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55 weeks | I am that mother | no. 0049
I can hold things in my breasts now. I always wondered how women did that when I was a little girl coming of age in my neighborhood dance school. You would see the mothers and grandmothers who ran the space tucking items with mystical precision into their chest. Later, out of the side of your eye, when you were doing a combination across the floor or when the first group was performing the last 8-count sequence and you were waiting on the side for your turn, you would see those grown ladies reach deep into their bounty and liberate sweaty, folded bills, or lottery tickets, or car keys, or bus transfers, or something else of particular importance. You would look down at your barely-there situation and frown at the secrets your bosom could not keep. You would remember to stop staring because focusing on them would not make your pubescent breasts grow any faster. Time, they kept telling you. Time.
I was one of those girls that wanted to have big breasts. I thought there was something magical about the round mounds some women were blessed with. I have a vague (read: I don’t really want to admit this, but my higher self is telling me to just go ahead and spill all) memory of augmenting my breasts with that cheap school toilet paper I put in my bra. My efforts were short-lived as there was no way to escape the itchy consequences once I had reached 5th period algebra. I also remember reading the opening pages of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God in junior high school and being envious of Janie’s “pugnacious breasts” that seemed to “bore holes in her shirt.” I figured, if there were any breasts worth having, it would be those.
Then when I grew up and into my dancer self, I discovered having less than massive breasts was rather convenient for leotards and costumes. At some point I realized I had just enough. I embraced my ability to go braless most days and wear the cute tops with skinny straps. Did I mention I hate strapless bras? So it was really working out for a while that my girlhood dream of one day having huge breasts had defaulted in adolescence. Mother nature knows best, right?
Then enter motherhood. Two years before having the munchkin I had a miscarriage. I held onto the motherweight gifted to me in that first trimester because it was part of my grieving process. I didn’t want to lose the last bit of proof that life had initiated within me, even if it had not remained. Some of those extra pounds found a home in my belly, some in my breasts. I did not resist the new imperative to finally have to wear a bra after so many years. When I danced, I felt how gravity pressed down on my chest a little more after a leap or a bend. Things were heavier. I was heavier. But it was the sum of my mothering, so I was grateful.
I didn’t know how my body would change when I was pregnant with the munchkin. Given the fact that I was in constant fear of pregnancy loss, all changes and sensations were met with both excitement and fear. My breasts’ tenderness had long since become my first indicator of whether my baby was still alive. In all my previous losses, before even the spotting and the cramping, the breasts would be the first to drop. I would feel the soft give of the flesh and know that something precious was descending too soon. But still, I’d wait for the uterus to shed my hopes on its own. No mother ever wants to call the death of her child.
I think I checked my breasts everyday the munchkin was in my womb. At night in bed, in the shower, discreetly in the mirrors of public restrooms, in store aisles when pretending to reach for something, underneath my winter coat at bus stops, sitting amongst friends asking me how it felt to be pregnant. Everywhere. It became a subconscious thing, this checking, this reassuring. The firmness was my permission to be calm, to hold my breath just a little less when I went to the bathroom and saw that miraculously there was no blood.
My breasts were humongous those first weeks of postpartum. They leaked constantly with the new superfood I produced in abundance. It was so confusing, and painful, learning the science of a good latch. I worried the breast was too big for my newborn munchkin. But my midwife showed me how intelligent the little beings were because their lips formed around the nipple in a way to make sure their nostrils stayed unobstructed. Slowly, we grew into our rhythm, and my breasts grew with us.
Now my year-old munchkin is a breastfeeding pro. I think it’s absolutely hilarious when people close to me comment with incredulity about how large my breasts are. I’ve gotten so used to my mothering body that it often slips my mind that I have much more chest presence than I had for the majority of my adult life. I think this is greatly due to the fact that I’ve been nursing on demand every day since he was born. Even on days when I think I’m running low, I squeeze and out comes milk!
It was in the midst of one of those random mothering moments when I realized that I am that mother I used to see during my dance classes as a girlchild. I was getting the munchkin ready for a bath. He always likes to grab the washcloth and eat it and then drag it along the floor of the tub, or better yet, fling it onto the toilet. For some reason, there’s never any surface out of reach where I can place it while removing the diaper and rinsing the poop off of him. Then, without thinking, I did something different. I stuffed the washcloth into my breasts and suddenly felt like a whole new galaxy had opened up. It was like I had tapped into all that mother wisdom I’d witnessed as that little girl curious about the powers a mother could store in those breasts. The ones that seemed to be able to hold anything.
Now I see, I have the power too. I worked for it. These breasts are not cosmetic. They are laboring breasts. They are bigger because they feed my child. I pat them even more now because I’m always forgetting which side we nursed on last. I consider it a bonus that they can be a container for the things I need to keep close by, and out of my munchkin’s hands.
This was an interesting Wednesday’s Bloom process today. I really had no idea where I was going when I trusted the momentum of that first sentence about my breasts’ capacity to “hold things.” Sometimes we start a story so that we can get to another one. In this way, I can appreciate that the journey is always worth it.
The munchkin, my first born, was born on a Wednesday. Wednesday’s Bloom: Textual Portraits of a New Mommy is an ongoing multi-media documentary project about my process as a mother. Today’s story is a part of Volume 1, 73 consecutive weeks of posts, spanning about the first year and a half of the munchkin’s life. Each episode explores my weekly discoveries, challenges, questions, and hopes as a mother. I also facilitate the New Mommy Writers’ Workshop for all mothers and women active in their mothering work who are excited about cultivating their own writing practices.