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Learning to Love What’s Real

I got breast implants for the wrong reasons. I’m removing them for the right ones.

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Photo: EHStock/E+/Getty Images

I sat in the cold room in my exam gown, open to the front but wrapped around me and tucked into my armpits as tightly as possible, bouncing my 18-month-old on my knee. The good thing about plastic surgeons’ offices is that, since they aren’t quite the slaves to insurance-driven bottom lines that other subspecialties are, they invest in the little luxuries: leather exam chairs, opulent decor, cloth exam gowns.

Dr. Miller was young and affable. He put me right at ease. Anytime you shut someone in a room for 20 minutes with a one-year-old and a four-year-old, there’s going to be some tension, and he allayed it immediately. He didn’t mind that half a box of his tissues was now on the floor, that the room reeked of the hand sanitizer foam my daughter helped herself to from the dispenser on the wall, or that the same child had been spinning on her belly on his stool when he walked in and inadvertently kicked him in the shin. He even asked if I would let the nurse hold my little one during the exam so I didn’t have to strap her in the stroller while we conferred. He felt like someone I could trust, someone who would take care of me.

I was 26, and my once very full breasts looked like deflated water balloons. I used to joke with my friends about them being “rocks in socks,” and while I smiled and laughed as I refused to take my tank top off at the pool because “don’t nobody want to see that,” the reality was that I was deeply bothered by the way my body looked naked.

“Maybe you should just go and talk to him. It might make you feel better,” my husband had said of Dr. Miller. “John is such a great guy. If I needed anything surgical done, he’s the first one I would go to.” At the time, my husband was a nurse in the operating room at a large local hospital and knew most of the surgeons there personally. Dr. Miller was a particularly good friend whom my husband talked about regularly so, although I had never met him, the proposition didn’t seem out of line.

In the exam room, though, my heart jumped into my throat as he opened my gown. I tried to look away — to avoid eye contact and somehow escape the awkwardness and shame — but it was futile.

“Your ptosis is severe. Especially for a woman your age.”

In other words, “You are too young to have tits this saggy, hon.”

He then took a pencil, lifted one of my breasts, placed the pencil underneath, and set the breast back down. The pencil was held securely by the weight of the tissue laid over it.

“Ideally, your breasts wouldn’t hang like that. The little remaining volume is pulling them down. It’s going to get worse with age. You’re only 26. You shouldn’t have breasts like this.”

The day of the surgery, I had real reservations. The pressure was there. I knew my husband wanted me to do it. He had practically arranged the whole thing.

“Here’s what I am going to do. Your husband’s a great guy and a good friend. I’ll do this one for cost, $3,000. I don’t want you to have to feel terrible about yourself every time you guys are ‘together.’”

Mortification doesn’t begin to describe how I felt.

Someone had been telling tales out of school.

Yes, I was aware that three pregnancies and two nursing babies had taken a toll on my once lovely, lithe body. I was fortunate that the “baby weight” had always melted off, but there was no machine at the gym that could reinflate my breasts like a bicycle tire pump.

That being said, my breasts were champions. They had made so much milk for my daughters. I pumped and nursed daily for nearly a year following the birth of each baby and, with both girls, I had a freezer full of gallons of extra frozen breast milk that lasted me months past the cessation of nursing. My breasts did exactly what they were designed to do, and they did it well. They nourished my beautiful girls and kept my sweet babies healthy and strong. They could’ve nursed a village of sweet babies. Each time they finished, they rested, and each time they rested, they lost significant volume and lift.

“Let’s get you feeling better about yourself.”

The implication was that there was no way, with these breasts, that I could feel good. I couldn’t imagine it either.

The day of the surgery, I had real reservations. The pressure was there. I knew my husband wanted me to do it. He had practically arranged the whole thing. I knew he was a “boob guy” and that the porn he watched nightly featured women with outsize, disproportionate breasts. I knew our sex life was struggling. He couldn’t even get it up when we were together without looking at said porn. I wanted to turn him on. I wanted to be turned on. Maybe, I thought, feeling better about my body would do it.

The next week was a haze of Xanax and Percocet. Vomit and pain. I lost sensation underneath both breasts, but, hey, I could wear a bikini top in public now. And instead of jerking off to porn, my husband would jerk off to my outsize, disproportionate breasts.

Now, 13 years later, looking in the mirror is even more difficult than when I was 26 years old, confronting the collateral damage from my pregnancies. My breasts are cartoons. They are aging caricatures of idealized, improbable female proportions. They look like two globes sitting on my chest, like cereal bowls. My nipples are stretched and the skin is so thin that you can literally see the implant and all of its contours.

They look good, albeit obviously fake, in a bra, but garish and unnatural in the nude. They’re not mine. And they’re not his either. He’s no longer around to enjoy them.

I got them for the wrong reasons, and I am ready to remove them for the right ones.

I’m lucky that I haven’t had any of the physical side effects many struggle with as a result of implantation. I’ve never experienced the hardened scar tissue or the inflammatory processes. They haven’t caused me systemic illness or become infected. However, I still have two foreign objects residing in my body that are filled, not just with saline, but with misguided intentions, wilted self-esteem, and regret. I got them for the wrong reasons, and I am ready to remove them for the right ones.

I want to lay my hands on my breasts and feel their nurture and their softness, not the unforgiving ripples of decade-old plastic bags sitting just below my numb skin. I want to see the miracles that fed my babies and honor them, instead of compressing and distorting them in favor of plastic perversions. I want to look in the mirror and no longer see a literally and metaphorically disfigured silhouette of a woman that I was never meant to be.

I am aware that the aesthetics of my new/old breasts will likely not be pleasing to me. That I may struggle, like I did 13 years ago, to wear a bikini top in public or that I may choose, at least for awhile, to have sex with my shirt on.

I try to imagine ever feeling brave enough to bare my naked, original, deflated breasts to a lover for the first time. To let myself believe that when he tells me I’m beautiful, he means it.

But that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I’m having my implants removed in two months. I’m reclaiming my physical space as my own and I’m going to do the work of learning to be okay with me, just the way I am. I’m going to be proud of my breasts and love my body for the gifts it has given me and my babies.

I cannot wait to have these squatters removed and to reclaim my breasts as my own, aesthetics be damned. They may be droopy and saggy and deflated, but they will be mine.

And I won’t share them with anyone who can’t appreciate that.

For part two of this story, head here.

Mama, writer, lover, fighter — I wear my heart on my sleeve because my pants pockets are too small. www.ajkaywriter.com

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