-bodied adult who was receiving a sponge bath. But, I was too tired to care.
And, as any woman who attempts to breastfeed can attest to, your breasts are no longer off-limits. Doctors, nurses, consultants and more will examine and feel your breasts. You will sit fully-exposed in front of these people and not give it a second thought because in that moment, feeding your baby is way more important than covering your body.
Now that birth and breastfeeding are a thing of my past, how uninhibited I felt does seem strange. But I know that my response in those moments had less to do with my comfort level and more to do with biology and human necessity. As with many motherhood moments, my comfort was less important than the need of my child.
So tell us, were you prepared for how exposed you would be during the birth and breastfeeding process? How did the lack of modesty affect you?