When I got pregnant, I had one overriding fear: How huge would my boobs get?
Given the litany of things pregnant women are told to obsess about, this might sound like the epitome of trivial. (I also recognize that it is one of the side effects many women actually look forward to, so stay with me here.) Although small-framed, I’d been a 36D since high school. My breasts had long been the bane of my existence — they garnered too much unwanted attention; nothing ever fit properly; buttons were forever popping. I felt disproportionate. I knew this would only get worse through the pregnancy and subsequent year of breastfeeding.
By month four, although my belly barely registered, I was exploding out of my bras. When I got measured, I discovered a size I hadn’t even known existed: 38GG. Every new tan or black satin bra — for big-breasted women get no choices — featured wide-as-tank-top straps and five stiff hooks in the back. One of them dared to call itself a minimizer. (My nephew put it best: “You look like you have three bellies.”)
The one advantage I was sure I’d have? Loads of milk! Massive boobs produced heaps of milk! Didn’t they?
The first picture taken of my daughter and me was during her nascent attempt to breastfeed. My chest is covered in sensors from the C-section and I look deranged. The baby, though, is almost impossible to spot — my nursing breast dwarfs her head completely. I’d later learn they’d grown, almost overnight. (The alphabet no longer felt like my friend.)
The overall effect wasn’t one of peaceful fertility, or sexy abundance. It was unwieldy and uncomfortable and sweaty. (It was also July.) Nothing fit over them but the baggiest T-shirts from H&M. When I tried to nurse, I didn’t know whether to hold her floppy little body or my breast. In the end, I learned to hold both in a death grip in order to keep from smothering her. Nursing in public was like playing Twister with a slithering fish in my arms.
But I didn’t produce enough milk. This seemed to defy logic. All my life I had carried these suckers around in the hopes that one day they would prove useful, but I’d nurse and nurse and the baby would wail. Her father would give her formula through a syringe (we were those insane, no-bottle-until-a-latch-is-established people) and she’d go right to sleep, leaving me, unsurprisingly, sobbing.
A few months in, we got the hang of it. (Bottles helped, too.) My baby wasn’t exclusively breastfed, but it didn’t matter. We found a rhythm that worked well for us.
This isn’t a story about how breastfeeding helped me suddenly see my breasts as beautiful. Of course my perception of them did change — you gain a new acceptance for, and love of, your body when it feeds your child. Nursing did often bring me to happy tears, and we kept at it well past her first birthday. It was I, not she, who wasn’t ready for it to end.
But something did change in me. I’d always thought of myself as the Big-Breasted Girl, and it had long (and surely unnecessarily) tormented me. When my daughter was born, this only got worse: My breasts were not only a nuisance, but also objectively inadequate. But once I weaned her, I sort of forgot about them.
In fact, it wasn’t until one day a few months later, while reaching into my closet one morning for the most readily available T-shirt and jeans, that I realized they hadn’t crossed my mind in months. I was too busy running after my toddler, or trying to squeeze in some work, or getting dinner on the table before Meltdown Hour to think about how huge or disproportionate (or not) I might look. They had actually become less important to me, less defining, and not, interestingly, because they shrank.
I’d long fantasized about waking up to cute, weaned C-cups. I’d go braless! Wear tube tops and stringy bikinis! Good-bye, underwire! (This had happened to a big-breasted friend, and it was like the Holy Grail of postpartum life.)
That didn’t happen. My breasts didn’t even go down to the pre-baby size I’d once thought so enormous. But they shrank in my mind. I stopped obsessing about them — just like I stopped obsessing about so many other parts of my body. Maybe this was good: I had less time to stare at myself in the mirror and consider my flaws. Maybe it was bad: I now devoted less attention to my own appearance.
Or maybe it revealed some larger truth. I’d finally learned that, no matter what I did, I couldn’t change my breasts — like I could change so many other parts of myself — with the right diet or exercise regime. Childbirth throws into stark relief how little control you have over so much of what your body does or looks like. I’m not denying that a supportive bra or well-cut shirt can’t make a difference — thank God they do. But I now I think of my breasts like I think of my zodiac sign or lip color: an intrinsic — and yet meaningless — part of a much greater whole.