Gone are the days when I worried whether my headpiece matched my footwear, these days my wedding attire revolves around easy access (not of the rude variety).
It is one thing getting your boobs out to beast-feed in your local coffee shop, quite another to do it at a wedding in front of (at least one of) your friends, while simultaneously trying to look pretty and quaff a glass of champagne (if you’re drinking it while you’re feeding then none of it is getting through surely?).
Prior to the first wedding I went to this year (at River Cottage HQ, as you do) I spent some time searching for something suitable to wear but all the “nursing” dresses I found fell flat: frumpy and dreary, certainly not the fun, feminine, flirty numbers I had in mind for my first social event with my husband and son. Quite how you will ever feel sexy in something called a “nursing” dress I do not know. Someone out there must be able to put their marketing degrees to use and come up with something which sounds slightly more appealing. Also, I didn’t want to spend too much money on something I could only wear for a limited time. Anyway, I settled on a pre-pregnancy dress from Reiss, structured enough to hold in my lumpy bits and bright enough to draw attention away from my tummy. Unfortunately my husband had to undo the zip for me at the back and I had to slip out one of my arms to release a boob. Not ideal.
So I thought I would share the two options I have found most-workable at subsequent weddings this summer. Unless you veer towards being an exhibitionist both will require a muslin tucked under your bra strap and draped over your chest but they avoid the whole pulling-your-dress-up-over-your-head-and-exposing-yourself-to-a-member-of-the-bridal-party thing:
1. The peephole dress.
Granted, this sounds odd but it works in practice – I promise – you just need to make sure the peephole is large enough to fit a breast through. I went for this dress from Warehouse (£50):
(Unfortunately I do not look like the model in the picture).
2. The Deep-V.
Hardly needs explaining. You just flop out a boob without needing to undo any zips or to remove any clothing. Again, size is everything and it needs to be a fairly deep-v but this also has the benefit of detracting attention away from the rest of your post-baby body. Bonus.
My favourite was from Toppers although I unfortunately can’t find it on their website so you’ll have to make do with my shoddy photography skills instead. It looks better on and has two slits in the front so you can feel sexy while you walk (and you thought you would never feel sexy again):
Without wanting to be polemical or, worse, to deride the post-partum, I’ve never been a big fan of K-Midd. In fact during the waity-Katy years I was known to indulge in the odd rant aimed in her direction, although it’s not fashionable to admit that these days. It feels wrong to say this during the euphoria of the Prince George baby fog that we are enjoying, almost like I’m being anti-British somehow (which shows just how effective their PR is), but if we can for a moment be objective, then we must admit that for a long time Kate was little more than a glorified wag. But – as I used to rage – worse than your average wag because she had the benefit of one of the very best educations you can get (or rather buy) in this country.
Kate was privately educated and alumna of St Andrew’s University and yet as far as we know the sum total of her career after graduating was some part time work as an accessories buyer through friends of her parents at Jigsaw (doing, part-time, a job which thousands of young girls would give their right arm for and would do full time, clocking up any and all the overtime hours required, just grateful for the opportunity) and the odd spot of helping out her parents with their business. I thought of all the little girls watching her, wondering when their prince would come and thought of how little we had moved on and wondered why, because she was rich and pretty and educated and didn’t wear too much make-up, that was deemed ok by society, but the hapless wag hanging around at Chinawhite waiting for her prince to come, was not.
I did warm to her when the long-awaited proposal finally came and with it the circus of the royal wedding. I was pleased for her too, at last all that waiting had paid off, but I still wasn’t sold. Yes, I would think, she has very nice shiny hair and makes the most dull footwear look elegant, but what else? Where is her substance?
Well I stand corrected because we saw it on the steps of the Lindo Wing on Monday. Did she wear a dress to proudly show off her still prominent baby belly, or was it meant to skim over the bump, avoiding it, and a miscalculation of the wind put it on display? Did she wear a copy-cat dress of Lady Diana, a nod to her family’s heritage? Who cares? The fact is that standing on those steps was very hard work and I take my hat off to her.
I share some (very small, very tenuous) similarities with Kate. We are the same age, we are both graduates of good universities, we both spend time in London and the wilds of North Wales and we both wrapped our first born babies in unnecessarily expensive but undeniably super soft Aden & Anais muslins (I did say they were tenuous). I also gave birth to my first child, a son, earlier this year in the spring. However, if someone had tried to pop in to blow dry my hair a few hours after my delivery and propelled me out into the flashbulbs of the world’s media, in my case still wobbly from all the drugs the medical world can offer a labouring woman, then I would not have fared as well, I will go so far as to say as brilliantly, as she did. That was where we really saw her mettle. There are very few women in this world who could stand there as she did with such dignity and such grace in the aftermath of the indignity of child birth. I certainly couldn’t. Bear in mind that at some point in the hours previous Kate would have witnessed one of life’s truly revolting moments – the loss of one’s mucus plug. But she dusted herself off and went out there to deliver what the nation wanted.
And if in the wilderness of the waity-Katy years she had the foresight, as I imagine she did, to really think about what would be required of her in the future when William would finally get down on bended knee, then I don’t blame her for choosing to sit at home with her feet up enjoying a cup of tea, thinking about the commemorative china coming her way and flicking through Tatler. She needed the rest.
7 weeks in and I finally spot someone else breast-feeding in public, in the City of all places. Leon on Cannon Street is clearly where we feel most comfortable (no wonder with the lovely staff and brownies in there).
Of course I’ve seen lots of boob in the parents’ room of John Lewis (lovely) and some in House of Fraser (awful, not enough room to swing a cat) on Oxford Street but bumming around East London as I’ve been doing since my son arrived there is not a nip in sight. I still can’t believe how rarely you see ladies breast-feeding in public compared to how many babies you see, the ratio is seriously out (unlike the nips).
I feel passionately about this (which is something I never thought I would say). So many of my friends have stopped breast-feeding before they were ready because, frankly, it can be hard. Tricky to get your technique right, tricky to find appropriate clothing and tricky to skilfully whip your boobs out in public and not expose yourself. And the less ladies we see doing it, the more likely we are to feel awkward and embarrassed about it. Yet it’s the best thing we can do for our babies. No wonder so many ladies stop breast-feeding and then feel guilty about it. As if there isn’t enough guilt involved in motherhood as it is.
On the subject of breast-feeding in public, two places deserve a special mention. Selfridges, for being breast-feeding heaven: bright spacious area, big comfy chairs and foot-rests. And Tramshed in Shoreditch for breast-feeding hell: we were directed to the first table as you enter the restaurant. This was in my early nervous days – week 3 – and so I enquired as to whether there might be a more discreet table in case I needed to breastfeed during lunch. The lady suggested I use the disabled loo. A quick peek inside and the disabled loo didn’t even have a lid on the toilet seat. I wouldn’t fancy eating my lunch in there – appalling. Lucky the salted caramel fondue was good.
It turns out that babies and blogging aren’t entirely compatible. Both demand a lot of attention. The former will always win out. Unless you are one of those bloggers who wail about how hard it is having a baby and how there aren’t enough hours in the day while tweeting every two minutes. Hence my second post, a month and a week after my first.
Of course I’ve started a post, many posts, but something or someone has always distracted me. My son is clearly the main culprit, and quite right too, but then there’s the other stuff, the seemingly innocuous tasks at the back of your mind… I must do, must do, must do…
For a start there is reading about, talking about, in fact doing anything you can to deal with your offspring’s wind, which could be a full time occupation in itself – patting, massaging, winding, elevating, colic relief drops, leading finally, for the desperate, to the cranial osteopath and a total ban on dairy – which are all just distractions until sufficient time passes for your baby’s digestive system to mature so that wind isn’t such a problem. At which point you realise that none of your efforts have made a difference, so you tuck in to the nearest piece of cheese.
Then there is an endless, unstoppable stream of washing. You hear talk of babies taking out a whole outfit in seconds with one explosive action from their bottom or a violent episode of projectile vomiting but there is no hint at the sheer volume of washing turnover this creates, or that your baby can occasionally also take out his bouncer/moses basket/your outfit at the same time and that at least one of these will happen more than once a day.
Most distracting of all however, are the well-wishers. Even though it is widely acknowledged that having your first baby is a pretty stressful life event practically every person you know and long-lost family member will get in touch, in the very least expecting a reply and a photo. I had just got over the irritating “Any sign yet???” texts when the next wave began. There are only so many times you can reply with enthusiasm to “How are you doing?!?!” (by their very nature these lazy messages are invariably over-punctuated).
Some messages are quite bizarre and considering how to reply is as tiring as actually replying. My Mother continues to email me asking, “How is your wound?” Luckily she is referring to my c-section scar but still, “wound”?
In addition to these mundanities well-wishers will also expect you to pencil in a suitable time for them to visit, when what you really want to do is sit with your top off and your boobs out (easier than finding something clean) airing your nipples while watching any variety of televisual sedative.
I know, I know, I should be grateful that people care but just for today I have ignored the wet drum of washing my husband put on this morning, not replied to any texts or emails and finally managed to finish a post during my son’s naps. Hurrah!
I can always trust my friend Nicky to be honest with me.
“Oh my God, your nipples look massive!”
She almost winces, as if simply growing them that size must have involved pain.
“Yeah I know, as if they weren’t big enough before. Pregnancy really ramped them up a notch.”
It really did. From the moment I fell pregnant my boobs were pumped up and ready for action, like two fame-hungry starlets who had finally landed the role of a lifetime. They were, quite literally, made for this. In fact my boobs – red hot, itchy and sore – knew I was pregnant before my pregnancy test did. I carry on, trying to wrestle one of them into my son’s mouth.
“But seriously, they’re huge. They’re like, bigger than his head!”
I have been saying this to my husband for the last two weeks, since our son was born and I started wrestling with the “learned skill” of breast-feeding. He said I was imagining it. They are not “too big”. The men working on a building site on the opposite side of the canal, as we attempted our first al fresco breast-feeding session on a handy (for my husband) patch of grass outside our local pub, were not looking at my boobs. And yet Nicky, honest Nicky, who first called me Burger Nips when she caught sight of them one day while we were flatmates at uni, is here confirming what I already know.
Nicky lowers her voice: “Where do they come from? Are they…” lower still, ”German“?
She is referring to my Grandmother, who is German. I have a vague recollection of seeing her nipples when I was younger. They were attached to very large, long looking breasts. Practically udders. I remember thinking she would need to tuck them into her socks. This is not true of the rest of my family. My younger sister has lovely small, pink, English rose nipples. So yes, perhaps this is where they are from. Perhaps udders are my future. I do not share this with Nicky.
“I made home-made sauerkraut the other day”, she continues, “Sam bought me a book on fermenting for my birthday…”
So this is it. A confession. I have huge nipples. Big, dark burger nips attached to my fairly sizeable, pale Caucasian boobs. Not Katie Price style size, instead a decent handful pre-pregnancy at a DD and who knows what size now. It is probably better not to know, although I could do with some sort of properly-fitted harness - sorry bra - to keep them in place. And while I love breast-feeding my son (true, your nipples initially take quite a beating, even if you have robust burger nips like mine, but you do get to feel really smug and Earth mother when it’s going well), getting the girls out in public brings me out in a cold sweat.
Partly this is because I’m still honing my technique and need to see exactly where my nipple is going and whether my son is actually latched on (as you may know, a “good latch” is everything) or just using me as a human dummy, but even with a good latch with nipples this size there’s still a lot of nip showing, as well as boob, and it’s tricky getting the covering-boob-with-scarf-or-muslin-while-getting-son-to-latch-on-thing right.
It’s made worse that you rarely see anyone else in public breast-feeding. True I am new to this and I haven’t really been looking, no doubt there are certain baby-friendly cafés where you can’t move for wall-to-wall nipple, but why are they not out there and visible in the wider community in general? Why are they not on the bus, in the latest pop-up restaurant, or indeed, outside your local?
So this is a call to arms to the other starlets in waiting, the other burger nips, the other boobs – it’s time to get them out (there), for solidarity in numbers so that breast-feeding, as in other countries, is the norm and not a social oddity. And so that my big burger nips no longer need to feel alone.