My boobs reached a “C” cup by the time I started high school. I feared they’d keep growing until they looked like my mom’s, whose breasts hung almost to her belly button like old balloons with liquid areolas taking up the base. They floated on their own in water.
When my daughter Emilia was born in my late 20s, my “D” cups swelled. “I can see your milk’s sure come in,” the midwife said at a postpartum check-up. My breasts, twice the size of my daughter’s head, eventually shrunk back down to how I remembered them, only a little…lower.
Seven years later, I had to buy “DD” nursing bras with the pregnancy of my second daughter. My boobs resembled my mother’s more and more. Single, and raising my children on my own, the thought of a man seeing my bare chest made me cringe. Then Coraline came, latched on open-mouthed and perfect 20 minutes after we got out of the birthing tub, and proceeded to nurse in a way that I can only think of as sucking me bone dry. She gained almost five pounds in the first two months. My breasts grew into beautiful orbs who worked hard to keep up with her demand.
But every so often, she doesn’t demand, and they don’t take time off. I get blocked milk ducts.
Not just in an engorged, swollen way. I get blockages that wake me up in the pre-dawn hours. I’ve learned how to get them out by hand, going through trial and error of different ways to tug at my nipples in a process I call milking myself. Tiny streams shoot across the floor, all over the towels I have laid out, the wall, and my face. Then the little bleb (yes, it has a name) squeezes out and I can go nestle back in bed without a painful, ridged melon attached to my chest, but with new empathy for sexually frustrated men.
It didn’t go as well last time. By noon the next morning, I still had to milk myself between feedings. Nothing worked. If I accidentally held my baby on the left side, her pressing up against me almost made me pass out with pain. There was no massaging to be had. I took ibuprofen. I tugged at my nipple and soaked towels with milk, avoiding brushing against swollen parts. Nothing chunky came out. I turned to my online mommy groups for help.
“Put a hot washcloth on the affected area,” one said. I poured boiling water on a rag and held it up to cool. In a few minutes it was cold, so I had to repeat the process again, and just got frustrated and wet.
“I’ll bring over my double electric pump!” said another. My nipples had a history of closing up like brushed-over barnacles at the mention of an electric pump, but I was desperate to try anything.
“Take a hot shower and massage it out,” one lady said. I stood there, aiming my boobs at the hot streams of little needles hitting my nipples, milking, spraying the walls, and they softened a bit. Enough for me to, well, okay I sucked on my own nipple. I shut my eyes and imagined it a snake bite, spitting the milk dramatically by my feet. Ten minutes later I stepped out of the shower to an unamused baby, and with a quarter of my breast still full of unforgiving sacs.
“Get some kind of vibration on it to work out the blockage. Yes, that kind,” a woman responded next. Wait. What? And where was my vibrator, anyway? I’d bought a new one after finding out I was pregnant because, well, I doubted telling a man about my baby bump would lead to sexy times. But it’d been months since I’d even thought about it—sex or the vibrator.
So I’m sitting at my desk, rubbing my boob with a purple silicone six-inch rabbit, making faces at a grumpy baby in her bouncy seat. My boss emails about work the next day. I try different methods—swirls and slow lines. My older daughter’s pediatrician calls. I scrambled to turn it off and dropped it where it echoed on the wood floor. A lactation consultant returns my call. I can’t bear to tell her that just before I answered, she would have heard the low, pulsating buzz on the highest intensity. That one used to be my favorite.
I had to nurse my baby on the other breast the next time she was hungry. Even though it was through a shirt, it felt wrong to let her drink milk that had been shaken by a purple rabbit like tenderizing meat with a huge dildo. This turned out to be a good thing anyway, because my right breast in some sort of clenched fist, foot stomping tantrum, stopped leaking and decided to block up, too. Lady hump blue balls.
A friend dropped off the pump, which I hooked up and attempted to put to good use during books at bedtime. My 7-year-old watched in fascination. “Can I drink some?” she asked with wide eyes.
“No!” I said with alarm.
“Why? I used to drink it,” she said.
Sure, she had a point, but the thought repulsed me too much. I thought back to the shower and shuddered.
I switched to milking by hand. The right breast couldn’t hold on to its bleb for very long, and it came out in a “pssst” sound and pressured spray. I tried the pump on the right while I nursed on the left, and by the time my daughter finished reading her story I had two, floppy, flattened, pillowy boobs again.
“Mom, will my chest be like yours?” my daughter asked when I hugged her goodnight.
“Probably,” I said.
“Good,” she said. “You’re so soft.” She paused to size me up. “But I can be like half as big, right?”
“Sure,” I said.
Dream small, kid.
Related post: The 5 Most Awkward Moments as a Nursing Mother