My best friend, Lee, and I have shared nearly 50 years of friendship. We have supported each other through childbirth, are godmothers to each other’s kids, and have endured many of life’s tragedies hand in hand. Between us, we’ve raised and breastfed five children. As close as sisters, we have giggled into the night over the adorable things our kids say, kept each other’s secrets, and discussed plenty of our husbands’ faults.
We’ve known each other from the time we first grew our breasts—in junior high—when they were situated high up on our chests and where they stayed for a long time. It seems logical that we do our yearly bra shopping together.
At 12 or 13, we were excited to buy bras—cute lacy things in one-size-fits-all coverage. Our new breasts were delightful. They served us well over the years, attracted boys and then men, fed our children, and filled out our blouses. But time intervened, and now they hang helplessly, desperate for support.
About a year ago, early in the morning, my husband and I were in our pajamas, snuggled closely on the couch. We were talking about our son, a matter of great importance.
He reached over and grabbed the boob closest to him.
“What is wrong with you!” I said, swiping at him.
He took his hand away.
“I’m so sorry,” he explained. His eyes shift as he examines the damage. “I was trying to put my hand on your knee.”
The days of perkiness had completely disappeared.
In the store, there are sale signs sprinkled through the aisles of laciness. White, black, purple, leopard print—there seems to be an endless selection. Lee and I take deep breaths and move away from each other to choose this most intimate of clothing. Paddling through racks of bras that are the wrong size, the wrong color, the wrong style, I finally find a small selection with potential. Bra sizes are not predictable, especially when gravity and age alter shape, character, and supportive requirements. There is no one-size-fits-all for us anymore.
A young clerk approaches. She is petite, in her early 20’s. Her long blonde hair falls straight to her shoulders, and her scoop-necked shirt rests low on her chest to reveal the tops of two annoyingly perky orbs. They evoke a distant memory in me. She directs us to our dressing rooms, and we enter, steeling ourselves for the trying-on process. Fastening three or four hooks behind one’s back requires superhuman contortions and nimbleness, especially with a brand-new bra.
The first one is too tight, and I put it back on the hanger, letting the straps go limp. The second, a black one, is too loose—disappointing me because it is as pretty as can be expected for a matronly garment. Sometimes a woman needs that secret, something elegant underneath that no one else sees.
The third bra is putty colored but feels right. It is soft, comfortable, and fits perfectly. I look at the price tag and hope it is on sale like the rest.
The sales clerk hovers outside the curtain. “How’d you do?” she chirps.
I hold up my find and explain in a rush, “I hope it’s on sale because it fits so well, and I really love it—it’s so comfortable!”
She looks directly at me and slowly takes the bra, then examines the tag. She walks toward the cash register, and glances back again. I feel as if she is judging me for being unwilling to pay full price. I stand in the beige room as the mirror attacks me from three sides. I hear the shush of her feet.
“No, it’s not on sale,” she says. “Can I help you find something else?”
I take the bra back and sigh. “No, I’ll think about this one.”
Again, she looks. She walks a few steps, then half-turns toward me.
“Were you looking for a nursing bra?” she asks.
Somehow I didn’t notice the removable flaps that are essential to a nursing mother for quick access. The engineering that went into this model to make it soft and comfortable belied its designated purpose. I should have noticed—when I worked at the hospital, I helped hundreds of women nurse their newborns; I saw hundreds of bras similar to this.
Lee and I leave the store, both empty-handed, our moods bolstered by my mistake. We link arms and she giggles furiously.
“Did you tell her you are a nurse? Did you tell her you are licensed to nurse in the state of Massachusetts?”
She wants me to go back and buy the bra. She wants the joke to continue under my clothes. She wants us to share another secret. I laugh and stumble and she steadies me.