When I was in the seventh grade, I asked my mom to buy me a bra. I didn’t need one, technically. But all the other girls were wearing them, and I was beginning to feel a bit awkward when we had to change for gym class. I’d watched the Breast Fairy visit all of my friends and acquaintances, endowing them with varying degrees of curves and cleavage, and was still waiting for her to bring me mine.
Much to my chagrin, she never came.
Actually, I think that she may have flitted by my house at some point and inadvertently dropped a tiny sprinkling of breast dust at my door. Not enough to actually fill a bra or anything, but enough to make me slightly more endowed than my two brothers. Slightly.
At any rate, I’ve never really had anything in the bosom department to speak of. The push-up bra was invented just for me, I think. I once saw a bra size that said “Barely A.” That was invented for me, too. Yes, they’re really that small. Tiny. Infinitesimal, even.
Over the years, I tried to think of all of the advantages of having itty-bitty boobies. I can run up and down stairs in my pajamas. They don’t get in the way of any activity, ever. Men always look me in the eye. They’ll never sag.
But truthfully, my lack of buxomness always made me feel somewhat . . . unwomanly. Perhaps it was the lifetime of advertisements and media emphasizing breasts. Or maybe it was biological. (Physiologically speaking, breasts are one of the hallmark signs of being a woman, after all.) My husband has always made me feel exceptionally beautiful, and has never had so much as one complaint about my washboard-like décolletage. But if I didn’t have my hips to give me some shape, I’d feel very man-like in my build.
I never considered surgical enhancement or anything like that. I figured this was how my breasts were made, so that’s how they’re supposed to be. But that understanding didn’t take away the fact that I was flat. That I couldn’t fill a bathing suit without padding. That I’d never put on lipstick with my cleavage like Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club.
I didn’t have enough breasts to think of them as special in any way. They were just there, as inconsequential as my elbows.
But then I got pregnant. And as my belly grew rounder, my breasts did, too. I went from “Barely A” to “Solid A” to “Almost B” to “Woohoo! Definitely B!” I actually had boobs! For the first time EVER. And I felt as womanly as I always thought I would feel. I loved their curves, their fullness. If I put my elbows together, they would actually touch. My bras finally had a purpose.
And then I had a baby. And when my milk came in I went from “Definitely B” to “Holy crap, is that a D??” I would stare at them in the mirror in awe. They were sore and uncomfortable, and I kept bonking them every time I’d open the refrigerator door, but they were amazing to witness. Seriously. I know all women go through this change with pregnancy and nursing, but it’s especially pronounced when you start off with nothing.
As the weeks of nursing went on and the hormones evened out, the girls settled in at a solid B+. It was a perfect size for me. I reveled in my newfound womanhood.
But then another shift began to occur as I realized my breasts were not just a substantial size, but in function, they were nothing short of miraculous. I watched my baby’s cheeks and arms and legs plump up, purely from my breastmilk. I was literally building a human being with my breasts. Building a human being. With my breasts. That’s freaking AMAZING.
I grew up around nursing. My mom was a La Leche League leader, and I knew on an intellectual level how the whole breastfeeding thing worked. But I had never connected that knowledge on a personal level to my own itty-bitty boobies. The fact that my inconsequential breasts could not only nourish a baby, but transform her into a roly-poly chunk-a-lunk, with full-on rubber band wrists and Michelin thighs, blew my mind.
One day, when my first daughter was about five months old, we were visiting my in-laws. A woman there remarked how plump my baby was. My sister-in-law pointed out that she was exclusively breastfed, and this tell-it-like-it-is woman looked at me, looked down at my breasts, raised her eyebrows, and said, “With those?” Yup, with those. Those tiny breasts (which were not nearly as tiny as they were pre-baby) created all those impressively squishy rolls.
A few months after I had my second baby, my husband’s brother and his wife adopted a baby boy. They really wanted him to breastfeed, but my sister-in-law had troubles relactating. So they started buying breastmilk from a milk bank. And then we worked out a deal for me to pump for them. Not only did I nurse my own baby, but I pumped for another. It was a lot of work, but it was also an amazing testament to what my breasts could do. I was building not one, but two human beings with my wee little breasts.
I felt like I had finally found my superpower. I could feed an army with these things.
I fantasized about how I could use this power for the common good. Visions of traveling to third world countries and nursing malnourished babies all day filled my head. I was blown away with the amazing things my breasts could do. These teeny, powerful breasts I had always considered lacking.
Now that I’ve breastfed three children and pumped for another, I realize that my breasts can never ever be considered inconsequential again, no matter what their size. Even after I’m done nursing for good and they go back to their “Barely A” flatness, their status will forever be akin to that of a hall-of-famer, an immortalized rock star, a legendary hero. They’ve manufactured a miraculous, living superfood full of nutrients, essential fats, and antibodies. They have comforted my babies through sickness, pain, and the inexplicable gritchiness of the 5:00 witching hour. They’ve given me increased protection against a host of female cancers. Most basically, but most impressively, they’ve helped build four human beings.
These amazing things my breasts can do have had a significant impact in my life. They’ve enhanced the well-being of my children. They’ve protected my health. They’ve proved that these wee little bosoms have an incredible, life-giving purpose.
And they’ve made me feel more womanly than any bra size ever could.
* The illustration at the top of this page was created by my artist friend, Geoff Sherwood, in high school. He was much more generous with my bosom than reality.