This is a love story. And like all love stories, this one is filled with angst, heartbreak, deception, and manipulation.
Because once upon a time, I really loved my boobs.
Once upon a time, a mere three years ago, I was a first-time mother who relished all the singularly spectacular moments of pregnancy: each little kungfu kick sacred, each Braxton-Hicks contraction induced a parallel tightening of my heartstrings that reminded me that I was “making a friend” like I had never had before. Bizarrely, I wasn’t even annoyed with the every-single-hour-all-night-long pee-fests. Sure, I sometimes enviously eyed Husband sleeping soundly and wondered why his bladder was the size of a 64 oz. Super Gulp while mine was relegated to sad-shriveled-old-man-bladder status. But inside, I knew that even the peeing was special in its own messed up way—each time I rolled out of bed, a smile crawled across my face as sure as my daughter would one day crawl across our bedroom floor as I thought about how one day soon, her soft, innocent little “eh-eh-eh”ing would beckon me all night long. And yeah, that would be a big improvement over the toilet.
But by far, the most awesome part of both of my pregnancies (you know, after the whole “La-la-la, I’m creating a new life!” thing that everyone kind of raves about) was the boobs. Seriously—it was like watching a reality TV show unfold on my chest (“The Real Gazongas of Essex County”). With each month, they seemed to get bigger and bigger. The plot became more complex, and I watched it all unfold, with the same fascination and self-loathing with which one watches reality TV—like you’re wasting your life away, but you’re simultaneously astounded by the complete absurdity of what you’re seeing. By the fifth month of both of my pregnancies, I had the distinct feeling that the boobs were bigger than the belly. At one point, I considered (and Googled) if it were actually possible for them to explode. (Answer: unclear, but the search will turn up “can breasts explode in an airplane?” which is interesting, because that means a lot of people happen to be thinking about this.)
The point is, during my pregnancies, these glorious Fun Bags were practically pornographic, and I was digging it, Pamela-Anderson-style! Fair enough, the idea of my pregnant body wearing a red lifeguard bathing suit while running provocatively across a sand dune conjures up images of a beaten, bloodied whale writhing on a beachfront somewhere. But still, there was no doubt about it, bathing suit or not: my Ta-Tas had taken over the world. It was, in every sense, a truly breastacular experience.
But six months after Lila was born, I was done with nursing. Way, way done. I lost the baby weight, and I got over the preachy Upper-West-Side world where you giving your child breast milk = your child’s singular chance at happiness, fulfillment, and academic and financial success. I was sick of someone treating me like a vending machine all day, and I was ready to be liberated. So after a couple of days, free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, my boobs were free at last from six months of bondage, torture, and servitude. Tragically, though, the second those lovely coconuts lost their milk, Thelma and Louise departed as well. Like I had dreamed it all, the pixie dust evaporated into thin air, and my triumphant ya-yas shrank into sad, deflated party balloons after the party. You know, the ones that sort of hang on the floor, drifting aimlessly after a 1990s high school reunion.
With my second pregnancy, these miraculous boobakas inflated once more, shouting their spectacular Ta-Ta-ness from the mountain tops that they are themselves. At times, I admit that I myself even felt the strong desire to honk them, though I resisted simply in deference to social norms.
Oh, would that I had embraced those moments! But hindsight is 20-20.
And now, from the moment Eliana joined the world, my bozumbas have responded. It is with great shame that I tell you that I have become The Dairy Queen.
If possible, the bosombas have gotten even larger. Costco-sized.
What exactly do you mean, you ask? All you breeders out there know what I’m talking about: the baby comes, your breasts inflate with nutrient-rich superfood breastmilk, and then you have this loving, nurturing relationship with your baby as you two bond 6-8 times a day, with you providing the sumptuous feast for your little one that will make her 1) smarter than other babies 2) cure cancer 3) solve the debt crisis (all while one month old). With each meal, you feed your baby not only nourishment, but a heaving bosom of love, hope, and inspiration. All while enjoying the self-righteous superiority that comes with knowing that you are infinitely better than anyone who feeds their children (shudder) formula.
In all likelihood, your experience actually goes something like this:
SHIT this hurts. Is this latch supposed to hurt? Why does it feel like my kid has teeth? Wait, is that even possible that she could have teeth? Didn’t I read somewhere about this freak newborn who was born with teeth? Was that in Newsweek or on the supermarket line? Ohmygod, what if MY kid is that kid?? Maybe early teeth is a sign of giftedness. OW. (looks at watch) Okay, how long is this going to take? Is ten minutes too long? Wait, is that not enough time? Is the baby getting enough food? What if she only eats on one side and not the other? Am I going to have freak boobs—will one boob look huge and the other tiny? Will that upset my balance when I walk? I would look like an ogre if I had that. Does each breast have a different flavor? Is my left side better than the right? She seems to feels that way. Jesus, she’s totally trying to make these breasts lopsided. Why does my baby already hate me? Is she trying to spite me? Shit, my neck hurts. Fuck it—I’ll just give her the formula in the fridge when she’s done pretending ot eat. Is my neck supposed to hurt? Great, now I’m going to have lopsided breasts and look like a hunchback. Awesome. That’ll look great with my muffin-top belly. Fabulous. Okay, I think she’s getting enough. Okay, this is working. Damn it, why didn’t I bring the phone over here? I wish I had a book. (Kid pulls off nipple. Pause to burp your child. Child vomits/spits up all over you.)
There is no doubt about it: breastfeeding sucks. Yes, pun intended.
And NO ONE ever tells you how much it sucks. Labor gets the big whinefest, but really, breastfeeding is SO much worse.
Here’s the thing: breastfeeding is the snake oil of motherhood. At the hospital, they make you feel ashamed if you harbor even the fleeting thought of not wanting to breastfeed your kid, like the decision to NOT have someone feed on you like a parasite eight times a day is equal to a decision to, say, do lines of coke with your husband off your newborn’s belly button cord. Then, those nurses PRETEND that it’s okay if you want to do formula, but you know what I know: that look of condescension and disappointment in that nurse’s eye that screams, “It’s okay. Your kid will just be in the ‘brown’ reading group that meets in the basement for the rest of her life. Oh, and save up money for your child’s parole after she shoots up a special-needs old folks’ home while simultaneously spewing out racist slurs.”
Still, if you’re like me (who was formula-fed and grew up perfectly happy, normal, and healthy, by the way), you feel the social pressure to breastfeed, and you give in. But when you give in to breastfeeding, you’re not just giving in to extra snuggle time with your little child/milk-vacuum. You’re giving into a cult. Because when your baby starts drinking the milk, you start drinking the Kool-Aid.
Welcome to life as a nursing mother, where it’s not just about your glorious honkers anymore. (Remember your Pamela Anderson days? Ah, memories…) You are a machine now—you are a one woman dairy, and as such, you’ve got to get your gear. For those of you who have ever loved accessorizing, as a nursing mother, your howitzers are in for a treat! Nursing is “so natural,” so naturally, you should be spending at least $500 to outfit yourself for the occasion.
You will need the following for this “natural” experience:
1) A breast pump. I know, I know, you thought your CHILD was the pump! You silly, silly girl! Don’t you know already that your child may be a pain in the ass who doesn’t exactly feel like she’s simpatico with your boobakas when they feel like they’re ready to explode from milk engorgement? So what is the breast pump? The breast pump is a torture device invented by some perverted, misogynist bastard who wanted to see women suffer while simultaneously fucking with their emotional sense of obligation to their children. The breast pump is supposed to make your life easier by liberating you from constantly having to be with your child. With a pump, you can literally milk yourself, give your bodily fluid to someone else to feed to your child, and then go out on the town! And yes, it’s just as romantic as it sounds.
Anyone who has ever used a breast pump knows that this is a horrid, horrid device that simultaneously makes you 1) feel like a cow. Literally. 2) feel even uglier than you did during actual child labor 3) lose faith in humanity. When you hook up the funnels to the bottles, and then the funnels to the air-sucky tubes, and then the tubes to the machine, and then you turn it on, you’re not just vacuuming milk out of your boobs. Oh, you’re doing so much more than that! With each pumping experience you have, I guarantee you are sucking out part of your soul. As you grow more comfortable with the pump (because let’s face it—that’s the most action your breasts are going to see for quite some time), you lose whatever pride you once had. This is a good thing because your loss of pride will make you really excited to buy…the KKK bra.
2) Yes, you’ll need a KKK bra. Because now that you’re pumping—and storing bags of your own bodily fluid in the freezer and pretending it’s perfectly normal to shove those bags of HUMAN MILK next to the food your family once considered eating—you’re going to want to be efficient about it.
Enter the KKK bra, stage left.
What is the KKK bra, you ask? Okay, so it’s not actually called that, but trust me, your boobs will feel like klan members in this breastacular ensemble. The bra has the right idea in mind: it can make you hands-free when pumping, which is awesome, because in all likelihood, you will need your hands to write five hundred thank-you notes, which is exactly what you’ve been looking forward to doing in your free time from your newborn. Pop on the Klan bra, which is white, with two “eye holes” for your nipples to pop out of. Hook the funnels up to the eye holes of your bra, and voila! You’ve got KKK boobs! Literally, your breasts may look as frightening to you now as a Southern lawn littered with racist murderers.
3) But what about when you want to take your girls—both the ones on your chest, and the one in the stroller—out on the town? Sure, everyone in your family sees your boobs at home. Husband certainly doesn’t care anymore; my breasts are out with such frequency in our home that there may in fact be more sexual allure and intrigue to my armpits at this point. My own three-year-old is not even impressed by them anymore. (“Mommy, are you pumping again?” or “Can I hook up the tubes this time, Mommy?” are fun little refrains in our psychologically-damaging home. Insurance allegedly covers the cost of a breast pump, but I wonder if I can use that money to pay for my daughter’s psychiatric bills in ten years.)
But when you’re out on the town, you’ll need to remember that normal people do not like to see you breastfeed. Because as “natural” as it is, the fact is, it’s still a little too natural for most people, and not in a good way. (Good natural = Tahitian women sunning topless in a Gaugin painting. Bad natural = you and your vein-y boobs bare and in the air at Starbucks.) People will think you’re waving your freak-flag if you plan on popping out Mr. and Mrs. Smith at California Pizza Kitchen to feed your little one. Trust me. And don’t you dare even think about doing it at Nordstrom’s Café, you monster! Some people are trying to enjoy their salmon salades nicoises, you lactivist slut!
This means you’re going to need another accessory: a little something I call “Count Breastula.” What is it? A cape you will throw on yourself in public a la Quasimodo so that you can hide your baby under it and then force her to nurse in the dark, shameful corners of your Breast Invisibility Cloak. If your baby is actually reaping any intellectual benefit whatsoever from your breast milk, your baby may even resent the cutesy names of these Count Breastula capes and refuse to nurse under them simply as an act of protest; “Bebe Au Lait” and “Hooter Hiders” degrade your wee one, and, thanks to your hearty, nutrient-rich, genius-creating breast milk, your baby refuses to stoop so low as to use such condescendingly-named products. Next thing you know, she’ll be rejecting non-organic food and wanting you to throw out your TV. (Maybe formula wasn’t such a bad idea after all.)
With your gear ready to go, you, your baby, and your breasts are ready for a wonderful journey. Someone once told me that the decision to have a child is the decision to wear your heart outside your body. Somehow, the simultaneous decision to wear your boobs at your ankles for the rest of your life is not mentioned. In any case, get excited and enjoy the torture…because once you’re done nursing, those funbags will wilt like sad, ruined flowers scorched by the summer sun in a heat wave, and you will have no way to ever prove that your kid is smarter than she would have been without your brainiac mommy juice. As a lactation consultant that I know and love recently texted me after I asked her a question, “Your boobs will sag and be extremely awful, but equally so when this is all done. No one boob will be uglier than the other ;-).”
And when that happens, your love story will be over, and your breasts—or the memory of the women they once were—will haunt your dreams. But hey, at least you’ll always have California Pizza Kitchen.