After I had my fourth baby, the later in life surprise child, the weight just did not come off. I had lost all the baby weight after the first three when I was in my 20s and still married and even for a few years after the divorce and into single parenthood. It wasn’t until several months after baby Megan came along that I looked at myself in the mirror one day and realized I had let myself go, that I had told myself it was okay to eat all the time because I was a breastfeeding Mom. I ate away the pain of Megan’s Dad leaving when I was six months pregnant and a single mom with three kids, ages 11, 10, and 8. I told myself over and over that it was okay, that I’d remain strong for my kids.
But I had unknowingly gained 50 pounds after I had my fourth baby. I sobbed one morning as I looked into the mirror and saw myself—a heavy set 36-year-old woman. That was almost 30 years ago. But not long after that fateful morning with kids pounding on the bathroom door I learned to love myself once again.
It all began when the brakes slipped on my Ford Escort while driving down the road with baby Megan in her car seat and my daughter, then 10-year-old Melissa, in the front seat. The boys were at soccer practice, or perhaps it was baseball. I don’t remember for sure. I immediately beelined for Les Scwab, which was close by because it isn’t safe to drive a car with bad brakes, especially with children. I groaned as I stood in the brightly lit room and a young guy who sounded just a little too cheerful for my taste said, “Ma’am, your brakes are gone.”
I had no choice but to have them fix my brakes, and I wondered if I’d have enough money to get them fixed as I sat down in a crowded waiting room with blaring fluorescent lights holding baby Megan. Melissa sat right next to me, holding the diaper bag.
Baby Megan, with her adorable fluff of red hair, screamed her head off. Her cries echoed through the entire waiting room and tire store and beyond. People were not kind; they all looked uncomfortable, even the lady with the two kids who played quietly. They looked at me sternly as if to say, “shut that baby up!”
“She’s hungry,” I said to Melissa, who nodded solemnly. She was very serious for a 10-year-old.
I felt so inadequate and awkward. We didn’t have a bottle. Megan rarely took a bottle, if ever. She was a breastfed baby. Her little cherub face turned bright red as she waved her pink Jammie-clad arms and yelled louder. I got up while holding Megan and attempted to open the bathroom door. There was only one bathroom in the waiting room, and the door was locked.
I sat back down on the chair next to Melissa as people in the waiting room gave me dirty looks—the old and the young. Some of them just looked away and no one would make direct eye contact. The guys who worked there pretended like nothing was happening and just went about their business.
I fumbled with my shirt and Melissa took a receiving blanket out of the diaper bag and attempted to drape it over me as Megan screamed and I tried to be as discrete as possible in the fishbowl we sat in.
“This is preposterous!” an elderly man with a frown said. Did he really say that? He wasn’t anything like my nice doctor, who would never think this was a bad thing.
Megan continued to scream. Poor baby. Megan squirmed under the receiving blanket Melissa attempted to drape over me and kept falling off.
Then something clicked inside me. It doesn’t matter what these people think. I just didn’t care. I knew my body wasn’t perfect, but the only other thing I knew was that my baby was hungry.
I handed the receiving blanket back to Melissa and unbuttoned my shirt. I pulled out my large, swollen breast in front of everyone and held Megan close to me. She immediately latched on. People squirmed in their seats. Some looked away, disgusted. Some couldn’t stop staring. As I breastfed my baby at Les Schwab Tire and Brakes in that brightly lit room with Melissa sitting close as if she was protecting us, I realized it didn’t matter if I looked perfect, and it also didn’t matter what anyone else thought. I felt a sense of triumph.