Flab: Loving My Body in the Wake of Matriarchal Departure

My Grandmother departed her body this past weekend, at the tender age of 91. She was a woman of grace. A nurturer in every sense. She was beautiful on the inside and out. Her body’s imperfections had long been a source of comfort and beauty to me. Not because they looked like anything in mass media. Not because she manufactured herself to present in any given way. Nor did she do much (other than dye her hair) to attempt to make herself look younger.  I live in Berkeley, so I feel I need to qualify this by stating she wasn’t a hippie!

She was an immigrant of lower socio-economic class. Widowed thrice, she was a single mom for the bulk of her years as a mother. She lived in three continents and four countries and spoke more languages than I actually know. Babi, as my family affectionately called her, was a sweatshop worker from the lower east side of Manhattan, via Brazil, via Poland, via Russia.

She was more than a survivor. She was a thriver. 

Growing up, I saw Babi’s sunspots gather, like party hosts who couldn’t stop narrowing down their guest list. They reveled in, “the more the merrier”. She was always vaseline soft. Her lips, her belly, her arms. There was nothing hard about her. Don’t get the wrong idea. This doesn’t mean she wasn’t strong or muscular. She walked miles daily. From the time I became cognizant of her strolls throughout Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn, I knew she most certainly had physical strength and stamina. Her body was warm. Even though I wasn’t directly born from her, when we would snuggle on her bed to watch TV, it felt as though I was suddenly teleported to the luscious cavity of her womb. Resting my head on her lap in that crazy, hot (the way she liked it) apartment was a trip into her—womb.

She had belly flab that I would rest within. She wasn’t obese, quite the contrary. She was petite to average. However, she did have the flab that many of us do once we age and/or carry children biologically.

Did I ever judge her flab, the exterior to her womb?

Nope. The only thoughts I remember are something like, “Oh, I hope she is done cleaning soon, so she will come to sit on the bed and I can rest my head on her lap and snuggle soon…” And that, is less of a judgment and more of a wish. My experience of her body wasn’t about any stagnant part of it. Rather, her body was a tool for her to communicate with me and others around issues that really matter— like how she could share love through touch or pure loving presence which emanated from that soft, warm, luscious skin.

How will my children remember me? How will they remember my body?

When my husband and I experience intimate moments, do my curves signify something? Do they hold special powers if I am more of less flabby? When I consider my own body’s “imperfections”, I can go down a road of getting stuck on some ideal number we call a “weight” or I can dwell on desires for a flatter stomach or thinner bodyscape. But, will a weight change or shape change in my body somehow transmit my energetic loving presence differently? Or will toning my flab suddenly provide self acceptance and then model loving one’s self for my children? For every spot I remove, will I become less riddled with my inner critic?

Nope.

My body is very similarly shaped to my mother’s body. My belly has this flab on the very bottom that my mother and both grandmother’s had. Today, in the self-help world, we have many different professionals working on the concept of “love your body”. As I age, I realize when I ask myself, “do I love my body?”, I am also asking, “Do I love my mother’s body? My grandmother’s body? My sister’s body?”

My mother’s and grandmother’s bodies are ingrained in me, for better or worse. I know what their movements were like. I can see and enact the way they moved in the world through an intrinsic sense. They are a legacy I am a part of. I may not like my flab, but why spend time breaking apart my body into sections of specific attention, as if they don’t all work as a whole to house my inner spirit? No single flab or spot is relevant without the entirety of me. Especially in the context of me as a being who is part of a family. A mother with children. My entire being (including my body) cherishes my children. When I focus solely on my belly flab, I lose the entirety of being with all of my body’s connections and uniqueness. Really, I make my being lose it’s identity. All of a sudden the “Flab” becomes just that, instead of it being a part of me. This kind of compartmentalizing changes my body to being something that is a piece of meat, disconnected from soul and spirit. That is not me— yet. I have not departed my body and life yet. I am alive and thriving. Why treat myself any other way?

I hold myself with esteem because I am the daughter and granddaughter of nurturing beings. I am a mother who values nurturance. Primarily, I work on nurturing myself. In this way, I create imprints for my children. I then nurture them from a reservoir of nurturance, as opposed to a drought. My self-nurturance, my self-love, will be my children’s guide when I am no longer here. My children will learn to slow down and take moments to breath through my own example. Being with my breath as a means to hug my insides. With my breath I acknowledge my present experience without trying to make it something it’s not. Relating with my heart beat as a means of bringing me to the rhythm of my life. I do this at a pace that makes sense for me in this moment. This doesn’t mean that I am always happy or confident. It means that I trust and honor my own process and way of being, just as I did when I knew that laying my head on Babi’s lap in that old apartment on 7th street was a safe and loving way to be with one of the women I have loved most in this world.

I’ve got flab…it’s a part of my body at this stage in my life. There is nothing wrong with it. It is meaningless when I compartmentalize it, creating an idea that it is a separate entity from the entirety of me.  My flab is connected to my stretch marks. They meet my belly button, that source that used to be connected to my Mom. My body houses and connects me to my inner organs and my spirit…I am sultry. I am sensual. I am warm and thriving and filled with loving presence that has been handed down to me from my matriarchal lineage. My body is golden. My body is my heart beating, it is the flab, the stretch marks, the air that becomes breath. This body is my soul’s gateway to love my children, my partner, my family, my friends, my clients. It is my connection with all others in our world.

Now, the question is, how do I want to spend my time?

Let’s be real. I have limited time between home, work, family, etc.. Do I want to spend my choice time questioning/criticizing my body, or, being with my body? My critical voice may continue to exist…but it is not all of me. I have, as demonstrated by this essay, other voices. The ones that tell me:

“You are whole.”

“You are loving.”

“You are wise and rich with beauty.”

This kind of meaningful wholeness is what our world needs now. When the critical voices present, I will love and cherish them, as they are hurt parts of me. I will bring them back to resting on Babi’s belly and show them what real love and the presence of being is.

Rest in peace Babi. You left a hell of a legacy!  I will continue to love and honor you through my commitment to my body and my inner world.

My response to: “Do you love yourself?”

At a networking meeting I once had an acquaintance ask me if I love myself. This was, I thought, a provocative question. I feared if I shared that I don’t actually love all of me, I would come across as not “enlightened” enough for this person’s approval or standards.

Love is so:   perfectly imperfect. 
So here I was with this established professional woman, in front of me–staring directly at me–none the less, waiting to hear if I loved myself. My adrenaline was talking to me:
“It’s a set up”, it said.
(I truly don’t think she meant to set me up.) 
I didn’t want to lie and at the same time, this was a networking meeting. I was concerned about my professionally identity. The truth was that I didn’t feel enamored by all of my body parts.
This experience was an opening to understanding more about how I can and do love myself. Upon hearing the question, I interpreted the term, “love”, as though it means “to like deeply”. In fact, it doesn’t–not to me anymore, anyway!
 
I have come to realize that as I grow and change and live and stumble and get stuck and thrive– my loving relationship with myself will ask me to pay attention—keen attention– to all of me. To see myself. To accept myself. Bringing my breath to who I truly am in any given moment—including: my warmth; my fear; my trust; my debt; my eyes; my cellulite; my power; my compassion; my direction; my anger; my frustration; my muscle; my breasts; my toe hair; my heart, etc..  To what extent, can I bring myself to any of these parts of me? Even the parts that I don’t like so much. To what extent can I love the judgmental part of me that doesn’t want my scar tissue?I believe being able to hold, breathe into and engage with rather than fight myself, is the act of loving me.

This ability to learn to see myself and be myself is freeing. It is what helps me feel all of my feelings.

This is  loving myself. 
Now, I can see my body and hear myself and realize my Self. This is my life. No more performing. I am who I am. I will humbly learn and live and be and do my best and in this way love my edges.
It is with this spirit that I understand and learn about loving relationally. I will love my partner as he is. I will love my children as I experience them. I will see the expectations I have about them sneak up and then I will hug them and realize they are not everything, just expectations and then love them too.
When my clients arrive, I listen and learn to care for them in this way. I support them learning to love themselves and one another with this spirit.
It is freeing. It is full. It is real. And, it is intimate.

Hula Hooping, Intimacy and our Life Cycle

I don’t know how to hula hoop. 
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It’s a new and stimulating passion for me.Hooping has reinvigorated my discovery process, my learning process, my play with the unknown.

When I was younger I was a dancer, a swimmer; I did a couple of triathlons, biked, roller-bladed, canoed on long camping trips, etc.. After becoming a mom and experiencing major body changes not to mention massive shifts in responsibility and sleep, I revisited many of these sports. Inevitably, they felt different. Some of them good for different periods of time, but always different from my core memories of when I would do them way back when. Now, in my forties, I have learned that indeed, my once feeling immortal self, is actual mortal. Some of these beloved sports are just not good for me anymore.

What does this tell me about what I desire? Do I enjoy and have the time to train for a triathlon right now? How does the high impact dancing I used to do feel for me now–both in the moment and the next day? 
You know what it’s like to have a crunched amount of time to reconnect with your body.

Should we expect to feel stimulated in the same way as we did 5 years ago? What about 10 years ago? 20?
This is analogous to how intimacy changes throughout our life span. What felt intimate to us 5, 10, 20 years ago is not necessarily the same as what feels intimate now. Our experience of being touched and touching in the here and now is different as we move through time. Our bodies change. Our brains change. Our relationships change. Our partners bodies and brains change too! Some turn-ons are similar, some are completely different.

There is no “getting back”–we actually move forward.  We, in our 30’s and 40’s and beyond haven’t lost our capacity for intimacy…we just can’t expect it to look or feel the same. I encourage you to learn your body and mind today, now, in the present. Invite yourself to move towards your partner in that present self, rather than what used to be. 
Soooo—Hula Hooping!!!! Guess what I have learned…It’s low impact (which I need for my body at this point). It’s aerobic and core building. And most important of all, it’s new and exciting to me. I am not good at it. Part of what I love is all the unknown that comes with me exploring it. I am re-learning how to learn with it. How to feel compassionate with myself every 5-10 seconds when the hoop falls to the ground again. This is serving me.
My memories of completing the triathlons (for instance) are wonderful memories)…but I am experiencing something today that also makes me feel alive!
This too can happen when we make time and space to feel our intimate selves on our own, with our partners and in relationship with other parents.
I wonder…What brings you joy? 

A Mind of Their Own: From Objectivity to Functionality, Part IV

Perfection

Written by Natashia Fuksman, MA

Note: All names and client details have been altered to protect each woman’s confidentiality and privileged information.

Part Four of a Four Part Series

Our Breasts: Big and Small…

During a recent yoga class, my beloved teacher read us Yoga Sutra, 1.40. The sutra’s focus is on developing the rich and complex capacity to both focus on the small, perhaps tiny perspectives, as well as the great magnitude of the largest of large perspectives. In life, most of us gravitate towards certain cylces. Some of us more naturally focus on the smaller perspectives and some of us the overall scheme of things.

Our breasts have a personal history for us which greatly impacts our identity with them. As we are alive, their history grows and shifts. Just like mementos, our breasts have transforming storylines of identity. Breasts also have a connection that deals with their universality— how are breasts experienced in our nuclear families, in our culture; our world history? Our breasts are big and small in the context of our energetic being. They have their own name, because they are an identified part of the female human body. Simultaneously, they are part of the whole that is our body. Meanwhile, our body is a part of the sum of our family; our community; our world. Our relationships with our own breasts are inextricably independent and at the same time connected to one another.

I am certain that my breasts are a huge part of my family. My relationship with them will greatly impact how my boys interact with their own bodies and with other’s bodies in their lifetimes. I am not fully responsible for how they interact with anything, and yet, I affect it all the time. As my awareness, acceptance and compassion for my breasts grows, I show my children/spouse/friends/clients/community how to do the same with their bodies. Not through my high horse but through how I live with my body and use it as my instrument in interacting with others. So, I am writing about my breasts and the universal context of Breasts. I am also writing about our whole selves. Increasing our awareness to include our breasts as a particular part of our being/identity, as well as part of the whole of our body/mind/life energy force allows opening the dialogue of who we are and how we are currently interacting with our life. The spectrum of objectivity to functionality is simply focused on the particular area and vested people’s perspectives of breasts. 4.bt_sculpture_little

Are you more inclined, in your nature to think about the specifics or to think of the grand perspective? The next time you develop an awareness about your breasts, perhaps you may be interested in engaging in the challenge of the immediate experience you are having with your boobs and then widening that to your experience as your whole being. On the other hand, you might be more inclined to generally think about the larger perspective, perhaps the mass media’s breast objectification obsession. When you are in that mind-set, might you want to invite yourself to also experience the reality of being turned on through your own breasts, in your own mind, in your singular reality? Playing with holding the tension of the varying perspectives and becoming aware of your natural gravitation in perspective is authentically engaging with yourself. Enticing yourself to live anew and shift your awareness. Feel your power in times when you are so aroused, you don’t wanna shift your focus. It’s your mind and they are your breasts. Enjoy them fully and those around you will benefit from the acceptance you have in yourself.

This is Part IV of a four part series.
Contact me with your feedback.
This Article was originally published in Milk Mag, 2015, Distributed by Boobie-Palooza 

A Mind of Their Own: Our Breasts from Objectivity to Functionality, Part III

black_mother-600x340Written by Natashia Fuksman, MA

Trigger Warning: Derogatory language regarding women’s breasts quoted.

Note: All names and client details have been altered to protect each woman’s confidentiality and privileged information.

Part Three of a Four Part Series

Breast Scenes: Womanhood, Continued

My very first experience of thinking about the complexity of navigating objectivity to functionality as a means of relating to one’s breasts, was when I was a 22 year old single professional in NYC. I did not have children of my own yet. My older sister had recently given birth to our family’s first grandchild. As the younger sister, I was  thoroughly versed in studying my sister’s life, as a prelude of what was ahead for me. I was now studying entrance into motherhood through her experience. What did “motherhood” mean? What did it look like? One thing was for sure–Her breasts certainly had changed. She had always had what I considered to be beautiful (larger than mine) breasts. Now, I was getting used to understanding through observing her that these breasts had a function. It was amazing to witness! For goodness sake, they produced milk! That said, I awoke to a sudden realization that navigating this spectrum of functionality and objectification was no easy feat. I remember us walking through a Park Slope, Brooklyn street fair. My four month old niece was hungry and we were not close to home. We sat on brownstone steps, where I proudly watched my sister nurse my niece. I studied my sister’s motherly moves. It was totally amazing to me that one moment her baby was crying, communicating what I surmised was her own discomfort and the next, my sister had the goods to assist in giving her child what she needed at the drop of a hat! I was experiencing my sister’s breasts (which I had previously objectified and judged) in a functional sense—one that was pretty darn remarkable. After a while, I left my sister’s side to check out a nearby vendor’s items. She continued nursing her daughter. At the vendor’s table, I overheard one man say to another, “Check her out…breast alert…feeding her baby over there…Those titties out in public. hmmm mmm.” These two men were objectifying my sister! Meanwhile she was nurturing her baby and working with the functionality of her breasts. It was paradoxical. This was the beginning of my learning the spectrum women journey as they navigate external sexual attention towards the breast area and the functionality and nurturing properties of their breasts.

israeli-woman-breast-feeding-225x300As mothers, we travel back and forth on this spectrum. It takes time and effort for many of us to hold and possibly feel comfortable navigating the tension between the two. And oh, as if this wasn’t enough…how confusing it can be when we come to points where both may be true! For example, when we are nursing and suddenly feel sexually stimulated! Woe. That’s a big, seemingly contradictory duality—especially when we imagine objectivity to functionality as a spectrum. How can both ends exist at the same time? This “spectrum” is not as linear as one may think.

Breast Scenes: Womanhood, when it looks different

Lisa, a 33 year old woman came to see me when she was pregnant with her second child. She had recently been diagnosed with Stage 1 Breast Cancer. During the early postpartum time period she had a single mastectomy and was going through medical treatment, thus, unable to nurse her newborn son, Sunny. During the process of our work together she needed space to grieve, adjust and heal into her new breast shape and size. She needed to consider what coming into motherhood and womanhood meant for her at this stage, given these circumstances in her life.

What was involved with Lisa’s authentic connection with her breasts now?

o-MASTECTOMY-PATIENT-570Lisa strongly connected with the loss of not being able to breastfeed this time. She couldn’t call upon what she had once considered a supreme feminine power, that which calls upon the functionality of her breasts–something she had so strongly identified motherhood with. The new reality of her breast area and it’s impact on mothering and feeding Sunny was destabilizing for her as a mother and woman. Her emotions included processing anger, nostalgia, confusion, grief and loss. They also included falling in love with her newborn, loving her first born and an incredibly intrinsic, perhaps, primal need for the support of her husband and community. At certain points, the grief didn’t overshadow the love.

Lisa discovered a new place within her awareness of being and it’s relationships with her now scarred bosom. This awareness was less attached to what was or had been. She began to ground herself in the present reality of her experience. During this time of leaving the past and focusing on the present, she began to focus on her identity as a mother. During our sessions, Sunny was often present. I watched her cuddle and bottle feed him at her bosom. Her breast was gone on one side, yet the essence of her bosom entirely present. By circumstance, her experience of motherhood with this child wasn’t centered around her breastfeeding sessions. It was centered through the same route (that of her chest area and heart) but with entirely different circumstances. Mothering was about bonding with Sunny through providing him with the best care she could given their available options. This time around, her experience with motherhood wasn’t so much about being the only source of sustenance, as it was in providing sustenance through the sources she and her family felt matched their values and needs.

She was actually beginning to heal into living, as a result of her processing this traumatic disease’s implications on her body and her concepts of motherhood. 

Beautiful_Love_-_Couple_In_B__352621Parallel to her shifting connection to herself as a mother, her bond with her husband also experienced a dramatic shift. Lisa and her husband were growing an awareness about their love and their abilities to love that moved far beyond the physical body. Her breasts which used to be objectified as sexy (by both of them) held a fuller meaning now. While, Kathy, during puberty, went through the developmental transition to learning to ride the tension in understanding her own and other’s sexual attachment to her breasts, Lisa, was paradoxically learning to detach from the concept of her ability to provide or share in dual breast sexual arousal. She was challenged to redefine her connection to herself, including her sexuality. Her entire awareness of her body was developing anew as was her sexual relationship with her spouse.

“The Real Body is the body of awareness. It is the deathless, the boundaries spaciousness of being. Edgeless awareness.”

thering5Lisa now had one breast and a flat textured scar signifying the location of her former breast. Her goal in therapy was to connect and care for her changed body and mind. During our work together she sometimes shared feeling isolated, questioning her feminine appeal, now that she didn’t have two breasts, “like ‘normal’ women”. She also learned about her own awareness in truly bonding. Her sexual relationship with her husband expanded in it’s intimacy in profound ways at this time. Lisa’s vulnerability and loss became a place where she was able to form roots dealing with her being and how she shares herself with others. Her vitality and death and that of her son, felt overwhelmingly close at times. This increased her anxiety at times. It also gave her a keen sense about living in each moment. She and her partner grieved over her changed body. She detached from her previous identity that was informed by the objectification of her plump breast size and shape. The reality of death eventually led her to discover intimacy through a new lens. Intimate exploration became deeply emotional and evolved on many more levels than she and her husband had ever previously conceived of. Sexual arousal and play with one another broadened as they explored one another’s body’s in new ways. Now sex, incorporated spirit and bodily sensation almost as if they were new lovers, and perhaps even newly alive.

This is Part III of a four part series. Part IV will be posted 03/23.
Contact me with your feedback.
This Article was originally published in Milk Mag, 2015, Distributed by Boobie-Palooza 

A Mind of Their Own: Our Breasts from Objectivity to Functionality, Part II

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Written by Natashia Fuksman, MA

Trigger Warning: Derogatory language regarding women’s breasts quoted.

Note: All names and client details have been altered to protect each woman’s confidentiality and privileged information.

Part Two of a Four Part Series

 Breast Scenes: Puberty

Moving through puberty involves physiological shifts, like our bodies beginning to menstruate, hormonal increases causing emotional ups and downs and physical changes like growing pubic hair, breast and nipple development. At 12 years old, Kathy (another client of mine) shared a story with me about her first time being “felt up” by a boyfriend. She remembered feeling surprised and then aroused when he touched her breasts. It was overwhelming to both figure out whether she should allow him to touch her in this way and then to experience sexual arousal with another: “It was kind of like, conflicting feelings. I wasn’t supposed to let guys touch me like that and it felt good in a new exciting kind of way.” She remembers she broke up with him soon after with great clarity that the break up was due to the ironic complexity of holding social expectations of what a “good girl” was and feeling safe enough to embrace sexual arousal. In fact, Kathy remembers feeling so overwhelmed and even scared of this complexity weaving together new emotion, judgement and physical experience, that she stopped talking to the boy all together. Whilst she felt badly for hurting his feelings, she remembers a great desire to shut down.

During puberty Kathy was learning about her own sexual arousal and the power in enhancing arousal through the fondling of her breasts. She was also becoming aware of the reality that her breasts could be a source of stimulation for someone else, through touch, in this case, but also through site and/or fantasy.  To be clear here, sexual stimulation is not problematic. However, Kathy’s experience shows us that as she was coming into her sexual self, she felt very conflicted about previously internalized messages dealing with the privacy of her breasts. She did not know whether sharing her breasts with her boyfriend was shameful or not and simultaneously, she was feeling incredibly vulnerable in someone else focusing attention on her breasts for their own pleasure. That was a lot of new information for Kathy to take in at once and carried with it much responsibility. Kathy’s rite of passage during puberty, included the developmental tasks of identifying with her changing breasts and body parallel to and impacted by other’s judgments and interactions about her boobs/body.

The physical changes we experience as pubescent girls are both visible and invisible. One of the most focused changes we experience at this time is with our breasts. Our chest area during puberty, can seem like a public domain—-open to all having their own judgments and breast stories and baggage. Personally, one may be quite curious about her changing breast size and shape, as well as the new sensations she may feel with the unity of breast stimulation and sexual excitement. That said, for many of us, it is not just about exploring the beauty or wonder of sexual stimulation. We have societies baggage and judgment about breasts already as part of our super ego development. This parallel process—that of our personal experience in connecting with what we feel and look like and that of others values/judgements/experience with regards to our boobs makes the authentic relationship with our breast identity quite inextricably woven together–sometimes knotted up. In Kathy’s case, as opposed to feeling open to her sexuality, this complexity was so vulnerable and seemingly contradictory that at the time, her safest recourse was to shut down.

Vintage WomenBreast Scenes: Womanhood

Over the years, I have studied the interconnection between the psychological and physiological transitions mothers experience with their breasts. Women entering motherhood are often somewhat versed (not necessarily comfortable, but versed) and/or used to navigating the complex relationship between her personal connection with her breasts and others sexual objectification of her breasts, including judgments about their presentation and potential sexual arousal rating. Then we enter motherhood. Quite suddenly we are confronted with a function to our breasts—- in fact, the reality sets in that our breast area is one of the most essential places for our babies to be. Our babies may be fed at our breasts (breast or bottle feeding often takes place in the nurturing area of our breasts). Our bosoms– the essential area where our babies are cuddled. and warmed. Think about it—our breast area postpartum—we have these two mounds of soft tissue right next to the plump, mushiness of our now empty bellies. Our babies often end up in the shelter of our chests. This is likely the closest our newborns may experience to being in utero. Did you know that when a baby is born, the quickest way to warm her is skin to skin contact at our chest area. In fact, this action warms babies quicker than warming lamps and/or blankets!03477284e048560fbe808bb62265386a

A new mother goes from having dealt with objectified breasts her entire life to functional & objectified breasts. Let’s remind ourselves of the major developmental task/transition Kathy experienced during puberty of incorporating her sexuality and connection with her own changing breasts parallel to how others’ perceived and experienced her breasts. When we become new mothers, we have a new dimension of identity forming a spectrum of how we and others will relate to our breasts. We and everyone around us will stare at us, looming over the function of our breasts and the desire of our babies to be at our breast area for feeding and nurturing as often as possible.

So, this idea of expanding our minds to that of both sharing our breasts in a sexualized way with a partner, and then also with our babies is summed up concisely by the Rap Superstar, JayZ, on Beyonce’s recent self-titled album: “Your breasteses is my breaskfast”, says JayZ referring to his wife, Beyonce’s breasts. It seems that even Beyonce, the mega Pop Star and new mother, has both a baby seeking the shelter of her chest, as well as JayZ, her husband. A scenario, many mothers can relate to—Early motherhood being a time where our bosoms are with our babies quite often while we simultaneously navigate their meaning and relationship with our sexual partners.

This is Part Two of a four part series. Part Three will be posted soon! Contact me with your feedback.
This Article was originally published in Milk Mag, 2015, Distributed by Boobie-Palooza 

A Mind of Their Own: Our Breasts–From Objectivity to Functionality Part I

1797150_10152244009549273_1328870752_nWritten by Natashia Fuksman, MA

Trigger Warning: Derogatory language regarding women’s breasts quoted.

Note: All names and client details have been altered to protect each woman’s confidentiality and privileged information.

Part One of a Four Part Series

This is not an article about breastfeeding mothers. I also don’t have a five step plan that will resolve your authentic relationship with your breasts. This is an article for women acknowledging the external influences we experience regarding the our culture’s emphasized purpose of breasts and the impact this has on our personal connection with our boobs. From girlhood, through puberty, young adulthood and then as mothers, we are inundated with cultural messages about our breasts. From Hooters (you know, that “family” restaurant) to American Apparel (you know, that “all-american” clothing store that has super young looking models in extremely sexualized ads), to our very personal experiences within our families, what is involved in the mental and emotional process of identifying with our chest area? Is our future breast identity affected by our girlhood experiences? What is involved with identifying with our developing breasts as teens? As young adults? As Mothers? Amongst all the cultural dogma objectifying our breasts, is there a way we can empower ourselves to connect authentically with our breasts? What does that mean? What does it feel like?

OK, Sigh…so many questions. These are personal questions. I don’t have a dogmatic answer that magically works for all of us. I don’t have any specific answers for you AND Thank goodness! In fact, if I were to give you some script on how to authentically connect with your breasts, I would be mirroring the idea that my singular perspective is the truth and the whole of your breasts. I’m not going to do that. 

Women’s breasts are literally present in my office all the time. I am a therapist who specializes in working with mothers and couples, and lead various Mother and Couple Support Groups. Mother’s nurse in front of me, they pump during individual and couple’s sessions, they comfort their babies at their bosoms. Sometimes women even snuggle with their partners at their bosom during a tender moment of a therapeutic session. They share their feelings regarding their ever-changing breasts (i.e. identifying—or not— with their breasts when they have changed in size due to pregnancy, weight gain/loss; what it’s like for them to feed and/or nurture their babies at their breast; whether they enjoy engaging in sexual stimulation wit  h their breasts today in any way that resembles their pleasure/play with them prior to pregnancy; the emotional impact of the reality of experiencing sore nipples and breast areas; how they are processing their’s and other’s feelings about their success or lack of with breastfeeding—which can be so tied to her concept of how successful or not she is as a mother; etc.). And it all makes sense. Our breasts are not merely there for sexual gratification and/or objectification; Our breasts are not just a part of us due to their function in feeding and caring for our loved ones. There is a complex and rich tension in acknowledging all the ways in which we relate with our breasts—the complexity is a far cry from just the objectivity that mass media promotes or the functionality of our breasts in terms of milk production.  Our breasts may be an area where any one of us can individually experience sexual stimulation. Our breasts may also be a place where we invite and rely on their ability to produce milk and/or be a bonding zone between ourselves and our beloved. Is this it though? In fact, the varying roles and feelings we have about our breasts, our connection with them is a life long journey that shape shifts. Every human woman has both a collective and individual set of experiences that inform her identity with her breasts. Acknowledging this through personal thought and open conversation is a great step in growing closer to your breasts, your body and your mind. We open empowering doors moving towards our authentic truths about our mind-breast relationship, as we explore this conversation internally and with others.

Breast Scenes: Pre-puberty

Last night I put my 5 year old son to sleep. During his routine massage, instead of gently stroking his belly or back, for whatever reason, I found myself gently massaging his chest. In the most relaxed voice he said, “This feels really good Mommy”.  I learned something new about what is soothing for him; about what helps him turn off, getting to a more relaxed state. Two immediate things came to mind. Firstly, the chest area of a human is such an intimate, sacred space. It makes sense to me that it feels relaxing to sooth and be soothed through that space that is literally closest to our very hearts. I could relate with my child’s experience in this sense. 

Subsequently, as obvious as it may seem, it became apparent to me that my son and I will have incredibly different experiences in how we identify with and what informs our choice to share our chest area with others. If someone gently massaged my chest, I can imagine it being potentially relaxing, perhaps in the kind of way my son felt. That said, depending on who was doing the massage, it would be experienced in a “loaded” way. You may think this is true for males as well, but it doesn’t hold the same weight as it does for females. In the same way that my identity with my knee caps, for instance, doesn’t have as much baggage as my identity with my breasts because of the power and societal focus on women’s breasts vs. mens or knee caps, in general. As young girls when we are developing our mind and bodies we experience both conscious and unconscious messages about our breast area affecting our identity as women.

Consider this example from a client, we will call Samantha, who was reflecting on a childhood memory involving her chest area. She is 6 years old in this memory and at a baseball game during a heated summer day in hot and humid Florida. She is standing on the side lines of the field with her family and other spectators; immediately next to her father. She complains about feeling very hot. A sportsman by trade and passion, without pealing his eyes from the game, her father suggests she take her shirt off. Contemplating the idea, she surmised that might help her feel a little less heated. She let her father know she was willing to try this, to get some reprieve from the heat. Again, without pealing his eyes away from the game, he helped her remove her shirt. Now, nude from the waist up, her mother took notice and exclaimed, questioning the father’s choice in exposing their daughter’s chest publicly. Her father retorted (again, with passionate focus on the game) that she had “nothing to hide— yet”. Her recollection is she didn’t last more than 2 minutes with her shirt off. She felt exposed and embarrassed. She put her shirt back on choosing the discomfort of the heat over that of public exposure and shame.

By the age of six, Samantha was already feeling the impact of other’s opinions about her chest, leading her to choose to move away from the pressure and tension of judgement about her chest, forsaking physical comfort, as a consequence. This is not a “bad” thing. It’s just a reality for most females. As we grow up, we are told in a variety of ways that our breasts hold great power in and of themselves and that we need to make choices (that will be judged by others) about how we want to represent and share our breasts. Will we choose to cover them up appropriately given the setting we are in? Will we prop them up, creating cleavage and a shelf— for viewing purposes? Will we make sure to wear gear that covers our potentially protruding nipples, so as to avoid distracting others?

This is Part One of a four part series. Part Two follows in the next blog posting on this blog. Contact me with your feedback.
This Article was originally published in Milk Mag, 2015, distributed by Boobie-Palooza. 

Why Parent Imperfection is Necessary for Children

o-SAD-KID-MOM-facebookI am a therapist. Most of my clients come in to see me to deal with their growing and shifting identity as parents and beyond. My clients are incredibly caring people who are striving to thrive in their relationships with their partners, their children, their extended family and friends and within themselves. Recently, Sarah (pseudonym), came in and shared her guilt over her own frustration with her son that morning. She had lost her patience with him during the morning transition of getting out the door to go to school/work. She spoke with him harshly, took his favorite toy away from him as a consequence of his lack of cooperation and they subsequently parted with unresolved tension and sadness. Sarah was aware that she had not endangered her son in any way. She was also aware that he knew she had become angry with him and that anger was demonstrated in her lack of kindness and patience, qualities in a parent she highly regards. She cried, confessing how guilty she felt for her reaction to her child that morning. She felt shame over her imperfections as a parent that morning.

I looked at Sarah and said, “I see this is upsetting to you and can understand why. It can feel awful to have negative feelings towards our own children.” Then I asked, “That said, do you realize how great it is that you you are an imperfect parent?”

She was perplexed and asked me to explain further.

Let’s put ourselves in our children’s shoes for a second. When our children come into the world the main things they seem to do are eating, sleeping and crying. They are, however doing something else with abundant focus and intensity. They are studying their caregiver (whom I will refer to as, “parent”). After all, their parents literally mean the world to  their very existence. At first, their parent is seemingly perfect. In fact, every other person in the world (including themselves) will subsequently be compared to their primary study—their parent. As the child grows and becomes more independent, their understanding of their own identity is shaped around how they are and are not like their parents. 

Can you imagine how difficult forming a healthy self-identity would be if you believed your parent was perfect? Every time you screwed up, you would see yourself as an even bigger failure, because you would have failed to be as perfect as your parent, your primary role model. It doesn’t serve your child for you to be the “perfect parent”. Rather, it serves your child for you to acknowledge your mistakes and to model how you can move forward together, in relationship with them as you acknowledge your mistake or imperfection. Through your example, your child will learn how to tolerate and grow from mistakes you, they or others make. When we embrace and model how to work with our mistakes we shift them to learning curves. This gift is so much more than the weight of any one mistake. Learning curves help us live in the moment and move forward on our life’s journey with greater meaning! In recognition of our learning curves, we give our children a model for their own journey in life.

From Gourmet Fondue to Mac-n-Cheese: Reflections on Postpartum Intimacy

fondue coupleEveryone comes into parenthood differently. Some of us have been in the same intimate relationship for years and then have a baby. Some of us get pregnant by chance and then begin our relationship. All of us experience a completely new sense of self once we begin parenting. As parents, we become fully responsible for our new fully dependent babies. That’s huge! Inevitably, the journey of parenthood drastically changes our worldly experience, including our intimate relationships.

As a therapist, I work with individuals and couples who are navigating the new terms of their intimate connections as a result of major life transitions, such as becoming a parent. Most commonly, new parents come in wanting to know how they can “get their groove back”. Here is an imaginary, yet common, case example:

To read further, please click here for the rest of this article and to get tips on what to do to increase your intimacy with your partner, while raising young children 🙂

The Role of the Doula with Couples

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August 18, 2014

The role of doulas in working with couples varies per each couples needs and desires as well as per each doulas awareness, intuition and energy in working with women and their partners. I had the honor of presenting a talk on this topic to The East Bay Doula Group this past August in Berkeley, California. Please feel free to browse the powerpoint presentation that I used as a means of sparking a conversation and planting seeds.

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The East Bay Doula Group came up with the following list of “seeds doulas can plant” when working with couples:

  • Incorporate each parent during consult visit and prenatals
  • Asking each parent about their ideas of each partner’s role
  • asking each parent about their own birth stories
  • Asking partner what his concerns and fears are?
  • Bringing up the topic of self-care and couple care
  • Modeling compassion “during the wild ride”
  • Assess couple’s communication pattern and think about balance
  • Giving space for partner to speak and couple to interact, rather than doula always leading
  • Taking time and making space for each person’s perspective
  • Expanding the myth of the angry woman in labor
  • Active listening skills to empower//not always fixing or giving advice
  • Being mindful about the language you use and it’s implications
  • Less criticism and more openness to different parenting styles/needs/desires
  • Partners can help without breasts!
  • Modeling
  • Understanding parenting together will mean negotiating
  • Always think about what works for each individual family, as opposed to things being the way you were trained in…
  • Consider what process couple went through to conceive
  • Honor each parent’s strengths
  • Realize parenting is a dance journey