|My Favorite Breastfeeding Photo. Charleigh, April 2011.|
This is, but isn’t, a post about my breasts. In case you’re already thinking you don’t want to read about my breasts, we’ll go with isn’t, or at least, isn’t just.
It seemed as though I were flat-chested forever, long after the other girls in my class. When my breasts grew at last, they grew over the course of one summer. The others wondered and whispered about me, come September: boob job over the summer?
And, no. They would’ve known the truth had they seen the stretch marks and general lack of perkiness under my bra. Truth is: I felt disappointed from the outset of my adult body. Braless, strapless, and backless have never worked well for me. Neither have spaghetti straps; my bra straps, under them, are three times as thick. Not cute.
(Praise be, nonetheless, for my bras. I wept when I at last discovered bras that offer proper support.)
I thought for the longest time that I’d have that boob job, some day: a reduction, a lift. After children, I told myself. After breastfeeding. I really did think that through, too, because I always supposed I’d bear and breastfeed children, just like my mother and her mother, before her.
After my first child was born, I learned that breastfeeding is neither as simple nor as easy as it sounds. My nipples cracked and bled, and my dad (who may have been my most impassioned champion) bought me a green, metal box of Bag Balm—a milk cow’s salve—from the Tractor Supply. It worked, but I became familiar with other discomforts over the next fourteen months: clogged ducts, a hole when my baby (who had, by his first birthday, every tooth save his two-year molars) bit clean through my nipple, and engorgement when I decided to go cold turkey on the entire operation.
Breastfeeding was harder than I’d expected. From start to finish, it required more than I’d expected. But the painful, sacrificial aspects of the experience made it even more precious to me, and in recent years, I've breastfed three more children. To date, I’ve spent five years and three-and-a-half months of my life breastfeeding. I never guessed that I’d spend so much time...that I’d breastfeed my way into my forties...that I'd breastfeed a twenty-month-old child.
I never guessed that at forty years of age, after spending five years and three-and-a-half months of my life breastfeeding, I’d often grow weepy when thinking of weaning a twenty-month-old!
I’m not writing to tell you what to do, and why. I’ve fed and loved my babies by breastfeeding, but there are other ways to do these things. So many other ways.
I’m writing to tell you: I’ve come to love my less-than-perky breasts, stretch marks and all. A neonatal nurse walked into my hospital room, once, as I breastfed one of my infant daughters: “Wow!” she exclaimed: “You have the most perfect breastfeeding breasts I’ve ever seen!” My heart swelled, in that moment, with gratitude for not only her kind, perspective-changing words but also the fearful and wonderful way in which I am made.
There will be no boob job.
But I promised you that this isn’t just a post about my breasts. I mean for it to be a post about patience, a means through which I encourage you to love yourself: even the parts that you deem imperfect or unlovely. Because you may just discover that those parts are the ones that serve you best, define you in some gorgeous way, or spill unspeakable joy into your life. You may just. I hope this for you.