It’s amazing how uninhibitedly candid having a baby will make the most inhibited and… can-didn’t… of people. Before the days of labour (yes, days. Sorry ladies), breasts liberated and leaking in the middle of Nero’s and very loud conversations about episiotomies in very quiet bars, I was such a person. I was about as keen for the world to see what was under my dress as the world was to see what was under Maggie Smith’s habit in Sister Act. I didn’t wear crop tops (which I and my mummy tummy now wholeheartedly regret) ‘topless’, to me, meant a wine bottle with the cork pulled out, and when faced with the daunting prospect of a communal changing room, I was the one hopping around under a towel tent, Miranda Hart style.
Pregnancy didn’t change matters much. If anything, I was more self-conscious than ever, what with the bowling-ball-cum-beachball belly and the bin bag clothes. During the last few months the temperature reached insane heights. I would get home from work, peel myself out of whatever bin bag creation I had poured myself into 12 hours earlier and shuck on a pair of my other half’s boxers along with mansize t-shirt from gigs I had gone to in my lighter years (knew they’d come in handy), before raiding the freezer for ice cream. But I never once slept without PJs.
It’s not that I have a problem with other people being nude. If you’ve got it and love it, wear what you want – or don’t, as the case may be. It’s just that when it comes to the question of me baring all I get extremely British. I don’t know where it comes from – my dad was American, my mum, although British, shares genes with a naturist resort frequentee.
It was around 8am on Tuesday, September 24th when I lost my sense of modesty. When the only thing standing between you (plus 26 hours of labour already clocked up) and a shot of pethidine is an examination down below, I defy anyone to open their legs slower than a reverse bear trap. From then on, it only got worse. Not to go into too much detail (I am, however desensitized, still British after all) but let’s just say the baby wasn’t the only one in her birthday suit once she finally deigned to make her appearance.
Seven months later and I’ve found myself baring my top half to all and sundry – from grandparents-in-law to hapless waiting staff, work colleagues and one extremely terrified postal worker (forgot. Thought it was just a breezy day.) Not only that, I’ve had discussions with friends, family and, yes, total strangers about nipples, poo, sick, pelvic floors, and – mother of all silence generators – episiotomies. Once I was discussing how breastfeeding gets so much simpler with another mum I’d just met in the John Lewis parents’ room when my baby abruptly detached herself – to check that the wall opposite was in fact still a wall and hadn’t transformed itself into an even bigger boobie whilst her attention had been elsewhere, one can only presume – leaving me hanging and literally, er, dripping in irony. Far from being mortified, we had a laugh about it.
I suppose it’s all part of that thing where you have a child and realise that there are much bigger things to prioritise over people desperately trying to look anywhere other than at your naked breast. Like your child’s most basic need for food, for example. But don’t get me wrong – just because a few dozen more people have seen my breasts now than this time last year, it hasn’t turned me into any kind of exhibitionist. Though it might sometimes seem like it to my poor family and friends, I don’t whip them out at every available opportunity. It’s just that having them out doesn’t bother me, because my particular form of toplessness is to serve the purpose of making my baby shut up (ahem, I mean, feeding and nourishing my daughter). In fact, there probably isn’t a better purpose for toplessness. Except, perhaps, that of a good bottle of Sauvignon.