Me at 19 weeks, trying to hide my chest.
I knew that pregnancy would mess with the breasts I had only in my mid-twenties come to love. I knew I would lose my perfect-fit, favorite 32D bra. But everyone was shocked when I lost, or rather gained,
so much, so soon.
By the time I was eight weeks pregnant, I was at a size 32H. I estimate that now, at 21 weeks, I am up to J. Did you know that the bra alphabet went that far? Because I did not!
It hurts, which I’m not happy about. And I mean that, literally, it really, really hurts. My breasts weigh a ton, so if I’m not wearing a bra 24/7, I’m in pain. But here’s why this post belongs at Psychology Today more than at my personal blog (despite its extremely personal content):
I never in a million years thought that I would be here again, and I feel tortured at having to relive this.
This is the place I found myself at age thirteen when I got my first period and, before my fourteenth birthday, was already a D cup, at least. I’m not sure what size I was then, exactly, because I refused to have a proper bra fitting for a long time. I shoved myself into Bs because that’s what middle school girls are supposed to wear! I know that it all happened so fast because there are two pictures that my sister and I compare from two separate summer vacations: in one, I look like a very young girl. Skinny, short, flat. The very next summer, in the same pose, standing next to the same adult sibling, I look like... a girl in a woman’s body? Suddenly, I’m taller than my sister is and much curvier. Her friends used to mistake my age for eighteen-years-old. And I hadn’t even hit high school, let alone graduated from it.
Unsurprisingly, forcing my body into too-small bras and tank tops was not flattering. I will never forget the horror I felt when a teacher asked me to put on someone else’s sweatshirt to cover the top I had worn to school that day. I still can’t look at a woman in a “shelf bra” tank top without wincing. And I just want to cry when I see women who can wear those cute strapless sundresses. The women who can wear those clothes have the body that my mother had as a teenager. She, of course, hated being “too skinny,” but such is the nature of coming of age in America. We hate our bodies until, one day, with some luck and some hard work, we don’t.
Eventually, I loved my pre-pregnancy body. I had good bras and clothes that fit and an hourglass figure that would make the Mad Men costume folks drool. And you know what? I love my pregnant body, too! Most of it.
While I used to love all of my body, including my breasts, I now feel ambivalent toward them--on a good day. I didn’t know that this exact issue would ever come back with such force. I know that pregnant women have body issues really often. But why oh why must “the girl with the huge boobs,” as one boy referred to me throughout high school, watch them grow, and grow and... is it going to stop?
Suddenly, I’m a powerless newly minted teenager again, watching my body change without my permission, a second time. I had tried to prepare myself for stretch marks and big thighs and cankles and whatever I saw coming. I did not see this coming. Do you have any idea what an H cup bra looks like? I’m pretty sure that a newborn baby could be fully swaddled in the bras that fit me, now.
But there’s a purpose to all this, right? This time it’s not just bad luck! They’re doing something this time! And they are. I’m only half-way through this pregnancy, and my breasts are producing colostrum (a clear-ish, yellow-tinged substance often referred to as “liquid gold” because of its color and nearly miraculous health benefits). But that just feels like yet another slap in the face.
I can’t use it. Any of it. I’ve asked every expert I could find, and they all say the same thing--the medications I take to stay on top of my anxiety and depression increase the risk that my baby will become “overly sedated” if I give my child my own breastmilk. It’s not really something I can try and wait and see what happens, either, because “overly sedated” includes not only the risk that the baby will eat too little and sleep too much; it also involves a higher risk of SIDS. I’m already on high doses of these meds for anxiety--I can’t just wait and see whether my baby is going wake up after a feeding or just, well, never wake up.
My body is doing such amazing things right now. All I do is eat and sleep (and I do a lot of both) and this child keeps growing inside me, looking more baby-ish and more perfect at every ultrasound. I had no morning sickness and have no more food aversions. I really can’t complain about much, other than some gas, a few leg cramps and quite a few headaches. My body is not betraying me. It is doing everything those hormones tell it to do, and doing it all with a speed and efficiency that leaves me breathless.
And yet, I am left with flashbacks of the times when it felt like this body was all that defined me, and I had no say in its development. I felt betrayed, then, and those memories leave a bitter taste in my mouth. Every summer maternity dress I have tried on and rejected because my breasts simply do not fit inside the article of clothing has felt like another taunt--I am different from my peers.
Of course, I wonder if many pregnant women fixate on the body parts they have always felt insecure about. Do women who have fought and won weight loss battles see The Bump as a return to the body they worked so hard to banish? Do women who were teased about bad skin develop acne during pregnancy and relive their own adolescent shame?
My midwives’ latest advice about the pain I am experiencing is that I buy a good, supportive sports bra and wear it all day and all night. I nearly burst into tears trying to explain that no, I could not go to the sportswear store in town, because only online can a girl find a small band and a J cup size. I nearly burst into tears because I miss my beautiful, silky lingerie. I miss the cute polka dot bra and even the plain white low-cut bra that disappeared under t-shirts. I miss being proud of my figure, and I wonder if I even look pregnant to strangers, or if they can only see my chest. I want to get big as a whale, so that my belly will eclipse my breasts. They are too painful a reminder, and the milk they are gearing up to produce will just go to waste, anyway.