I recently nursed my daughter for the last time. And it’s left me with breasts on the brain.
I’ve read some very eloquent articles about the impact of breastfeeding on the lives of women, their babies and their families. I’ve read about the politics and costs of breastfeeding, and how it can be alternately empowering, awkward and highly inconvenient. And I’ve read about the bond it forges between mother and child.
But what about the flesh at the center of it all?
What about the breasts?
I offer my story -– and my chest -– as a case study.
As a pregnant woman, my breasts ballooned from double D’s to –- wait for it –- H’s. When I was six months in, I thought, “Hm, my bra’s a bit tight,” so I ordered myself a size “E” from Amazon. At first, it did the trick, but by month eight, I knew I needed to get a proper fitting, so I visited the old-school lingerie store in my Brooklyn neighborhood.
The woman who runs the store tut-tutted as soon as she saw me –- they have laser vision, these women, these bra whisperers, and she immediately knew that I was not getting the support I needed. When she measured me in the dressing room moments later and pronounced me a size H, I think I actually laughed. My friends, family and, of course, husband, already marveled at my giant boobs. This new measurement felt like heightening the joke.
When I was pregnant, my H’s were at least somewhat proportional to my sizable belly. But after I gave birth, the H’s remained, and over time, as the rest of my body shrank, they became a more and more pronounced part of my physique. I felt, frankly, pornographic.
When I was nursing, I could focus on the larger purpose my breasts were serving. It helped me keep my vanity at bay, knowing that one day, I would stop nursing, and the H’s would, presumably, if there is a god, shrink. And I loved nursing; that loving feeling outweighed any self-consciousness or longing for my body to return to its pre-pregnancy shape.
Granted, it’s only been two weeks since we weaned, but I’m impatient. And I find myself struggling –- not for the first time -– with feeling like my boobs are a liability.
I’m sure my husband would disagree –- in fact, he’s probably rooting for them to be M’s, or W’s. Z’s! But, real talk: If these puppies don’t shrink down soon, I’m going to seriously consider breast reduction surgery. It’s not just a matter of vanity; it’s hard work, lugging the H’s around.
Look: It’s embarrassing to write about your boobs. It’s even more embarrassing to have a sports bra that looks like a girdle. But the fact is, other people are staring at them, and commenting on them, and have been, since I was one of the first girls to develop, back in sixth grade –- so after a while, I might as well be the one telling the story.
And it’s not just about cup size. Before I started nursing, I associated my breasts with my sexuality. Then, all of a sudden, they were a source of nourishment for another living creature. Learning to use my breasts in this new way was hard, at first -- it was awkward, and painful, and weird. But then, once my daughter and I had both figured it out, it was lovely. It became a wordless way to commune, one that we enjoyed for a long time.
Navigating between using my breasts to feed and connect with my daughter, and including them in my sexuality, was also challenging, but I gradually adjusted.
Becoming a mother asks us to adjust and adjust and adjust some more. Now, in the wake of weaning, the connection I treasured so much with my daughter is gone, and my breasts are once more exclusively sexual organs -– heavy ones, at that, that sit with too much presence atop my frame. Sometimes, they feel simply like excess flesh.
But this is wrong. Our bodies hold the memories of our lives. My body, breasts and all, will never be what it was before I grew my daughter inside me, gave birth to her and nursed her for all these months. So it always has been, for mothers everywhere, and so it always will be. And while my breasts have been the subject of many a gaze and many a conversation since I was approximately age 12, no matter who talks about them, looks at them, touches them, uses them – they are ultimately mine. This body is mine, and it will tell its own story.