I’ve called my boobs a lot of things, but before marriage and kids, at least I called them my own.
A friend of mine recently described the state of her breasts as “balled-up wet socks.” She, like I, had donated her breasts to her daughter, nursing her for the better part of a year.
But this isn’t another story about the state of a mother’s breasts, the kind that—if you’ve never had kids—makes you decide right then and there that you will not be nursing any future children because you can’t imagine ever describing your own breasts as “saggy,” “lifeless” or “uneven.”
Instead, this is a story of ownership. From one relationship stage to the next, my breasts seem to have become someone’s else’s domain—anyone’s except my own.
They were all mine, of course, when I was single. When I first moved to New York, I spent many nights exploring the city as a single woman. Or more specifically, the city’s nightlife. But I’m a serial monogamist. I’ve been in long-term relationships for the better part of my adult life.
Dating, and being single, were really just routes to get back into my comfort zone: taken. I’m not very good at casually dating, and I only made one disastrous attempt at dating two men at once.
The thing about being single is that your body is no one’s but your own. The boobs were mine. They served their purpose as part of the package deal, the deal that landed me my last boyfriend (and current husband).
As soon as we became serious (oh, about three dates in), ownership shifted. We’re not talking indentured servant ownership, but that kind of possession that seeps into any committed relationship. They were all his for sexual interludes, and he wasn’t required to ask permission to cop a feel. And just as in any equal partnership, his body was all-access to me, too. It was an unspoken covenant of the relationship—of any romance, really.
It wasn’t until my husband’s ownership was threatened that I realized he really thought they were his. When we learned I was pregnant, and the elation-fear cocktail wore off, we started building our parenting philosophy. Of course I’d nurse. Or at least try. My husband was all for it until he heard me say something about my breasts being off-limits. Although I had yet to experience breastfeeding, I could already tell you I did not want any accidental adult nursing sessions during sex.
It Came Down to Functionality vs. Eroticism
My husband had many months to say goodbye to his best friends, and I had many months to overthink the fear of breastfeeding. It was really difficult to set aside the sexual component of my breasts. That’s what they were made for, right? (Wrong.) I just couldn’t imagine an infant latched onto a body part that was, for me, purely sexual.
Our baby arrived in late August, and after a few weeks of agonizing pain (don’t let anyone tell you different), we got the hang of breastfeeding.
That’s right around the time my husband begrudgingly handed over the title to our daughter. And she declared victory. I (er, rather, my boobs) became her sole source of comfort. Why take a pacifier when there are two lovely milk-producing anodynes right here?
And as I mentioned, we did get the hang of nursing, but with a slight glitch: She preferred the left one to the right. Which means the left one produced more milk and was perpetually larger than the right one. (I actually felt bad for the right one—so neglected and sad!) New-parenthood sex is infrequent to begin with; unveiling seriously lopsided breasts made it practically nonexistent.
Nursing became an involuntary part of life. In fact, when I think back, it’s a feeling I can’t conjure any longer. I remember being proud of my successful efforts to soothe her, but it feels foreign now, just nine months after I weaned her.
I nursed our daughter for 11 months, and it really did mean access-denied for my husband. Just as I suspected, I couldn’t fathom switching from functionality to eroticism.
There was no dual usage there. I was very sensitive to giving them back to him, for fear that any “activity” would prolong milk production. In truth, his access was revoked for at least a year if not a few months more. Slowly, though, life—and my body—returned to its previous state.
What about me? When do they become mine again? Probably when no one has any use for or wants to be within 10 feet of them—when I’m 70. I kid. When you think about it, they’ve been mine all along, in a way. I certainly received pleasure from my husband’s “use,” while I definitely benefited from providing for and comforting my daughter.
Turns out, they were a vessel for my own happiness all along.
Maureen Dempsey is an editor for YourTango. Maureen has worked at Shop Etc., Marie Claire, and Vogue. A serial monogamist, she asked her boyfriend of one month to move in with her. Three apartments, two dogs and one baby later, they are happily married.
This article was originally published on YourTango.