My eldest child is 12. I recently calculated that at least 24 people have touched my breasts since I was pregnant with him.
My husband only makes up one of those people.
For the record, I'm not the kind of person who allows random strangers to cop a feel. I'm referring to all the medical professionals who helped me through pregnancy and the aftermath where touching what is normally considered private property became public.
Generally speaking, there are plenty of bodily changes that occur during the miraculous minefield that is growing a human. Perhaps it's lumpy breasts during pregnancy that we worry about, or leaking bosoms that we're double checking are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Whatever the issue, it often requires someone else to take a look, and possibly a feel.
Once the baby arrives, so do the inevitable feeding challenges. Each of my babies needed some encouragement in the breastfeeding arena. That meant every midwife on a new shift was buzzed to guide me and my baby down the potholed path of breastfeeding. The compassionate staff members squeezed and prodded at my bosoms, lining up a nipple to a screaming baby's mouth more often than I'd like to recall.
In the year of breastfeeding that followed each birth, I was unlucky enough to get mastitis more than once. Yet another opportunity to flash my breasts at a doctor who then may have to touch the area to make an accurate diagnosis.
It's not just breasts either: being touched is an expected requirement of being pregnant. Doctors, obstetricians, midwives, sonographers, masseurs, physiotherapists, acupuncturists, osteopaths. Whatever and whomever you may have needed through your nine months, most likely it would have included an examination - and possibly palpation.
Let me clarify before I continue: none of the above is a complaint. It's absolutely part and parcel of the pregnancy/baby/breastfeeding world. And I'm quite a touchy-feely person; I touch people when I talk to them, I hug and I kiss (people I know) freely. I'm certainly not touch-phobic.
However, what all that handling during the process of becoming a parent has made me reflect on is personal space.
Once you move on from physical examinations, birth and breastfeeding, then there is the baby attached to you, in some cases, for many hours of the day. At first, it's a beautiful thing. This gorgeous koala-like being cuddling into you, squirming until they find that spot that soothes them, usually in an awkward crook of your neck. After a while, you're quite happy for someone else to have a hold, to rock the baby just so you can free your arms and your body for a short spell.
As the baby grows, he may enter phases of clinginess and separation anxiety where all he wants to do is crawl inside your skin. Again, it's lovely to know that you are the soul that brings comfort and security, but occasionally you'd like them to cling to that other comforting soul: their father. Hell, you'd happily offer the arm of the couch or even the cat who has shown zero interest in the baby (another household member who is hanging onto their personal space) - someone or something other than you. Just a little personal space … it's all you ask.
Then your neglected, feeling-rejected, partner comes in for a hug. A simple cuddle which may also come with a tap on the bottom or a sensual caress. And you flip your lid. Back away from the boobs! The poor man has been unfortunate enough to occupy that last skerrick of personal space you held so dear.
Overcoming the constant invasion of personal space is something all pregnant women and new mothers have to get used to. Some manage the transition easier than others.
I've just waved my youngest child off to school, peeling her from my leg to escort her into her classroom. As all this was happening, I wondered if these days of limited personal space are numbered. For all those times I silently wished for a small radar around my body with an alarm that would ring with a shrill scream if someone entered the force field, perhaps I will now wish for an impromptu hug, a climb on a knee to read a story, or a request for a piggyback.
Of course, as with most things in life, there is a silver lining: my husband can now enter back into the personal space zone without getting tasered.