Tuesday, October 31, 2017

What Are Breasts For?

As October winds down and we prepare for Halloween celebrations tonight, I thought I'd share some final thoughts on the month. And on breasts in particular.


The librarian at Quinn's school is a friend. She was his music teacher in preschool, and now I see her when I'm volunteering as garden mom or at PTA meetings. All of which to say that we're Facebook friends, as well as real-life friends, and we often get fired up about similar things. Yesterday a few weeks ago (because I'm spending all my energy right now on growing a human and also a remodel project to add a nursery so these unfinished posts get stuck here for a month), I saw a post on my friend the librarian's Facebook page regarding a book.

The book seems to be about talking to boys about puberty and other coming-of-age concerns. Another mom had seen this, was rightfully pissed, and was asking whether our librarian knew anything about this series or why the editors had been such dolts (I'm paraphrasing).

Here is a screenshot.
First - girls have breasts to make milk for babies? No. Women do. Girls shouldn't be having babies, and we shouldn't perpetuate that notion in a book aimed at BOYS. But that is hardly the only thing that makes this page offensive. The second reason for girls having breasts, according to Alex Frith for this Usbourne series, is "to make the girl look grown-up and attractive," and virtually all breasts can do this. 

Hold on while I pick the keyboard keys off my forehead. 

Am I the only one offended? Is it because my real breasts have been gone for nearly six years now? DO I NO LONGER LOOK GROWN-UP?!

I've been thinking so much about my breasts this month. Not only because it's October and WE ARE ALL AWARE OF BREAST CANCER ALREADY, but also because I'm going to have a baby sometime in the next few weeks. Side note: both Pinktober and this remodel have seemed to drag on FOREVER, which is weird because at the very same time, this pregnancy has zipped by in what seems like an instant. 

When Quinn was born, I breastfed from the start, right up until I had to begin chemo a few days before he was six months old. I loved that bonding time with my baby boy, his little face turned up to mine as he slurped and suckled. I was lucky. Nursing didn't hurt. My nipples weren't cracked or sore. I craved Blue Moon and was thirsty all the time, but nursing was relatively easy for me. It's part of why I knew it was bullshit when my doctor told me the lump in my right breast was mastitis. 

I was in awe of my body and what it was able to accomplish. I GREW a human! And then made food for him for HALF A YEAR! It blows my mind what women can do. 

And again, I'm growing a human! I have the fatigue and tell-tale waddle and peeing my pants every time I sneeze to prove it. 

But my breasts aren't tender as they prepare to feed my baby this time around. I no longer have nipples. Even my doctor occasionally forgets and asks me about breastfeeding, but short of me regrowing a boob like a lizard regrows its tail, nursing from my fake boobs is not going to happen.

I have heard that there is a possibility some milk will still come in in the days after I give birth, and I might have painful lumps in my armpits where a few milk ducts may remain. If that happens, I'm tempted to ask for more surgical drains to be placed -- like I had after my mastectomy -- to collect some of that liquid gold. Brilliant, right? I am also so grateful I was forewarned. That would be one terrifying surprise to wake up to, a whole bunch of painful lumps in my armpits after five years of thinking I was going to die of cancer.

I've had some wonderfully generous women step forward to offer me their extra breast milk, and the hospital has assured me our baby will have breast milk while we're at the hospital. Also, while I know "breast is best" when it comes to feeding newborns, plenty of babies do just fine on formula. Still, it saddens me to my core that I won't be able to feed this baby girl the way I was able to feed Quinn. 

On the other hand: no excuses, Chris. Those middle-of-the-night wake-ups are FAIR GAME for both of us. Mama just might get some sleep this time around. 


Beyond my own breasts, October has been full of the usual tired pink crap, though I have a lot of adorable pink stuff coming into my life right now so I can't totally hate on the color itself.

Yesterday, my dad sent me an article about the frivolity of the pink culture that emerges every October, even as it is meant to say to us with or beyond breast cancer that we are celebrated and supported. The whole article is worth reading, but two lines in particular struck me:

"The association of femininity and breast cancer is pernicious, because it genders the disease, meaning that a diagnosis of breast cancer marks patients as women first, people second. It implies that our womanliness is diseased, not our bodies."

Like the article's author, I didn't initially associate my diagnosis and the ensuing surgeries (and chemically-induced menopause, and hair loss, and days on the toilet post-chemo, et cetera, et cetera...) with a loss of my womanhood, though as time went on, there were certainly periods when I felt less than feminine. Instead, like most people facing CANCER, I was worried about my life. Thinking I was metastatic for years didn't help, since stage 4 is the only stage of the disease that kills.

Being surrounded by the color of Barbie dolls and bubble gum doesn't feel helpful. I am so thankful for black, purple, and orange today. And chocolate.

As you all know, I have lost a LOT of dear friends to breast cancer. Chris lost his dad to pancreatic cancer. My dear friend and fierce advocate Beth is nearing the end of her life now, which is devastating our MBC community and ripping a hole in her young family.

This, I think, is the biggest rub when it comes to Pinktober: it's not about our breasts.

They might be fun for a bit or serve a very special purpose for moms who are able to nurse when they're healthy, but when our lives are on the line (and they are -- 113 American women STILL die of breast cancer every damn day), our breasts are the last thing we're worrying about. And they definitely aren't what defines us as women -- healthy or not.

1 comment:

  1. So sorry about the loss of your friend.

    Your post made me think about how amazing women are in their mothering and multitasking skills. I saw this one really patient mom at my kid's ballet studio yesterday who was nursing and taking care of her family in so many ways. The studio is an overcrowded small space with kids and parents jammed in for the evening classes and everyone's hungry and tired at the dinnertime hour (at least I am). This mom was putting her daughters' hair in ballet buns (with some skillz!), feeding her family dinner (she'd brought plates, warmed food, a sheet to sit on and collect crumbs, etc), nursing her baby, talking calmly to a snappy tween, and finishing up some work on her laptop (while patiently telling baby not to touch). So many moms do this kind of power care taking each in our own way.