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Friday, May 16, 2014

14

My Battle With My Big Naturals

I’m lying on a table in a fancy pink clinic, holding my massive right breast—engorged with milk and infection—to keep it from rolling into my armpit. When I move, the lemon-sized lump shoots daggers of white fire through my body. My all-natural, back busting labor from three months ago was a foot massage compared to this. I pray to the Big-Natural-Gods that the doctor can give me some relief from the week of progressive pain I have endured. Instead, as punishment for some unknown crime, I would become a science experiment: my already awkward postpartum body would be tricked out with tubes and pouches I would try to hide under a loose fitting tunic. The physical pain could be medicated, but the life-long Feelings War between me and my massive melons had reached its biggest battle to date, and they had won.

I expected to feel relief when I finally used my big naturals for their intended purpose: breastfeeding. I imagined that nursing would allow me to feel connected to them in a spiritual way, unlike the detached resentment I have always felt toward my breasts. I was prepared for them to grow when I got pregnant. I accepted that they’d expand when my milk came in. But I never imagined they’d turn on me, in a massive, G cup sized way.

I was always a circus freak because of my breasts. When I developed my external sex parts they were public displays of my most intimate self, the part of me I didn’t want to share with anyone. I felt shameful and exposed. My scarlet letter was two D cups. Public exercise was live soft porn.

This external transformation brought so much inner turmoil that I developed an eating disorder to avoid the tsunami of feelings. As I binged, my body grew and masked the obviousness of my chest. I was still miserable, but my new layer of fat was a shield. Being overweight was better than being sexualized without my consent.

There was a solution, and I fantasized about it constantly through my teen years. I stood before the mirror, looking over my shoulder at my profile, flattening my chest with my hands to see how clothes would fit after I had a reduction surgery. My mother had one, my sister had one. But even at that young age, I knew that someday I would have kids and want to breastfeed, and the surgery damages the milk ducts which can make nursing impossible in some cases. Also, my breasts would surely morph into even more perverse versions of themselves during pregnancy, so why waste the money on a procedure that would have to be repeated? It would have to wait. Unfortunately, I was also deferring self-acceptance. 

My surgeon, a dead ringer for Robin Wright with a sleek bob cut, pointed to the ultrasound image and said with wry astonishment that it was the “biggest abscess she’d ever seen.” To drain the mass, she would cut a hole into my breast, insert a tube, and massage the lump doing her best to extricate the poison—a witch’s brew of blood, milk, and pus.

So I was finally using these udders for what God and nature intended, the manna was flowing, the life-force transferring from mother to baby. I was nursing on demand, waiting patiently for my milk to come in, drinking the Earth Angel Heaven Hippie Milk of Thistle Whatever tea to help with production, setting up 10 pillows so that my arms were relaxed, my shoulders down, trying every nursing hold to find the right one for us, and these bitches turned on me. The cracked, hardened, enlarged nipples surrounded by someone else’s areolas looked me in the eye and said, “Let there be pain.” Their message was clear: I had been a fool to wait for a reduction.

***
My resentment towards my breasts began in the fourth grade, the year I started wearing a bra. My worst fear as a nine year old was someone seeing my bra strap through my shirt. I’ve since spent a lifetime hauling around these knockers (I was born wearing an off-white orthopedic bra in a DD) and I have never enjoyed the attention they brought me. Not in junior igh when Jerry Bloom said, “I’m thirsty, I need some milk” every time he passed me in the hall; not in a high school honors assembly when a friend played me in a skit with balloons under his shirt representing my rack; not in my vulnerable dating years in intimate moments when every guy said, “they’re so…big.” Not even when the charming Russian sales woman at Banana Republic described them in a thick accent as “God’s Bounty.” But especially not when bra shopping.

A trip to Nordstrom’s lingerie department with mom was PTSD-inducing. An elderly woman with cold, dry hands and a tape measure clinically took numbers down and brought me durable beige monstrosities with wide straps, seams everywhere and extra hooks in back. “Lean forward, and fall into the bra to fill the cups,” my mom coached. The crowded fitting room became a cell, and I was condemned for life to being special-needs.

I developed a sense of humor about my dirty pillows, but they have become my identity. I may be an accomplished and terrific singer, actor, comedienne, writer, and friend, but when I am being described, it is always with reference to my breasts.

While I was pregnant I pursued positive mindfulness. In my pre-natal yoga classes for once I didn’t feel awkward and embarrassed when my body didn’t collapse comfortably into the postures. The jugs had always been intruders on my practice—falling into my face during downward dog and suffocating me during forward bends. But now my belly was the biggest, most obvious part of my body. My proportions were normal (for a pregnant woman). My recovery from my eating disorder had brought some spiritual reprieve from my negative self-talk. So I welcomed breastfeeding as an extension of that recovery, a beautiful privilege, with my body of service to another life.

In my first months of breastfeeding, I developed a clogged milk duct. My doctor suggested I massage it, take hot showers, and apply cabbage leaves. The pea-sized lump became infected, and in a blink became a golf-ball sized mass on the bottom of my right breast, so hard and inflamed it became impossible for me to move without screaming in labor-like pain. But I still had to breastfeed and pump regularly. After a week of frantic phone calls, I got an appointment with the top breast surgeon in LA. To avoid the abscess refilling over the weekend, Angelina Jolie’s doctor taped the tube hanging out of the hole in my breast, which drained the foulness into a pouch carried in my pocket, which I would empty
periodically during the longest weekend of my life.

Both pain and resentment become muted memories when you are high on Vicodin. I was also prescribed strong antibiotics. I returned twice to the surgeon’s office to have the abscess manually drained. The hole where the tube had been was stitched closed, and I changed the dressing every day until it healed. After three weeks, I felt normal. There was no lump, and movement and nursing pain free.

I continue to breastfeed my baby but feel more detached from my breasts than ever. They’re a biological necessity but I don’t want them. Their bigness makes me feel small and vulnerable to judgment, they affect the way people perceive me and they reduce my identity to my physical form.

But I want the best for my baby, and she needs them and so will her potential future siblings. As uncomfortable as I feel in my body and as complicated as “God’s Bounty” make my life, the reduction is still a fantasy. Instead, what I want more than anything is to accept my body as my genetic code has it ordered. I wonder: Can I be a confident, feminist example to my daughter if I decide to have a breast reduction?

I won’t make any decisions until I’m done having kids. Maybe I’ll decide the only way to teach my kids to love themselves is for me to do the same—as I am. But I might also set an example as someone who empowered herself and used modern medicine to set herself free from wide-strapped, six-hooked, black-eye-while-jogging bondage.

The blocked milk duct cum mastitis cum abscess could happen to anyone—it’s not just because of my size. And with time, perhaps I will make peace with the ladies. Maybe I’ll let them stay. Maybe we’ll continue to have a conflicted relationship with each other, but we’ll endure. Like it or not, we’re family.

 

Halina Newberry Grant is a writer, actor, singer and songwriter. She enjoys writing about comedy, tragedy, comedic tragedy, tragic funny things and everything in between. She has performed dramas in cemeteries, comedy in basement bars and Christmas music in Bloomingdale's display windows. She lives with her husband, her dog and her daughter in Culver City, CA. 



14 Comments / Post A Comment

BusyBrie

Our stories start the same but diverge when I had a reduction my senior year of high school. After having oddly-shaped triple D's since 6th grade, it was a godsend. I wanted to breastfeed too, and tried to - it's not impossible after a reduction - but it just didn't happen. And my formula-fed baby boy is big, strong, healthy as a horse, and completely bonded to me without that joyous time of breastfeeding. I wish I could have given him that. But we are all fine without it, and the last 15 years of my life have been SO MUCH BETTER thanks to that reduction. Yes, they got hugemongous during my pregnancy. But they went back down. And they still have the nice shape that the reduction gave me, even if I'm still a double- to triple-D depending on the bra brand. But I can wear pretty lace bras that I don't have to special order and I feel good in my own skin - something I never felt before my surgery.

Jill_Tata

Holy sweet awesome@k

Pochine

Wow. Thank you for sharing. I'm on kid #2 and have had more breast infections than I can count, the last of which was resistant to antibiotics, and my body finally just broke out in one GIANT hive after the fifth round. I didn't abcess, but my god you have my sympathy. The pain is unreal. The fatigue is crippling. The other side of this article is so interesting to me. My boobs never arrived in life, that is, until I had a baby. Quite honestly, nursing two kids (even through all the challenges) finally made me feel like my boobs were capable of something. Now I just wear a sports bra every day, because I'm tired of trying to pretend there's anything there any more. Thanks for sharing!

Riss Smith@facebook

I had a reduction at 16 and my first baby at 28. After the baby my boobs jumped back up and then some to an H cup, only went back down to an F (the pre-reduction size), and went up to an I with my second, and have only gone back to a G after nearly two years. So yes, I'm just as big-breasted as if I hadn't reduced these sweater puppies in the first place, but that decade or so of small (d cup) manageable breasts in my late teens and early 20's was so well worth it. If o could go back, I'd absolutely do it again. At this point in my life I can accept and love myself, but the reduction really helped me to love myself in those hormonal years while I was still figuring myself out!

lyzl@twitter

Thank you for sharing. I was always small chested and longed for big boobs. When I had my daughter, my boobs went from an A to an E. I went to Motherhood Maternity when my daughter was 3 weeks old for a bra and they told me what size I was and I swore. Living as a big boobed lady wasn't like I thought. I was huge. Everything felt exactly how you described, soft core porn. I felt self conscious walking. It changed how I interacted with my body. When I started to run again after the baby, I had to double bag those suckers just to be able to complete a mile. They went back to a B when my daughter was a year old. With my son, it was the same. B to an E. And that first week of his life I got mastitis. No abcess. Thank goodness. But I was in so much pain. My mom came to visit and I was on the floor, with no shirt on, crying. My mom got me to a doctor (the lactation consultant I had called said I was "fine"). It's a weird thing when you feel like your body is foreign to you. Like the pieces of you don't fit. My second kid is 10 months. Just weaned. I am still a C.I hope to go back to a B. They have served my children well. But they've been bitches to me.

MidoriSour

Ugh, I feel you. I have to say that I had a reduction my senior year of college and it is 100% by far one of the best decisions I have ever made. It was only after my reduction that I felt comfortable in my own skin.

I do not say the following to be an asshole: my breasts did not get much bigger with pregnancy, and I was able to exclusively breastfeed my son 10 years after the reduction. We're still nursing at 18 months. I know that comes off as a jerk thing to say in light of your struggles, but I wanted anyone else reading this to know that it is possible.

Pooja Patel

I think they should read this. We're still nursing at 18 months. I know that comes off as a jerk thing to say in light of your struggles, but I wanted anyone else reading this to know that it is possible.

apolsasam

I guess large breasted women really do have problems with it. I wouldn't want to have super D cup breasts. - Banners Broker

SynapseCracklePop

Oh, we sisterly sufferers of BTSD (breast tissue stress disorder)! I have walked a mile in your cups. Started in 4th grade, too. By 6th grade, I was wearing the bra size my wife does now. About 8 years ago, I developed a recurring abscess on top of my shoulder (under my bra straps) that was lanced and mashed (unsuccessfully, unless you count the scarring) by a surgical oncologist without a hint of anesthetic. When I got pregnant last year, I was already a 34G. Three and a half weeks into trying to breastfeed (ie not suffocate) my twins, I got mastitis, with a fever that shot so high I was barely conscious a few hours after it hit. The massive doses of antibiotics they gave me at urgent care worked on the mastitis, but a few days later, caused a raging yeast infection OF MY BUTTCRACK (as if the postpartum hemmorhoids alone weren't enough). I'm just waiting to get well enough, and line up a few babysitters, and these meat bags are coming off.

novak

Fellow well-bountied lady here, and I can't wait to get a breast reduction. I'm sad to say I can't justify keeping them this big or making my peace with them, as Halina is trying to do. I've been bigger than the other girls since I started growing them at age 10. I'm now 26 and I'm so done with the comments and the backaches and the bad shoulders.

I'm currently saving up the money for a breast reduction, as I have to pay for it out of pocket. (To clarify: I'm in the UK. It's not a case of health insurance, it's a case of the NHS not paying for breast reduction surgery, so I have to pay them to do it or go private. Either way, I pay.) When I went to my GP about having it done, she acted like I was some crazy lady who didn't know what she was asking for. First she told me I looked fine, then that I was blessed to have big breasts, then to think about breastfeeding (nope, not having kids), to maybe "just wear a sports bra all the time", then she gave me the number of the local counselling centre to help me with my "body issues", THEN said I could try losing weight. When I told her I was a 30HH and exercise regularly (as best I can considering my jugglies drag at me with every movement), she backtracked a bit and said that if I really really wanted one, I'd need to get a referral from a GP, but to try all the other options first. She then had the gall to talk about how her own small-breastedness had never affected her ability to breastfeed, and how her bigger sister had had so many problem and had deep grooves in her shoulders from her bras. Quite what any of this had to do with my particular situation, I have no idea.

I'm not going to see her again, about breasts or anything else.

TL;DR: breast reduction surgery is the way forward, doctors can surprise you with how woefully ignorant they are about big breasts, and life is too short to worry about what I may or may not do with them in the future - they're coming off the moment I can afford it!

pdflibrarian

Ugh yes - I've been dreaming of a reduction for decades but held off until I had kids because I wanted to breast feed. Jokes on me, I don't lactate! (some kind of hormone thing). Now I don't want to get a reduction because I don't have an extra $15k and if I did it would go into college savings funds or a second bathroom or a new driveway or something else for the family. I did try to convince my GP I needed a reduction (back pain) but she sent me to physical therapy instead. It helped, but did not eradicate my back pain completely. I'm glad to be free of daily pain but I'd rather be free of my H cups.

bureaucrab

I've always wished I was smaller, and by the sounds of it I'm not even as big as you. My smaller friends say they wish they were bigger, but after having kids a few of them ceded to me that I was right, at best they're always in the way, and at worst OWOWOW.

My paternal grandmother and both aunts are ginormous. My mom was afraid I'd be big like they were. One aunt was lucky enough to shrink to a normal size in her 30s when she lost some weight, but my grandmother and other aunt were genetically their sizes and unable to do anything about it themselves. That aunt finally had reduction surgery in her 50s; like you, she'd wanted to wait until after she had kids, but in her case it never happened. It took her a long time to come to terms with that, and she bit the bullet after their size started causing pain in and damage to her back and shoulders that would have been permanent. I'm relieved those genes missed me and I sympathize with all the trouble they're causing you. I hope you don't have any more infections, and (not that it matters) I say go for the reduction when the time comes. It sounds like it will be such a benefit to you, since you've wanted it for so long, and I think the message you send your daughter is that you don't have to accept something that's been awful just because it's natural. Body image and cosmetic surgery are such tricky areas to navigate, but it sounds like you've thought a ton about this and that having the surgery, when the time is right, would be the right decision for you. And that's all that matters, really - even when it comes to teaching your daughter, showing her to make decisions carefully and doing what's best for yourself is as good a message as anything else you could teach her.

uhlicia

Thanks for posting this. It's nice to see so many other women in the same boat. I had a breast reduction at 18, but after years of slowly putting on weight, pregnancy, and now breastfeeding, they are larger than ever. I sobbed when they measured me at 38I! Breastfeeding post reduction has been a challenge, but it is doable. I'm just waiting until I finish having kids and then it will be reduction #2 for me.

386615033@twitter

Big Naturals are the signs of healthy woman and one should not feel ashamed of it. I myself planning get big b transplant after my SSC Result 2014 comes out.

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