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08/13/2005

Broad where a broad should be bra'd

I've been away for the last couple of days visiting my good friend T. We drank a great deal of wine, we shoveled down embarrassing quantities of pork-free mousse truffée and saffron-spiked risotto, and we did what you can do only with the closest, most honest of girlfriends: we shopped for bras.

Months after I'd stopped lactating, I was still wearing the bras I'd bought while pumping. I don't mean the nursing bras. No, those I've collected in a tidy pile, awaiting the beginning of leaf-burning season. I predict the stubborn smears of lanolin will serve as a crackerjack accelerant, and I look forward to the merriest of blazes. Those bras, God damn their every straining hook, have been out of commission since before my final pump.

I bought the ones I'm referring to for those days when I needed to feel normal for a short while, when I'd venture out for a few hours without Charlie or the pump, sporting a smooth profile unbroken by the ugly hemispheric seam of the nursing bras. They are reasonably plain with a smooth cup and underwires, the kind of bra I might have bought in any case. But because of the staggering load the cups were required to carry, the center of the bra came up to the hollow of my throat — a veritable turtleneck of a bra. And because that center is where the wires converge, every time I bent my neck, I risked catastrophic tracheotomy-by-undergarment. (The manufacturer, mincing no words, has christened it an Ultra Full Figure bra, with rigid straps, a sturdy inner sling, and no padding; the photograph here is entirely misleading because it shows the bra on a woman whose bosom measures a modest 34B, and because the cups are much smaller overall, the center support does not encroach even marginally on her jugular.)

Not only were they ugly and overly modest, so much so that they practically came emblazoned with the Taliban Seal of Grudging We-Probably-Won't-Have-You-Stoned-Today Approval, and not only were they potentially lethal in the wrong hands or on the wrong rack, they were very obviously the wrong size. I could gather a great handful of slack fabric where strap met cup. While I can unfortunately also do that with my skin, a quick nip into the lingerie department at Nordstrom cannot fix that particular problem. But I could buy a better bra, so off T. and I did go.

A digression, if you will: because I am, you know, old school, I used to buy my bras at Orchard Corset on the Lower East Side. Here is how it would go:

  1. Enter grubby-looking storefront.
  2. Before the door has closed behind you, get eyeballed by a large Hasid, who subsequently declares, "Wrong size."
  3. Wait no longer than a nanosecond before he's plundered the cubbyholes behind the counter, located an array of sturdy-looking apparatuses for you to try on, and handed them over without lifting his eyes from his book.
  4. Admire posters on the wall featuring undergarments from a bygone era — the pointy-breasted models harken back to the Cuban missile crisis both temporally and geometrically.
  5. Proceed hastily to the stockroom, where the proprietor's wife wrestles your rack into submission.
  6. Fall in love with new bras, new shape, new you, sparing a moment to wonder at the store owner's laser-like accuracy.
  7. Pay 50% off retail price.
  8. Repeat at two-year intervals.
So I fully admit I'm spoiled.

In the absence of an old-world bra shop, I've found any Nordstrom to be a reasonable substitute. They carry my preferred brand, and I've never been steered wrong by their saleswomen and their pink paper measuring tapes. But today was a little different.

Two things happened when I took off my bra in the fitting room. First, upon the baring of my breasts, Charlie, who'd been sitting cooperatively in his stroller, began to shift and fuss. I guess he does remember those early days.

Second, the fitter sighed, eyed my cast-off bra, then glanced at my breasts, and groaned in her heavy Eastern European accent, "What happened?"

You know, I ask myself that all the time. What the fuck happened, indeed.

T. then came in with a handful of hangers and gave her expert opinion as I put on bra after bra. "Four boobs," T. would say succinctly when I tried on one that divided each breast into two separate wobbly mounds of flesh. "Back fat," she'd warn, when I tightly battened down the hatches on another. And when I tried on a sheer lace demi-cup model, the kind I desperately wish I could still wear without hilarity ensuing, she was kind enough not to hoot aloud, restricting herself to gentle counsel: "You know, they may make those in our size...but they're not," she advised, "for us."

No. No, they are not.

The saleswoman did her best to convince me that I needed a significantly smaller size, but I, my back fat, and my rib cage, which I capriciously allow to expand now and then to accommodate my lungs during respiration, were not fooled. Instead, I purchased three new Wacoals that are two band sizes and one cup size smaller. I am not back to my pre-pregnancy size, but then I doubt I ever will be. I don't like the look of my new shape or the feel of the stretch marks as I run my hands over my skin, but I accord these changes the strange combination of pride and resignation that I feel when I consider other scars I've honorably earned. My breasts have changed for good — or if not for good, forever.

But as far as my bras go, I am closer to normal than I've been in a year and a half: elegantly holstered, impeccably hoisted, and in no immediate danger of being stabbed in the throat by my underpinnings.

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