Reclaiming My Body After Pregnancy and Breast Feeding
The campfire flames lit the faces of hundreds of singing campers and my head felt light amid the swirling smoke and song. I leaned into my boyfriend as he wrapped his arm around me, waking up some new feeling under my 12-year-old skin. His hand slowly made its way to my breast.
“I’m sorry” I whispered, looking away. I felt awful that I didn’t have more to offer than a small size A.
As the years passed and my bra size remained the same, I worked to accept my body. I reassured myself that at least my breasts wouldn’t sag when I got older.
At least I could run without wearing several sports bras. At least people talked to my face. I believed all of this, yet part of me was never quite able to embrace my body as it was. I was active and healthy, yet secretly watching in the mirror, waiting for my body to realize it had forgotten something important.
Then I got pregnant and something amazing happened. I woke up one day to find that none of my bras could adequately support my growing chest. I walked into the Gap Body store with my usual trepidation, anticipating the pile of ill-fitting bras and resulting plunge in self-esteem, but this time was different. I stood in the changing room, surrounded by perfectly fitting bras of satin and lace. I thought of all the moments I’d spent looking in the mirror hoping to see this very image, and I smiled.
My growing breasts were a small surprise compared to the big shock that I was carrying twins. Even though my partner, Mandi, and I had carefully planned–saving money, charting my cycle, and choosing a sperm donor–neither of us expected such a complicated pregnancy.
I endured seven months of nausea, pre-term labor, and two months of bed rest, all the while focused on the health of my babies. And though I was constantly tired and nauseated, I was overjoyed about having two daughters and I continued to admire my growing breasts. I loved the way they felt, my nipples’ heightened sensitivity, and the way that shirts and dresses hugged my body. Thankfully, when I was 16, I didn’t know that the secret to getting perfect breasts was simply to get pregnant.
When the girls were born and my milk came in, I was shocked to see that my pregnancy bras were way too small. Generating enough milk for two babies made my breasts large and my stomach flat. For the first time my bubble butt went away. My skin was glowing and my stylist went on about how fabulously thick and shiny my hair looked. My difficult pregnancy had rewarded me not only with two amazing children, but with an improved figure as well.
I was astonished by this transformation into my ideal body. I felt lighter on my feet and more comfortable in my skin. In one year, I had gained 50 pounds, and then lost 65. I had gone from a size 6 to a maternity Large, then back down to a size 4. I went from a bra size A to B and then C. I felt like a real woman, feminine in a way that finally matched how I had always felt on the inside.
But there was a catch. My perfect body was limited to outward appearance. I did not feel sexy at all. I felt exhausted because I never slept more than an hour at a time. I felt overwhelmed by having two infants who were completely reliant on me. I was famished because I was producing so much milk that I couldn’t eat or drink enough to keep up with my hunger and thirst.
My breasts were there for a purpose. I was pumping every three to four hours around the clock, breastfeeding two babies in between. I barely had an hour to myself before something or someone was tugging at my sore nipples. My breasts were getting so much non-sexy action that they didn’t want any other kind of action at all. I may have felt confident walking down the street, but my usually strong libido had vanished.
I wondered if my desire would ever come back. Was I going to ruin our relationship by suddenly never wanting to be touched? Was it simply a dry spell that we would look back on with understanding, and maybe even forget? Sleeping for four non-sequential hours each night did not allow for much more than meeting the basic needs of ourselves and our tiny infants. Too tired to address any of these questions, Mandi and I went along each day (and night) laughing through the hardest parts and telling ourselves that it wouldn’t last forever.
Eleven months later, I squeezed the final drops of milk from my breasts in the shower, releasing some painful lumps and sending the lastof my milk down the drain. I was ready to celebrate my freedom. Unfortunately, that freedom brought an immediate end to my perfect body. I didn’t have a chance to feel sexy in that body before my breasts deflated. They were gone by the time my dripping feet stepped onto the cold white tile of the bathroom floor.
Soon, my extra thick hair started falling out and some silvery greys appeared. Dark circles settled beneath my eyes. I was back in my original body with a few alterations–stretch marks on my breasts and a scar across my bikini line. But instead of feeling disdain toward my imperfections, these have become my marks of pride. This is the body that grew two identical yet distinctive daughters, and it was not an easy task. All the changes I experienced during and after my pregnancy made me realize that the way I feel can easily shift from sexy to slovenly and it has nothing to do with my breast size. I don’t feel like a hot mama every single day, but the entire experience of creating new life and starting a family has made me more comfortable in my skin on most days. I think about my daughters when I look in the mirror now, and am filled with a sense of gratitude. Simply by coming into existence, they have helped me reach a place of love for myself that I hope to model for them as they grow into their beautiful selves.
body image Breast feeding