If one is me, one loves a good makeover show. An important feature of such shows is the trip to the bra store. At the bra store, a nice lady (often with an accent of some sort) measures the makeoveree, looks at her thoughtfully, says “I know exackly what ees the bra for yooo,” plucks a bra seemingly at random from a bewildering selection, and says, “Try thees on, darlink.” Makeoveree then enters the dressing room, puts on the bra, and emerges looking like Brigitte Bardot, only with nicer breasts.
I always thought that stores like this were a complete lie. I also thought the hairstylist featured in fashion magazines was a complete lie – you know, the one who examines your hair thoughtfully, says, “Hmmmm, okay,” then makes you look like Brigitte Bardot, only with better hair. However, just as Izumi showed me that that hairstylist does exist, The Upper Breast Side has shown me that that bra store exists, if only for pregnant and nursing women.
I first heard about The Upper Breast Side (located, obviously, on the Upper West Side) while eavesdropping on a conversation in the yoga studio dressing room after prenatal yoga – one yogini had this fabulous maternity dress and the other yogini asked where she got it. Then I heard about it again at the weekly mothers’ meeting – my new mom friend I. told me that it was a good place to go for Boob nursing shirts, which at the time I coveted desperately. (Now I have four, so I don’t have to covet.) In my head, I pictured a neat, quiet store with a few racks of nursing bras and nursing clothes, and maternity clothes, and one or two curtained dressing rooms – sort of like any other small, upscale boutique on the Upper West Side. So, even though I had read some slightly scary online reviews of the place and its mean salesladies, I figured I could just slip in quietly, flip through the racks quickly, and escape with a nice little nursing T-shirt.
When I got to the store, though, I realized that it would not be quite like that. When you walk in, you find yourself a small area with a counter and cash register, a couple of little niches filled with various breastfeeding/baby products (nursing pads, slings, swaddling blankets, breast pump parts, etc.), but no bras or nursing clothing at all. Puzzled, I dawdled for a few minutes in front of the nursing pads until I worked up the courage to ask, “Um, do you have any nursing T-shirts?” “Sure!” Said the lady at the counter, “Let me get you a fitter! Have you been here before? Here, fill this out.” She thrust a doctor’s office-style clipboard and pen into my hands, and I found myself filling in my address, phone number, and pre-pregnancy bra size. Then an upper-middle-aged woman with glasses and an accent of some sort poked her head around a curtain to the side of the cash register. “Come here,” she said.
I walked past the curtain into a small back room that was at once immaculately organized and in a state of complete chaos. The walls were filled, floor to ceiling, with racks, shelves, and drawers stacked with bras and clothes. There were more things stacked on the floor in cardboard boxes, and on a couple of small counters. In the center of the room were a padded bench, a big white bassinet, and a glider filled with pillows. The nice bra lady instructed me to put my baby in the bassinet. (“Babies love it here!” she beamed, and sure enough, he was quiet and happy through the entire visit, staring raptly at the lights on the ceiling.)
“So,” the nice bra lady fixed me with a gimlet-like eye, “you want bra?”
“Well, I came to get a nursing T-shirt…” I trailed off. The nice bra lady raised her eyebrows. I caved. “I don’t know! Maybe? Do I need a nursing bra? I usually just wear a Glamourmom [tank top with shelf bra that has nursing openings]. Is that OK?”
The nice bra lady sighed. “Glamourmom is nice, yes. Convenient. Comfortable. Good for everyday. But it doesn’t do anything for you. What if you want to go out to dinner with your husband?”
I stared at her. Having been, until my pregnancy, a fairly flat-chested woman who wore bras only to cover my nipples, I was completely unfamiliar with the idea of a bra doing something for me. “I see,” I said cautiously, not really seeing, “What would you suggest?”
The nice bra lady beamed, then burst into a familiar series of actions, measuring me, looking at me thoughtfully, saying she knew exactly what is the right bra for me, plucking a bra seemingly at random from a drawer, and putting it on me. “See?” She crowed, “Beautiful!”
I looked in the mirror. The bra itself was alarmingly matronly in appearance – a serious-looking thing that my former A-cup self would never have considered to be appropriate. But – I turned this way and that – the nice bra lady was right. It was doing something for me. In fact, I looked really hot. “Here,” the nice bra lady brought me the nursing T-shirt that I had come for in the first place, “put it on over.” I put the T-shirt on. I looked really, really hot. Hell, the only thing keeping me from looking like Brigitte Bardot was that I’m not blonde.
“So we get these things,” the nice bra lady nodded approvingly, beaming some more. “Anything else?” Completely entranced, I ventured that maybe I wanted another nursing T-shirt and maybe a nursing dress too, and the items in question appeared with dizzying speed and in precisely the right sizes and colors. As I tried things on, the nice bra lady kept up a steady stream of loving approval. “I can’t believe you only gave birth eight weeks ago! You look so wonderful! You’re half Japanese? No wonder you’re so beautiful! Your baby is so cute! Look at him smiling! You can tell he is a boy!” (This last statement, by the way, is the ultimate compliment to a mother, as most people – including me – find it well-nigh impossible to determine the sex of a small infant minus blue-pink color cues.)
My pile of new things neatly folded, the nice bra lady whisked me into the glider. “Here, nurse your baby now! But no! Wait! Weigh him first.” She took me by the hand and led me to a counter in the corner with a baby scale, explaining triumphantly, “You can weigh him now, then weigh him after he finishes eating, and you can see how much he ate!” She then led me back to the glider, propped me up with pillows, and put a nursing stool under my feet. “Now rest! Nurse your baby!” When I finished nursing him, she reminded me to weigh him. “How much did he eat? Two ounces? Wonderful!” As I put on my wraparound baby carrier, she crowed to another nice bra lady, “Look at how she carries her baby! So practical!”
At the cash register back in the front room, she gestured towards a large, spigoted glass jar filled with water and lemon slices. “Have a glass of water! You can stop by any time to have a glass of water! Sometimes we have orange slices in! Sometimes cucumber! Come by any time to sit down and nurse your baby! Don’t forget, you can weigh your baby too! You don’t have to buy, just come in to rest if you need to!”
At this point, the fact that I was leaving the store with one more bra, one more shirt, and one more dress than I had intended to purchase was entirely beside the point. I loved my new things, and I felt swollen with goodwill and loving estrogenic vibes. While knowing that I would have to strictly limit my visits to this dangerous place, I felt myself already plotting a return trip. After all, my baby needs to be weighed from time to time, no?