The question hit me like the hunter’s bullet hit Bambi’s mom:
What will become of my breasts once I am done breastfeeding?
Emily and I were all snuggled up for her bedtime nursing session. It’s a ritual. I read a half dozen of her favorite board books. Next she nurses. Then I hug and kiss her before placing her in the mini crib next to my side of the bed. We’ve played out this evening routine for the past six or so months.
Next month she will be two. While I have committed to nurse her until she self-weans at whatever age that might be, I sense the end is nigh. Our nursing sessions have become shorter and less frequent. My son weaned at 23 months, and it didn’t hit me this hard. But Emily is my final baby, and after she nurses her last, my breasts will no longer have a purpose in life.
They are now enormous, pendulous, fleshy mounds with nipples that seem to be permanently erect– hardly a sensuous adornment on my chest, but rather a nuisance. Their agreement with gravity make my shoulders hunch over and hurt. They have ballooned two numerical sizes and SIX cup sizes since I got pregnant the first time seven years ago.
No cute bras come in my size- 38 I. Did you even know that “I” was a cup size? I shuffle past the glittery entrance to Victoria’s Secret, relegated to buying uber-expensive nursing bras online ($80 a pop anyone?), or shopping for regular bras in the section of the lingerie department with the grannie-panties. The bras I buy now are the lingerie version of orthopedic shoes– ugly, functional, gigantic.
To give you some background, here is a brief history on me and my boobs:
I hate them. I’ve always hated them. They have always been big. Boys started looking at them when I was in seventh grade, putting an end for many years to my wearing of tank tops and the beginning of my love affair with turtle necks.
When I was a teenaged ballerina, my dance instructor told me I would never be a “real” dancer because my chest was too big. Rather than refusing to engage her in any further employ, I fantasized about slicing them off in one swift, silent motion that would leave me sleek as an otter. Since ace bandages were too bulky under my dance clothes, I resorted to winding duct tape (no pun intended) around my chest, putting a tiny square of gauze over my nipples. In this manner, would squash my breasts down. Flat.
The attention they got in my 20’s did nothing to decrease the animosity I felt towards my breasts. I had, however, always wanted to be a mom, so I kept the things around in hope they might one day serve a higher purpose than moving me to the front of a line to get into a club.
My desire to bear and nurse children was probably the one reason I didn’t have surgery to remove them all together. Well, that and I never had 40 grand floating around to pay for a breast reduction and the thought of elective post-surgical pain was too much to bear. Yes, I am well aware that my contemplating this is narcissistic and shallow, given that some women have no choice in the matter when diagnosed with breast cancer. This face humbles and shames me.
When I finally got pregnant with Jack, I fantasized about breastfeeding, how magical it would be to nourish a baby. I would nurse everywhere, I thought, including under weeping willows and on the backs of unicorns! It turned out that breastfeeding was a little more complicated, but we made it work and at last, with my newborn latched on, I had a new found appreciation for my pale, distended globes. That is, until my husband looked at me nursing Jack and declared, “Oh my god! Your boob is bigger than his head!”
I took to wearing baggy tents to hide my freakishly big boobs. There was a fairy tale I’d heard about women’s breasts shriveling up to half their pre-pregnancy size after nursing, and I clung to this notion for the entirety of Jack’s nursing career. Alas, it was not to be. Upon retiring my nursing bras, I trudged out to the speciality lingerie shop for “big girls,” only to have to go back for an upgrade several years later while pregnant with Emily.
During my child bearing years, my boobs and I have had a tacit understanding, and I’ve come to peace with my postpartum body, with its curves and bulges.
Which brings me up to where our story began, my question about how I will feel about my breasts once they have fulfilled their evolutionary purpose. It begs a larger question: How will I feel about my baby weaning, and my journey from motherhood to menopause. When they are no longer “in play,” I guess I could get a reduction. I might even be able to claim it is medically necessary because of back problems. My husband has never been a boob man, so its not like he would miss them.
While I lay there pondering these things, Emily fell asleep at my breast, something my tenacious toddler rarely does anymore. Her chin quivered and she slipped off to accept her pacifier. I kissed and nuzzled her round face before completing the final step of our nightly ritual.
On my way out the door, hitching up my nursing bra and zippering my hoodie sweatshirt, I concluded I could never chop off the old girls. At least I probably won’t.
As women, we spend extravagant amounts of time and energy critiquing our bodies. Sadly, this criticism is often projected onto the bodies of other women as well. Hell, I’ve done it. But when I actually think about what my body has given me- two beautiful and unique humans with whom I’ve had two amazing nursing relationships- I feel kind of awestruck.
Part of me is going to be heartsick when Emily weans, so maybe I should make peace with the fact that I will have an everlasting memento stuffed into the supportive embrace of an orthopedic bra- the size of which you never even knew existed.
Does your body retain any mementos of pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding? If so, how do you feel about them?