Excuse me, You’re Stepping on My Boob – My Experiences with Autonomy Loss in Motherhood


August 1, 2013 by Katia

A turning point in my life was when someone stepped on my boob and opened my eyes to what my body had become or more accurately to what it no longer was. No, I’m not into kinky stuff, if you’re willing to overlook my sleep fetish. The boob stepper was my four-year-old son, who relies on two categories to classify his questionable actions: on purpose and on accident. While the boob steppery was definitely an on accident. I remember the chain of vaguely formulated thoughts, crawling through my tired brain: ‘ouch my boob, ouch my self esteem, um shouldn’t this be over yet? OK that just happened’.

Yes, this was definitely ouchy, but it was more than that, serving as an illustration to something I’ve long felt, but haven’t until that moment clearly defined, or admitted to myself. My reality, no matter how much I protest, correct or discipline, is one where something like that is a possibility. My body is no longer private and autonomous and I don’t get to call the shots. You might be thinking “well duh, isn’t pregnancy kinda, yano, supposed to prepare you for this?? You share your body with another human being for nine months, yada yada, the end?” Oh sure, theoretically I was totally prepared, but the vision I had was more along the communism lines, where we all get to share this body of mine, but me, like the bad communist that I am, getting a bigger share than the rest, whereas in reality it turned out to be a dictatorship and I was the subordinate. So, yeah, I was prepared. Totes.

Before having kids, I was able to anticipate but not fully appreciate nor understand some of the ways in which I was going to surrender control, but it was an awareness akin to that of what goes on on a space shuttle. There’s a bunch of buttons, no gravity and they have to catch their food because it floats, right? I understood lack of privacy, as far as I could tell, because I knew the meaning of each of these words and could use them correctly. I may have even foreseen the current family meeting time situation previously known as my trip to the washroom, but boob stepping? Really??? Does that ever cross anyone’s mind in preparation for motherhood? I couldn’t imagine that motherhood’s lack of privacy had an extension, autonomy loss. That seemingly insignificant boob incident became symbolic of not simply ‘expect the unexpected’ but expect the unimaginable of the ‘these boobs are made for stepping’ variety.

July 2013 488

I recently wrote: becoming a mother made me function in unexplored ways, as an object, as a noun, as so many things I am not, things that humans are not.

I’ve learned what being someone’s food felt like. I’ve served as a comfort object: a pillow, a blankie and a white noise machine. I’ve become instant entertainment at your disposal: a squishy toy, a ladder, a trampoline, an on accident punching bag. By allowing the occasional furious temple hair pulling or not being quick enough to duck when a remote control device was being launched repeatedly to my forehead I’ve become an interactive learning toy, of the developmental kind, call it a Baby Piaget, facilitating my sons’ learning of what their little hands are capable of.

Some of these may not represent bodily autonomy loss at first glance. The decision to breastfeed was all mine but in becoming someone’s food you lose some autonomies, chief among them for me was freedom of movement. As food I was constantly scared of leaving home and eventually didn’t. And yes I knew I could always pump. So I did. Always pump, that is, just not at first. Loss of bodily autonomy also meant surrendering the ability to make body-concerned decisions that represented my will. The unbearable pain I’ve experienced during the first month of breastfeeding while my mother in law was staying with us to help, created circumstances under which I was no longer able to decide who gets to see my private parts. I still don’t get to choose when and if I shower and did we talk about sleep yet? I call violation of human rights!

And then reality went: I’ll see your boob-stepping incident and raise you a multi-participant pumping schedule discussion, moving me even further away from the notion of autonomy over body and demonstrating that what I perceived as “my body” was an inertia-based idea, completely irrelevant now.  This kind of autonomy loss felt somehow even more invasive. My body – no longer just a vehicle for the benevolent dictatorship of little boys, but now also channeling the practices of democracy of grown ups.

You may not be surprised to hear, that loss of internal organ privacy was involved as well. I no longer own my brain, and oh, how I long for at least an hour of solitude with it, so I could finish this post. Neil Gaiman should update American Gods to include the God of Feed, because that deity’s everywhere: Twitter, Facebook, email, RSS, the news feed, the commercial feed. We live alongside the feed, flooded by it, often not aware of our active blocking of its attempts to monopolize our brains. And then there’s another kind of feed, more persistent, sometimes vocal and demanding, sometimes soft and curious, always so much more meaningful than the rest. It’s the feed I want to be as responsive to as possible, because it’s the feed that feeds off of me, and it’s CONSTANT, the four-year-old feed. His thoughts, questions, observations, jokes, brags never stop pouring in in a constant stream. Always starting with a curious, irresistible mama? Being the filter through which he processes the world is one of motherhood’s most honourable and gratifying roles, but it’s also one of the most demanding ones, making me wish I could just get some alone time with my brain for a few minutes, please?! I need it to continue cultivating my sleep fetish.

It’s not that loss of bodily autonomy is the devil, but it’s definitely a loss of bodily autonomy. I am food, entertainment, comfort, learning, filter, everything. I am everything to my sons, but one day I won’t be. The autonomy over body will be gradually restored, at least for a while, and so will the autonomy over brain. And then as I’m all alone with my thoughts again, I’ll have something new to complain about.




61 thoughts on “Excuse me, You’re Stepping on My Boob – My Experiences with Autonomy Loss in Motherhood

  1. pam9090 says:

    So true. All of it. Especially how it always starts innocently with a casual “Mama?” Hopefully you got some of what you were looking for at BlogHer. Please tell me you left the little ones at home! Seriously though, despite the exhaustion and the monotony, do you ever step back from it and realize how cool it is to have this power to be someone’s everything?

    • Katia says:

      Oh, absolutely. I think that that’s what keeps us in line when we are being driven totally nuts. Knowing that we are their EVERYTHING. 🙂

  2. God yes and with 2 kids 16 months apart and the youngest still not quite 3 years old, believe me I can relate and then some. Thank you for putting your unique spin on this and seriously felt so right at home reading this. Thanks also for joining us again this week and linking up today!!

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much, Janine. You guys always challenge me and I LOVE this hop! I’m just realizing I totally forgot to check next week’s topic!

  3. Well, not shockingly, I relate to pretty much all of this. I may have jumped out of my chair and shouted, “Yes!” I feel this way ALL the time. My eyes are accidentally poked, I am elbowed and kneed in the ribcage and face, and my toddler’s new favorite pastime is to pull down the neck of my shirt in front of other people and peer inside. She did this tonight in front of my in-laws. All I kept thinking was, “Please God, please don’t let her say *See your nipples* in front of them!” The lack of autonomy and dignity is staggering. No better person to put this into words than you. Brilliantly done.

  4. Wow, Katia, this is amazing and so true. I remember a mom telling me, before I had kids, how she was so unprepared for the physicality of motherhood ~ kids always hanging on you, and your personal space totally gone. And I also remember how freeing it felt when I weaned, that after 9 months of pregnancy and 9 months of nursing, my body was my own again, at least in terms of what I ate. I could drink diet coke and eat crappy food and it only affected me! Such a deep and thoughtful post about one of the things we don’t really think about when we approach motherhood. {And I love the communism reference…. LOL}

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much, my friend. I’m glad you enjoyed the communism reference, I kind of laughed out loud with myself when I was writing this 🙂 Yes, that’s exactly it, the physicality.Not prepared. Still caught off guard when elbowed, kicked etc… Can’t wait to read yours!

  5. Betty Taylor says:

    My youngest son goes to college in 20 days. As you notice, I have it down to the day. It’s kind of scary thinking about having my daily life without having to consider what he is doing all the time. My oldest child is 40 so I have been doing this for over 40 years. Believe it or not, I am getting sappy over all the years when I never had a free moment to myself.

    • Katia says:

      Oh, congratulations on your son starting college, that’s so exciting and understandably emotional for you! Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment!

  6. I can relate to this so much, Katia! I am just very tired and unable to form very coherent thoughts this evening, so I am not going to put thoughtful comments on here. But I wanted to let you know I was nodding in agreement over much of this!

    • Katia says:

      Oh, thank you Sarah, and I know exactly how it feels to not be able to formulate a coherent thought when you’re trying to comment. I feel like that most of the time! Thank you so much for letting me know you related 🙂

  7. Lizzi Rogers says:

    Thanks for the heads up! This is an incredible, very inspiring post. And it doesn’t put me off 🙂

  8. Dana says:

    Wonderful post, Katia. I remember that time in my life, and I actually get a little nostalgic for it sometimes. It’s so strange when your children start school and you are no longer the person they spend the largest part of the day with. The autonomy of my body was restored many years ago, and the brain too (pretty much) – but my heart was taken almost 15 years ago and hasn’t been mine to control since. It’s a mother’s burden and a blessing, and you articulated that so well!

  9. This is a great post and one that I can definitely relate to. My children are now 6 and 8. At one point in their lives, they were literally touching my body for around 22 hours of the day. Now that they are older, we still love cuddling, but I do think it is my responsibility to teach them boundaries, both for my own sanity and so that they understand the importance of consent before touching other people’s bodies.

    • Katia says:

      I completely agree, Annie. I am trying to start instilling the idea of boundaries in my older son and I think he is mostly just confused now. I don’t want him to associate private parts with shame, which is what I believe I may have unintentionally done. I probably have to read about this, so I can approach this more academically 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting, Annie, I really appreciate it!

  10. Oh, I hear ya. The most shocking thing to me when I became a mom was how often I was physically injured, unintentionally. I’ve learned that when a child has a board book or any other object in the history of objects, that I should immediately cover my face. I was hit in the face too many times by those things. Great post!

    • Katia says:

      Yes, exactly, Kate. A board book means duck and cover! And it isn’t it interesting how we are totally unaware of this aspect of motherhood until it happens to us?

  11. The Waiting says:

    I am gobsmacked at all the truth behind this post. Isn’t it strange how we can quantify all the ways that becoming a parent infringes on who we thought we were before we had kids, and how hard it is to admit that we’ve gone an entire week without really thinking of ourselves, but at the same time want no other life at all?

    This was absolutely, positively beautiful, Katia. Everyone needs to read it.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much, Emily. It really means a lot coming from you. I know I’ve probably said it before, but I truly mean it. I respect your opinion a lot. I know it’s almost like I’m a stranger in my own life sometimes.

  12. Whitney says:

    Though I was unable to breastfeed, not without weeks of anguished trying, I have recently begun the fun times of ‘baby teething chew-toy”. I’m not sure what to do with her when she grabs my thumb and starts aiming it to her mouth for prompt teething relief but it is a little nice knowing she knows exactly who to come to for relief and hey, girlfriend is resourceful when need be and no toys are around. As long as this doesn’t go to other children . . .

  13. Oh Katia! I love the last paragraph! Yes, we are so much to our children, but we won’t always be. Sorry that your poor boobie got stepped on but you turned that experience into an amazingly wonderful and beautiful look at what it’s truly like to be a mom.

  14. Boob steppery. HAHAHAHAHHAAAAAAAAAAAAA. You have a way of making even serious conversations incredibly witty.

    And yes, I agree with Kristy. That last line gave me chills!! I constantly remind myself that I”m going to miss each stage someday and try to accept the boob steppery and other loss of autonomy with equanimity and grace. Mostly I fail, but I try… 🙂

  15. […] Bucket lists are about grandiose wishes uninhibited by realistic limitations. Sure, I’d love to travel, eat in the world’s best restaurant and not bungee jump but I would trade of all of that for one simple wish.  […]

  16. Ouch! So sweet, funny and true all at once. Can’t say my boobs have ever been stepped on – but my toes and the back of my flip flips too many times to count. I try to love the love I get but I really don’t need to be thigh to thigh sitting on the sofa – and I’m really surprised if my son isn’t waiting for me in my room when I come out of the bathroom. I guess you could say I have two boys. My oldest one is 43. I have been hurt when “the kids” wrestle while I’m in the bed. I’ll receive an accidental jab that makes me get up and go to another room huffing mad 😉

    • Katia says:

      😀 HA! Yes, I know all about being a wrestling casualty! That sucks. Also, I look forward to the days my son waits OUTSIDE the bathroom, but I but it’s still every bit as annoying.

  17. Yup. I can barely write another word, because it makes me cringe.

  18. Elena says:

    The photo is impressive! I am speechless…

  19. JenKehl says:

    I love how you write. I feel exactly what you’re talking about as my child is telling me he’s hungry for the 100th time and “Don’t say pasta!” My life is not my own. Will it ever be?

  20. […] Excuse me, You’re Stepping on My Boob – My Experiences with Autonomy Loss in Motherhood (iamthemilk.wordpress.com) […]

  21. Katia says:

    Reblogged this on iamthemilk and commented:

    I was thinking recently that almost every single one of my posts that deals with parenting could be filed under “ways in which motherhood surprised me”. I wrote this post in August and am dedicating this today to my new readers and the moms in the UK celebrating Mother’s Day.

  22. Lydia Devadason says:

    This is so so true and beautifully and hilariously written 🙂

  23. I could feel myself getting tense as I was reading this and knowing the truth of it. Then you reminded us that it’s not going to be like this forever and I started to breath again. There are many days that I forget that fact and that someday I might look back on this season and miss it. I say “might” because I’m not convinced but it could be because it’s taken me ten minutes to type these sentences because my kids are fighting over who gets to sit on/next to me on the couch. Great post Katia!

    • Katia says:

      Oh, I hear you, Karen. I’ve been feeling (and believing) for awhile now that I may actually not sleep. Ever. Again. This post is a bit of an exercise in autosuggestion. I know that we probably definitely absolutely are going to miss these days, when are our kids were small and squeezable and looked up to us, but does that make simultaneously being squishy toy/white noise machine/voice of truth any easier? Probably not. 🙂 Hang in there.

  24. larva225 says:

    Boob steppery = early mammogram training? Been there, done that! Also pumped while driving. That takes skill and no shame whatsoever.
    Also, love the analogy to a toddler’s “feed.” It makes me totally drunk. I had never thought of it in those terms.

    • Katia says:

      HAHA! Thanks, you win the internet today with your pumping while driving comment! Oh yes, the feed. I am still (the only item) on my sons’ RSS feed… 😛

  25. viol415 says:

    So truthful and funny! I often bemoan my inability to wear clean pants for more than 10 minutes together, walk anywhere without little hands clinging to my legs, or shower without an audience.

    It won’t be forever, but it’s our reality now. It takes a great deal of wisdom to know how to treasure this in the midst of the roil.

    • Katia says:

      So true, it does. I am not sure I’m fully treasuring this right now. I think it’s human nature to bemoan and then regret and miss and it takes a conscious effort to see the positive, or shall we say miss-able, in these “public showering” situations, it’s definitely a mental exercise… 🙂

  26. Shay says:

    I love this, all of this! It is all so true!

  27. Oh my gosh. Hilarious post. I can totally relate having 3 little ones around. 🙂 And, i love that you mentioned the loss of internal organs too. I’d really like to have my brain back, please. Thanks!

  28. Elvee says:

    I love how deep insights you have so much on motherhood. I love this post 🙂

  29. theangrym0m says:

    Love this! You and I are def on the same page I feel so alone in my fight to control my own being now that I am a mother in ways I feel only other mothers (this seems few and far between as well) can quite get a handle on. Perfectly articulated here, every emotion I feel on a daily basis.

  30. Brian says:

    Being a guy, I can only imagine what it’s really like to experience that turning point in life when you get your boob stepped on for the first time. (I’m pretty skinny, so I have no man-boobs at all). I’ve never been someone’s food, although I make a decent pillow or blankie in a pinch.

    I think I can relate to the overall situation, though. When my daughters were young, like 2 or 3, maybe 4 years old, they were very energetic. They could have used something like a trampoline, but we didn’t have room for one in our yard. They of course improvised…

    When I laid on the couch to watch TV, they would somehow convince me to roll onto my stomach so they could use my back as a dad-oline. They’d stand upright on the arm of the couch–or sometimes even the back of it (!)–and leap through the air, landing butt- or knee-first on my spine, kidneys, ribs, or shoulder blades. This was totally on purpose. They’d jump up and down on me a few times, then go back to the starting point and do it all over again, repeatedly, on purpose. I could have just moved out of the way, but that might have resulted in damage to the couch, so I dutifully protected our furniture in a way that would have made any watching chiropractor smile and begin to drool over visions of luxury cruises and BMWs.

    It never occurred to me to simply tell the girls, “Excuse me, but you’re pummeling my skeleton and organs.”

    They’ve outgrown that phase now, and I advise you to not give up hope. Someday, you will be able to lie peacefully and never worry about the possibility of your boobs being stepped on. But you might want to start practicing statements like, “Excuse me, but you’re going through all the gas I just bought, plus all our food, and our internet bandwidth.”

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