What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Just about a year ago, I was lying on the living room floor one evening, doing back exercises, while my husband sat with a book in the rocking chair. He looked up and said, "Hey, you never complain about your back hurting any more."
"That's because it hurts all the time. I'm just trying to accept it," I said.
He gave me a funny look and said, "Why don't you get your breast reduction? We can afford it."
"Are you sure?"
"YES! If it'll help your back you should do it."
That was all it took. I did my research and chose a surgeon, one of the best in Wellington, and booked myself in for a consultation.
I’d been thinking about having "the girls" reduced for a while. Over the preceding years, I’d been suffering increasingly bad back and neck pain and dreadful headaches despite trying hard to sit up straight.
Plus I still remembered being an awkward 14-year-old, taunted at school by my flat-chested peers. “Rosie,” they’d say loud enough for everyone to hear, “take your backpack off, you stick out too far in front!” I felt ashamed and embarrassed.
I often snuck glances at the chests of other girls in my classes, and wondered whether they had As or Bs. When we changed for the swimming pool, I’d see them all wearing cute little patterned bras, with no wires. My bras were white, heavily underwired and matronly.
My most recent bra fitting had been a slap in the face -– going on the pill had made my breasts go up yet another cup size, to an F. I tried hard not to mind having to wear enormous bras with full coverage and thick, no-nonsense straps, and told myself that I was beautiful no matter what my size, but I felt terribly self-conscious, out of proportion and frustrated.
Showing my bare chest to a complete stranger was odd, but my surgeon was pleasant and professional.
“Hmm,” he said, lifting each one in turn, “they’re quite heavy aren’t they?”
I was assessed as an excellent candidate for surgery, and I asked for the first available slot. I circled July 31st on my calendar and started getting excited.
I was surprised by peoples’ reactions. When I would proudly announce I what I was getting done, most of my friends said "Why?" and "Are you sure? That’s a pretty radical step!"
My average-chested friends couldn’t understand why I would want to downsize. They saw my chest as sexy, an asset, an advantage. My breasts were anything but advantageous, but I still felt like I had to justify having the surgery to everybody. Society expected I would revel in having large breasts, delight at the (sometimes creepy) male attention and want to show them off at every opportunity. Society asked why, if I was naturally blessed with a chest some women pay thousands for, would I want to get rid of it? Society stated that my F cups were not normal, and yet it expected me to rejoice in my abnormality. I chose not to listen.
My surgery date finally arrived and I was at the hospital bright and early, excited. It seemed to take far too long for everything to be organized and ready, but finally my gown and pressure socks were on, guide marks had been drawn on my breasts in black vivid marker, and I was wheeled into the operating room.
I don’t remember going to sleep or waking up, just being in recovery and not quite being able to comfortably draw a deep breath. I sucked oxygen from my nasal cannula and listened to the nurses telling me I’d be on morphine for a few hours. Then I was wheeled back to my room to rest.
The next morning at discharge time, my modified mammaries had begun to feel sore and tight. “You’re very swollen but they look great!” said the nurse encouragingly as she changed my dressings.
At home, after my mum had helped me shower, I had a look in the mirror. My breasts were round, perky, firm and small! I couldn’t stop looking at them. They were black and yellow with bruising and had a lot of stitches, but I didn’t care -- the big, pendulous udders I’d had before were gone, and I no longer felt like a cow needing to be milked.
As I recovered, I started to notice the changes -– the first time I tried on a favourite dress it was gloriously loose in the chest. It was easier to breathe and to sit up straight. When I got past six weeks of mandatory surgical bra wearing, I actually ran down the hall in my pajamas without having to cross my arms over my chest for support. Best of all, the daily headaches I’d been getting went away and my back pain decreased dramatically.
A year later, I have a pale, anchor-shaped scar on each breast, running below, up the middle and around the areola. I barely even notice the scars, and I don’t try to hide them when changing at the gym -– they are a symbol of the determination and bravery with which I made my choice.
I love having more than two options in the bra department. When it was time to go shopping, I spent two hours trying on everything frilly, lacy and spaghetti strapped. It was a treat to pick from the "regular sized" racks, to buy lingerie just because it was pretty, after so many years of being practical.
The total cost of my surgery was $15,000. For many people my age, that kind of money is a house deposit -– and I spent it on "cosmetic" surgery. But honestly, if it had been twice the expense, I wouldn’t have hesitated. The freedom, comfort and relief from pain is worth every penny.