My worth isn’t defined by my breasts, it shouldn’t be defined by my breasts but in little ways, I do let my breasts define my worth. Breasts tend to be seen as a defining characteristic of what makes a woman a woman, so when breasts are deformed, it isn’t a very big leap to somehow feel … You know what? I don’t think it’s a big leap to see where that sentence was going.
Women are embracing their breasts, embracing their bodies and I look at mine, and feel like I should apologize. That despite this deformity being outside of my control, I am somehow “letting the side down.” So. Yes. My breasts are deformed. The longer version of that is: I have tubular hypoplastic breasts. Small mercies, it is not right at the most severe end of the scale, but it is very much there and very much an issue. First, a brief tour of tubular breast deformity and hypoplastic breasts?
Sometimes a woman’s breasts do not develop “normally” during puberty. Abnormal development can affect one or both breasts. Examples of abnormal breast development include:
- complete failure of breast tissue development (amastia)
- marked under-development (hypoplastic growth)
- marked asymmetry (unevenness) of size
- abnormal development of contour and shape. For example, tubular breasts (where early growth is limited, resulting in unusually small, drooping and uneven breasts).
What are the visual markers of hypoplastic breasts? In a study of 34 mothers by Kathleen Huggins, et al. (2000), the researchers found a correlation between the following physical characteristics and lower milk output:
- widely spaced breasts (breasts are more than 1.5 inches apart)
- breast asymmetry (one breast is significantly larger than the other)
- presence of stretch marks on the breasts, in absence of breast growth, either during puberty or in pregnancy
- tubular breast shape (“empty sac” appearance)
Additional characteristics that may indicate hypoplasia are:
- disproportionately large or bulbous areolae
- absence of breast changes in pregnancy, postpartum, or both
Hypoplastic breasts may be small or large. It is breast shape, placement, and asymmetry that indicate hypoplasia – not necessarily size. Normal-sized breasts that are lacking glandular tissue may be made up of fatty tissue that will sufficiently fill a bra cup.
I always knew my breasts weren’t quite right, but girls are always told that all breasts are normal. I ended up feeling like a freak. It wasn’t until after I had my son that I learned what that deformity was, and even then it was by chance. A television programme about cosmetic surgery was on, I hadn’t been paying attention but my husband had noticed and pointed out that they were just like mine. Things to be learnt from this? Number one: my husband has always been wonderful about my breasts (strange, I know) and my insecurity about them. Number two: once I had something I could search, I did just that. I learned a lot. And cried. A lot.
The world seems to be past the point of burning bras, but I see calls to reject underwires and the various forms of padding. But without these, I would have little shape and I’d be unable to have an ordinary appearance. Finding a bra that fitted ““ truly, properly fitted ““ has always been a living hell. As a teen, the discovery of underwired bras was wonderful, as was that of the plunge bra. But even then, a bra never fit perfectly because, as it transpired, my breasts were deformed, missing tissue that “should” have been there, so I was never going to properly fit a bra.
Breastfeeding is another issue, too. We are implored to embrace our bodies and what incredible feats they can achieve, to acknowledge what women’s bodies have been doing for millennia, what We Were Meant To Do. And I think, quietly, “Do you know how fortunate you are to have ordinary breasts?” I am a traitor to many a cause for feeding my son formula milk. Despite a beginning that included my breasts not changing, or becoming engorged after birth, I breastfed our son for a year, before every formula feed, and yet my breast milk was never more than a minor top up to his formula. I did this for several reasons which generally stem back to the idea that if a woman is not producing enough milk, she isn’t trying hard enough. The idea that women may have breast deformities is promoted by many as a myth. For some reason, breasts are these magical body parts imbued with super strength unicorn glitter and therefore incapable of being anything other than normal. Breasts are, apparently, infallible. And I have cried so many times because of these beliefs. Yet I can see how fortunate I am, my body was able to produce … something, I was able to have something of that experience to feed my child.
It might seem strange that I haven’t had links throughout this article, when there is a lot of information out there but it’s in bits and pieces. So my suggestion, if wanting to find out more, is to hunker down with something yummy and spend an hour or so surfing the net. However, I am going to leave a few links that are helpful and good stepping stones.
Breast size and breastfeeding (this link contains pictures of breasts and is NSFW), is another article that looks at breastfeeding and discusses the link with PCOS, the sources they list are worth checking out, too.