As a girl, I was not keen on developing breasts. I watched with trepidation as my older sisters entered this milestone: Laura was told by my stepmother to pray that she wouldn't inherit my mother's overly ample bust; Sarah was given (also by my stepmother) a purple, lacy bra at age 11 in preparation for her budding breasts—she hooked it to the tip of a piece of kindling, stuck it in the fire like a marshmallow, and watched it burn. It was the early 1970s; the women's movement was in full swing. Bra-burning myths and bralessness, complexities—I wanted none of that. When my breasts blossomed into an unobtrusive 34B, I was relieved. My breasts stirred little emotion. They were just there; simply a fact.
Then I had a baby, and everything changed.
My breasts became more than a fact; they became an intricate, beautiful machine, swelling, abundant with milk that streamed into the chirping mouth of my baby girl who fed for hours, then fell off, like an apple from a tree, head back, drunk with my milk. I'd eat brownies and macaroons endlessly, fuel to supply the machine. This was biology, science at work, and it was happening in me. The more milk my baby wanted, the more I ate, the more I made, the fatter she became. I was part of a continuum that reached back to the beginning of time and stretched forward to the end. Wow, I thought, they can do this, my breasts. Extraordinary. I was euphoric. I was not even deterred by mastitis. My doctor wanted me to switch to formula. I refused. My breasts could do this. They burned and ached, a terrible pain. But this was about production, about plumbing. I learned from a midwife that if you caught the infection early, you could push it out with hot compresses and hot showers. So I did. And the milk flowed again.
"Don't you feel like a cow?" my sister Jenny asked. No, I did not feel like a cow. I felt like Mother Earth. I fell in love with my powers; I fell in love with my hardworking, purposeful, magical breasts.
Thirteen months passed, and one day my daughter decided she'd had enough. She refused to latch on. She was finished. I was devastated. No weaning. Done. How long would the grieving last? For exactly one day, in fact. I woke up on the second day and the grief, to my astonishment, was gone. I felt suddenly new, liberated. I waited for my breasts to shrink. But a funny thing happened: My breasts never returned to their normal size; my rib cage shrank. I discovered that I was a 32D. "Guess what? I'm a 32D," I said one day, laughing. My husband looked up, his eyebrows raised. And with that, he made a few undercover sorties to Laina Jane, a lingerie store, for silk bras with velvet straps. They were gorgeous, spoke to my new pride, to what my breasts had accomplished and become—held now like presents, enshrined.
Martha McPhee's latest novel, Dear Money, will be published in June.
Hollywood's Next A-List
You may not recognize all of them...yet. But these 22 individuals have delivered some of the most triumphant on-screen performances in recent memory.
By Neha Prakash
The Ambition Issue
A celebration of striving for success in whatever's most important to you.
By Marie Claire Editors
I Quit My Job as a CEO to Become an Intern
In an excerpt from her memoir, Alisha Fernandez Miranda takes a one-year break from her role as CEO at a consulting firm to try out the jobs she's always dreamed of doing.
By Alisha Fernandez Miranda
There Are 7 Different Types of Boobs in the World, Apparently
So which ones are yours?
By Catriona Harvey-Jenner
5 Life-Changing Revelations About Women and Body Image
Seriously feel-good stuff you need to know now.
By Camille Giacovas
The Collarbone Challenge Is the Latest WTF Way to Feel Insecure About Your Body
The newest body-shaming trend needs to die.
By Elizabeth Narins
America Is One of the Worst Places on Earth for Maternal Healthcare
According to an eye-opening new report.
By Megan Friedman
These 5 Plus-Size Models Formed a Collective to Prove That Fashion Is for Everyone
"I've been called a plus-size model for 15 years...but at the end of the day, I know who I am."
By Alanna Nunez
Tallulah Willis Stripped Down to Her Underwear to Talk About Body Image
Prepare to feel inspired.
By Laura Cohen
Why the Thigh Gap Obsession Needs to Stop Immediately
#StopThighGap. This story originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com.
By Kendra Alvey
Can You Really Think Yourself Thin?
Could the power of meditation teach one woman to resist tables of temptation and use meditation to never diet again?
By Leslie Bennetts