Unbeknownst to me my milk had just come in. All I knew is that my boobs looked like Dolly Parton’s on a bad day. These hard, swollen, and veiny additions to my chest looked nothing like what I had been living with the past decade, and I felt as awkward and uncomfortable as a girl entering puberty sprouting breasts for the first time.
Since the baby was early I wasn’t prepared. I had only two nursing bras that I was fitted for at the hospital. Feeling anxious and overwhelmed with the sudden growth of my family, I left the safety of my home for a few hours with my mom in search of bras that would allow the full release of my breast at the beck and call of my new baby.
I was so unfamiliar with the territory of postpartum that I resorted to going to where I had bought my maternity clothes: a popular maternity store. I had remembered seeing a wall of colorful bras once before, finding the little plastic clips that were supposed to hold up my pregnancy-inflated boobs a bit of a joke. I found myself once again staring at the wall of two-cupped clipped wonders, although this time it wasn’t so funny.
I grabbed a selection in a variety of sizes and styles, and was about to head to a fitting room when a saleswoman approached. Seeing a potential commission, I suppose, she started to suggest and gather other items to try. “You vil definitely need some of dees,” she said in a thick accent, stuffing little boxes onto my already full arms. The picture on the front of one looked like a modern day chastity belt, the picture on the other looked like an orthopedic back brace. “For the belly pooch after,” she said, misreading my expression for confused, “you haf to poosh it back right avay or else you alvays gonna haf dees,” she said, gesturing to her own flat stomach, curving her hand in an empty crescent shape where a post-partum belly would fit.
“You shopping early?” she asked, clearly mistaking my four-day-old post-partum belly for pregnancy—I still looked about six months pregnant. “It’s guud to haf,” she concluded. I could feel myself flush, and didn’t know if it was embarrassment about the presumption of my figure or the raging hormones—or both—but I teetered with my arms full to the dressing room. I dropped everything on the bench and proceeded to try things on, trying not to drip my boobs’ newfound fluids everywhere while also trying not to cry at the horrible shape they had become. “I didn’t know it would be this bad,” I said to my mom, although I wasn’t sure if I meant my breasts, belly, or how I’d feel. Possibly, probably, all three.
I had saved them for last. I studied the boxes and then removed the shapers. I struggled the get the impossibly tight and high “underwear” up my sturdy thighs and over the belly that I suddenly felt ashamed of. It was so uncomfortable, I couldn’t imagine wearing them day in and day out while also trying to wrangle the school-bus size maxi pad for the lochia inside. Maybe the other would fare better.
It was worse. Thick and stiff, I struggled to fasten the brace around myself. Unable to bend at all, I couldn’t imagine myself trying to sit comfortably and feed my baby at the same time. I tried to picture taking it on and off to pee 10 times a day. Hopeless. Fed up, I tore it off as fast as I could and threw it back on the bench.
I suddenly realized how ridiculous this was. I felt angry. Why were body shapers and braces becoming standard postpartum apparatus, along with sitz baths and nipple pads? What was this saying to every new mom, fresh out of the delivery room and terrified to be left alone to care for a brand new human being?
It was telling them everything that I was feeling at the moment.
Your body is now ugly. Your body is unattractive. Abdomens have to be flat to be sexy. There is no excuse to be fat, not even birthing a human. Fix yourself.
That day is a dark and painful scar in my mind. I hated what I had become. I couldn’t see the beauty that I had become.
I couldn’t see that my breasts swelled with life’s milk that would nourish my child into a healthy being.
I couldn’t see that my dripping was bountiful; a blessed sign that I’d be able to breastfeed.
I couldn’t see that my belly was the beautiful proof of what my body had worked nine months to accomplish.
I couldn’t see that my bleeding was tangible proof of the struggle my body had just undergone to deliver a healthy baby.
I couldn’t see how hurtful and cruel the woman’s words were. I don’t believe she did it intentionally. Our culture is shaping all of us physically and mentally. We are being taught that natural is not beautiful, and are corseting every flaw to make perfection.
I am already perfect. I was perfect before pregnancy. I was perfect during pregnancy. I am perfect after pregnancy. I will not shame the healthy body I was given, I will celebrate it for its’ accomplishments. I will not change it by restrictions, I will sustain it with healthy foods and exercise. I will not hide it, I will flaunt it.
There isn’t anything that is wrong with me. There is something that is wrong with society. And I, for one, will not stand for it anymore. Will you stand with me?