It was almost 25 years ago that I realized that my boobs had tremendous power. My portrayal of Hippolyta in my high school’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was nothing if not lackluster but the deep v of my black body suit meant that all I really had to do was stand there. My boobs had the stage presence of an Amazonian Queen (albeit one with a possibly historically inaccurate complete set of knockers.)
My boobs and I went to college and found employment behind the bar. My smart mouth and my perky young boobs made pretty stellar money for about a decade. When my older daughter was born and I retired from tending bar I am betting my boobs thought they’d get a break. Nope. I put those boobs to work overtime. I realized that these magical orbs were not only mama’s moneymakers but they were baby’s favorite, too.
In breastfeeding I found my maternal confidence. And when I had questions about how to feed my baby my boobs led me to finding my tribe. Breastfeeding helped me stumble into attachment parenting and co-sleeping and a million labels that helped me to know that I absolutely knew how to be a mother to my baby. I learned everything I could so that I could tell other new moms to just trust themselves. Funny that we all need facts to tell us to trust our guts, such is the first of many things that make no sense about parenting.
As my hell-raising and breastfeeding days were behind me and my life settled into that of a newly single mother my boobs took a little hiatus. I celebrated them both (both boobs as well as the hell-raising and the baby feeding) with this tattoo!
When my youngest was born my boobs got back on board and played their part. I imagine that they heaved a heavy sigh and got ready as they knew this time around that it was likely a long road. Four years and three months later… Lucy has started sleeping through the night. Sometimes she even falls asleep without me. And without “boobie.” I can see the end of the road and it is bittersweet. Nursing babies has been part of my life for nine of my almost eleven years as a mother. It has led me to yet another tribe of women. Volunteering with Best for Babes has been a meaningful part of my life for several years.
As my 40th birthday approached I decided to go ahead and get a mammogram. I did my hair for the occasion. Like you do. No big deal, right? When the technician apologized for any discomfort I laughed and explained that my boobs barely belonged to me anymore. These “long boobs” can reach a kid in a car seat in the backseat while I am driving! I kid, I kid. Sort of. Think a few glass plates are going to bother me? Pfft.
“Now most women will receive a call back since this is your baseline mammogram. Don’t worry if we call you back in.”
So then they called. And I worried. And worried some more. Because everything is so…. ok. This last decade has been a bumpy ride, y’all. But I am looking down the barrel of 40 and thinking that this is going to be my decade! I was ready to coast into 40 with my smile bright, a husband that is crazy about me (most of the time,) two healthy kids, a ridiculous addiction to triathlon that keeps me healthy, my boobs in retirement and sleeping through the night! Life was looking good.
“Well, I don’t really like what I am seeing on these images so we are going to need to do an ultrasound.”
And my stomach dropped. I had that moment when your life is a Lifetime movie and suddenly you are Valerie Bertinelli and you are wearing so much mascara and you’re crying and there is shitty music playing and you know that absolutely nothing good is going to come of you wearing this unusually soft cape dress that opens in the front.
And so the ultrasound technician does that thing where they bite the inside of their mouth and go back and forth over the same place again and again and I tried to make jokes and she just kept taking pictures and typing illegible things on a screen I could not quite read. “Now you just relax here and I will take these down to Radiology and be back in a few.”
“Sure,” I said, “I will just kick back and play on my phone and contemplate my imminent death. None of us get our of here alive anyway, right?” I laughed. And she closed the door and I let myself cry.
Five minutes later the radiologist came in (that can’t be a good sign, right?) and says “Everything is fine. But I am going to show you what I am looking at so you don’t have to take my word for it.” She adjusted her dials and smiled at me with her warm face and said “When I was your age and my kids were small we didn’t have all of these fancy machines so we just had to wait and worry. Since you’re still nursing I am guessing that what we saw before was maybe a milk duct that was full?”
And I started to laugh and cry and wipe snot on my arm since I had no sleeves. Breastfeeding for longer than a year can actually lower your risk of cancer. But evidently it can increase your chances of being certain that you most definitely have it for the five minutes it takes for a radiologist to look at your pictures.
At the end of it all… Everything’s ok. I will go back in six months when my milk ducts are dried up and my last baby has hopefully weaned and I will get another round of pictures. And I will surely get called back in because we still don’t have a baseline of images to look at, really.
The other day in swim practice we got to dive off the block and do 25 yard sprints. I have not dived off a swim block since I was 10 years old and I was petrified. I told my coach “When something scares the snot out of me and my first instinct is to say No Way – that’s when I know I have to do it.” That has been my Life Plan these last few years. So far, so good. I considered putting off my baseline mammogram because I wasn’t sure I was in a headspace that could stomach the potential worry. But I was scared. So I went all in.
In the last month I have had one of those roller coaster rides of the mind when you imagine that thing, the thing you fear the most. And I am not saying that I fear breast cancer more than anything else, not at all. In fact, in the five minutes I waited for the doctor this morning I let my mind go all the way there. I would fight hard and I would be ok. And I would get some brand new boobs as a present when it was all said and done and twenty-five years from now I would write another blog post about the twenty-five years I had spent embracing these new boobs. Because I am in my heart of hearts an optimist. I am a Lemonade maker.
The thing I fear the most is feeling Stupid. I have been making lemonade from lemons for much of my adult life. But in the last couple of years things have started to slow down and I have relaxed into a groove that feels so incredibly … ok. And deep down I am scared that Life will start handing out something even worse than lemons… Sucker Punches? And I will feel stupid for relaxing and believing that maybe, just maybe, it was all going to turn out alright.
But for today…. I am relieved. And I am grateful. And I am bawling and sweaty in a co-op grocery store in a town that I adore while my kids are in schools that I am pleased with and my husband is at a job that he mostly likes after a run that I cut short because I kept crying. And I am ok.
I hope you’re ok, too. And I hope you do things that scare you. Big ones and small ones. Because this life is made up of choices, millions of choices. The moments that I have chosen to be brave I have never regretted.