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My breasts and I have been at war for more than 20 years. As a shy teenager, I would quietly admire boys from afar while my ample bosom shouted "Hello, sailor!" My inner jock never fully flowered simply because I couldn't find a sports bra that didn't snap under pressure. From an early age, my breasts have telegraphed abundance to anyone with eyes. Here are two ripe orbs that should leak milk with the slightest provocation. Except that they didn't, when nipple met infant. And our war opened a new campaign.

Let me be the first to admit that I was the one who provoked this most recent fire-fight. Several years before bearing a baby, I took my breasts into my own hands and marched them into a plastic surgeon's office. One look at the bra strap trenches in my shoulders and the burgeoning hump on my upper spine convinced her that my bodacious ta-tas needed to be taken down a notch. A few weeks and four hours later, my E-cups no longer overflowed and I could finally wear lacey lingerie from Victoria's Secret.

For the years following, we were partners, my breasts and I. Suddenly new doors opened for us. Dresses suddenly fit. Men no longer addressed their conversations to a point slightly below my collarbone. My spine slowly straightened. While my chest would never be confused with Gwyneth's, I no longer had to model myself after Dolly.

Then, I got pregnant and the hostilities resurfaced. Almost overnight, I swelled close to my pre-surgery size. The scars, which had faded to thin, pink lines by then, suddenly became angry maps of my modification. As I heaved and hurled during those first few months -- so much so that I lost a solid 7 pounds during my first trimester -- my boobs just kept expanding, sucking up all of my remaining fat reserves. Some women would consider it a boon. For me, it was an outrage.

What made it bearable, however, was the thought that it had a larger purpose, that my breasts could redeem themselves by doing what they had been designed to do. After the baby's birth I would sit, Madonna-like, with my fuzzy-headed infant nuzzling at my breast, receiving nourishment as Mama Nature had intended. A little discomfort and body-image angst was certainly worth such a large pay-off.

Only, that's not what happened.

It started to all go wrong in the hospital. Some babies seem to understand the whole idea frighteningly fast, latching on like their very lives depended on it, which, come to think of it, they do. Some are a bit more pokey, lazily finding the nipple and giving a few desultory sucks before they nod off again. My blessed lump was of the second sort. Some have blamed me for this, pinning her nursing inattention on my choice to have an epidural. There may be some truth to this.

More of it, however, seems to be a direct result of two things. One, the niblet wasn't a big eater for the first six months. Four ounces of anything used to take an hour or so to coax into her. She would always be too busy looking around and soaking up the world to be bothered with something as pedestrian as sucking. Solid food kick-started her appetite, it seems, and even now, almost two years later, she still is an enthusiastic diner. Problem two: for the first two weeks of her life, my babe looked like a pumpkin.

Jaundice is a tricky thing. A little case is nothing to sweat too hard about and will generally clear up with a few remedial steps. A larger case can quickly become a medical emergency. Our baby straddled the fence for a few days. And what she needed most was something I couldn't deliver.

In hindsight, of course, it is all very clear. But at the time, during those first few days when new parents are giddy and exhausted, the signs of trouble aren't always easy to read.

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Those precious first days in the hospital should have been a warning. A dutiful nurse would always remind me when I needed to stop gazing with awestruck wonder at my gorgeous infant and would again have to force my breast -- which was about twice the size of the baby's head -- into her sleeping mouth. And I would. And she would give a suck or two, then wander back into infant dreams. "Don't worry," every last nurse assured me, "she's getting more than enough colostrum to keep her healthy."

But it didn't seem like anything was happening. I didn't notice any fluid, thick or milky or otherwise, erupting from my Grand Tetons. The only new thing was a blister, which seemed like it should hurt but, really, didn't bother me at all.

Too soon, we were back at home and playing the waiting game. The best thing to cure the jaundice, our pediatrician told us, is to flush the excess bilirubin out of her system with milk, something that my breasts weren't yet producing. Each day we hoped that my milk would arrive, delivered during the night by some imaginary milkman and left to rest in one of those old front porch metal coolers that populated my childhood. Each day we hauled ourselves to the pediatrician, who charted the child's bilirubin levels, which rose like the pre-millennial stock market. By the third milk-less day, our baby was a Jack o'Lantern.

During those first precious days, we tried nearly everything. A panel of doulas and lactation experts were consulted and their advice on everything from latching-on to manual expression was dutifully employed. A supplemental nursing system was purchased. Every two hours, round-the-clock, I would hang the formula-filled reservoir around my neck, tape a whisper-thin tube to each nipple, and let the baby suck. It was believed that this would provide both nutrition for the baby and stimulation for my remedial breasts. After 48 hours of these one-hour nursing, one-hour cleaning up and sleeping sessions, we gave in to the obvious.

It still feels like failure, that I had crapped out as a mom during the first week of my tenure. Each time I handed money over to the formula jackals, I envisioned the scores of developing-world women preyed upon by Nestle. Before my own breast-feeding breakdown, I quietly and harshly judged the women who chose not to breast-feed. "Wimps," I thought. Karma is a harsh mistress.

The working theory is that some nerves were bruised when I had surgery, and so the great feedback loop that makes breast-feeding possible was stopped somewhere. Mere hours after we turned to formula, a few drops of the white stuff oozed out of my right breast, then stopped. It never returned. Nothing engorged. Stopping was easier than starting.

Currently, the score stands with me and my breasts with one point each. Who knows how we shall break the tie.
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About the Author:
Adrienne Martini has been a theatre technician, apprentice massage therapist, bookstore bookkeeper and pizza joint waitress. Eventually, someone started paying her for her words and an editorial mercenary was born. She has written theatre reviews and features for the Austin Chronicle, blurbs about tofurkey and bottled water for Cooking Light and a piece about knitting summer camp for Interweave Knits. She is a former editor for Knoxville, Tennessee's Metro Pulse and recently picked up an AAN award for feature writing. During the day, she fields freelance gigs and crams knowledge into the heads of college students in Upstate New York. At all hours, she is mom to Maddy, and wife to Scott. Email Adrienne at: shaken@austinmama.com



 

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