I knew they'd get sorer and bigger. But I was not prepared for how much mental space they'd take up.
It started with trouble getting into my sports bra: Before I even realized I was pregnant, I noticed that I’d been having to squeeze, tuck, and squirm to fit my boobs in, clown-car-style. The resulting cleavage—something I’d never really had—would make my husband do eye-roll-inducing double takes. Meanwhile, whenever I wasn’t wearing a bra, my dog would try to lick my nipples. (Cue: some interesting 2 a.m. Google searches.)
I’d known that pregnancy and motherhood would make my breasts bigger and sorer. But I didn’t realize just how much change was in store—or how much mental space that change would take up.
I’m not someone who’s ever had to think much about my boobs. Sure, as a teenager, I dreamed they might grow bigger. But as my adult body settled into the small side of a B-cup, I had the privilege of not having to worry about cleavage or excessive bouncing around.
Then they started aching. Even before my belly grew, I could no longer sleep on my stomach because my breasts couldn’t handle it. Even putting on a shirt too quickly could make me flinch. My first “maternity-wear” purchase was actually a high-support sports bra that felt like medieval body armor, but successfully kept my boobs in check so that I could still run and work out somewhat.
The one sensation I truly couldn’t handle started about five or six months into my pregnancy, when my underboob began sticking to my belly. I’d always relished that wonderfully freeing feeling of taking your bra off at the end of the day—especially in my work-from-home life, getting rid of my underwire had become one of those mental markers that separated professional-time from me-time. Now, though, taking off a bra left me with sweaty skin-on-skin contact between moist, swollen mounds that stubbornly clung together. I couldn’t deal. I started keeping my bra on until the moment I went to bed.
According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s common to gain one to three pounds in your breasts alone by the end of pregnancy. I was measuring around a D-cup and beginning to realize what life is like with a larger chest. A simple V-neck suddenly felt too provocative to wear on a work call. Even chasing after my dog for a few feet came with so much uncomfortable jiggling that I’d just… not. As someone who’s always loved being active, I finally understood why bigger breasts lead some people not to be.
The irony is, though I’d envied more voluptuous women as a teenager, these lumps of fat and tissue and milk now felt the opposite of anything sexy. They just seemed bulky to me, and annoying. And as soon as my daughter arrived, they became practical, workmanlike tools to feed her. Luckily, although the lactation consultant at the hospital had warned me that I have “one wonky nipple,” breastfeeding came relatively easily. My body settled into the rhythm of her feeds, and my chest began to slowly shrink back down (somewhat, at least—apparently it takes a good three months after weaning to find out your new normal).
I knew that, after having been so stretched out, they’d end up saggier, but I was by no means prepared for the day I stepped out of the shower, caught a glimpse of my profile in the mirror, and saw the very image of my mom’s boobs. The deflated teardrop-like droop was the exact shape I’d seen on my mom all of my life, but now it was on my body. Along with the shock that I had physically become my mother was the realization that I was the reason her breasts had looked that way all my life (okay, my brother’s partly guilty, too).
When I brought all of this up to a mom friend with two older kids, she pointed out that becoming a mom is like splitting off part of your personality into another being—one that doesn’t wholly belong to you. Instead of your breasts being yours, they’re owned by this “mom.” And there’s nothing you can do that’s as simple as, say, taking off some underwire to fully feel like yourself again. The disconnect is always there.
This, I realized, was the heart of why these changes had struck me so deeply. I absolutely loved being my daughter’s mom; I also missed the woman she replaced—the one who could travel on a whim, who could be flirtatious and make raunchy jokes, who had the energy to stay awake after 9 pm. My identity had shifted, taking on the stereotypes and baggage of the label of “mom.” And I had a literal weight on my chest embodying the distinction between who I’d become and who I’d left behind.
I won’t lie—I’d happily take my pre-baby perkiness back. Yet there’s also something I appreciate about how these new mom boobs have settled softly onto my chest in just the right shape for bedtime cuddles. I’m now 10 months in, my milk’s starting to dry up, and I’ve been thinking about how this one part of my body has not only fed my baby, but time and again has been the one thing that’s comforted her when nothing else can. Nursing her during her first year of life has been the last truly physical connection we have to each other after having her be a literal part of me for so many months.
Recently, my daughter’s started this new habit where sometimes she’ll stop drinking, pull her head back, then hold my nipple between her fingers while she inspects it curiously, like some kind of judgy milk sommelier. Other times, she’ll bite down with her (surprisingly sharp) new teeth; when I wince, she’ll giggle her breathy little laugh. And I realize yet again that I’d give up my boobs, or any other body part, anything really, a hundred times over for her.