I’ve deliberately waited a long time to write this post. Even now, I’m wondering if this is the right time, because the ‘journey’ of my breasts is far from over (I mean, they’re with me for the rest of my life) and I don’t know how I’m going to feel in six months, a year, five years, and so on.
All I can say is that I’ve tried to give myself an appropriate distance from the surgical and recovery process, in order to maintain some kind of objectivity about the whole thing. But as I write that, I realise that I’m still firmly within my recovery right now and I may never have a completely objective approach to this tale of mine that is, by its very nature, personal and subjective.
So here we go. Settle yourself in and let me tell you about what my experience of this journey has been. Please don’t think that every person in my position will feel the same way, make the same choices, face the same hurdles – this is just my journey, and I really can’t speak on behalf of anyone else.
The start of it all
I think the first time I knew that my breasts were going to be a problem for me was when I walked into a department store to be fitted and was immediately directed to what I saw as the old ladies’ section. Droopy, unexciting bras with thick straps and no patterns. Oh, and beige. Lots and lots of beige.
There were other things along the way, too. The unsubtle glances (and comments) from men. The clothes that would fit my otherwise fairly slim frame but stretch out or fail to close around my chest. The difficulty exercising. The deep indentations in my shoulders that stopped going away after a couple of hours without a bra on. The pain. Oh, the pain.
Somewhere along the way, having big boobs stopped being a mere inconvenience and started being the worst thing to ever happen to me. And, uh, if you know me then you’ll know that I don’t throw that phrase around lightly.
I’d been asked about whether I’d ever have a breast reduction before, and I distinctly remember saying that I probably wouldn’t ever do it because I wasn’t a fan of the results (and because I’m not so great with needles). Then, as cliche as this sounds, I had a dream. I remember dream me cupping my tiny breast in my hand, feeling the joyous liberation of movement that my body was realistically incapable of. I woke up from that dream and have spent the rest of my time since chasing that feeling.
Getting to the operating table
Now, the process of actually finding out how I could conceivably have this done wasn’t easy. I saw a GP who first assumed it was a self-perception/mental health problem, before speculating that my ‘generalised’ pain was vitamin D deficiency, for which he ordered me a blood test. At the time, I overreacted in frustration and never booked the damn blood test that I knew I didn’t need.
Months later, I visited my GP (a different one) and he immediately put in a request for funding and a referral to physio. He said that he wasn’t optimistic, because of the financial position of the NHS, and he was right. It took three months of chasing for me to hear that my request was denied. No breast procedures permitted. Back to the drawing board for me.
Deciding to go private is a decision I’m ultimately happy I made. Yes, I may spend a considerable chunk of my twenties paying for the surgery, but I can’t think of anything I’d rather spend five and a half grand on than my happiness.
I did a tonne of googling, found my surgeon, booked a consultation and constructed a plan around having the operation as soon after my final exams as possible, so I could recover and look for grad jobs at the same time. I actually found out the date of my final exam on the bus on the way to my consultation, so I knew exactly how soon I’d be able to have the procedure.
The consultation went smoothly, and I felt very comfortable the whole time. When you’re paying £150 for an hour of a person’s time, it’s important to feel like all your concerns are addressed and that you’re in the right place. I’m so glad that I did so much research, because I don’t think I could have found a better fit for what I needed in terms of support, skill and proximity to my home.
Obviously, if you’ve read anything else I’ve posted, you’ve probably come across the fact that the consultation didn’t really go without a hitch entirely. If by some miracle you have managed to evade them so far, you can read my posts about discovering a breast lump at 22 here.
Once that whole thing was resolved, I was booked in for my pre op tests, getting more anxious and excited as the days flew past. I finished my exams, held a brilliant boob voyage party for my boobs, and there it was – time to go under the knife.
|Yes, my actual name is Frances…|
If you ever have an operation like this, they give you a stack of reading materials fit for a university module on all the horrible things that might happen to you. Various infections, blood clotting issues, eating protocols and instructions on how exactly to shower yourself in preparation. I’ve never followed a regime so strictly in my life.
Even when I stepped into the reception area of the hospital, it didn’t feel like it was really happening. I hadn’t yet encountered the trembling fear I assumed would be taking hold of me. My surgeon came in to have a chat with me, drew some interesting geometric markings on my body with a sharpie and left, while I was left to choose my breakfast and lunch for the next day.
Then came the moment to head into the room where I’d be put under. My boyfriend walked me to the door and said goodbye before I stepped into a bright, cold room and laid down on what looked like a dentist’s chair. My anaesthetist was incredible, chatting away with me while I bit the bullet and got on with the thing that terrified me the most; the dreaded cannula.
‘Oh, is that it?’ are the words that left my mouth when I looked at the silly plastic tube that was sticking out of the back of my hand. What on earth was I so worried about? Granted, I’d milked the private healthcare industry for all it was worth by demanding two tiny sachets of emla cream to numb the skin beforehand, but still. I’d been so worried about the cannula that now it was in, I felt like I’d already conquered the difficult part of the whole procedure. There were two other people as well as the anaesthetist, laughing at my bad jokes as they plunged a syringe of anaesthetic into my cannula. I took two breaths from an oxygen mask and don’t remember anything else.
I remember lights moving above my head as they wheeled me into a recovery room to properly wake up. My surgeon came and sat with me, and the first thing I asked him was not ‘how did it go’, but ‘who are you going to vote for on Thursday’ like the idiot I am. He told me that he would probably vote Conservative (boo), that it went well, that they removed my fibroadenoma and that they took around 550g from each breast, which was information that my foggy post-surgery brain didn’t quite know how to make sense of. And I really needed to pee.
In fact, I needed to pee so badly that I begged my nurse Brenda to help me get out of bed so I could go and use the bathroom, despite her insistence that my blood pressure would be too low after a general anaesthetic. Well, listen to your nurses! They know more than you know! As I was in the bathroom I looked into the mirror opposite and watched the blood physically drain out of my face, realising in just enough time to lean backwards and not pass out on the floor.
|Glad to know I was taking photos of the important things in my drugged state…|
After that momentary lapse in my usual resilience, I hopped back into bed, had some inflatable leg massage things strapped back on and dozed in and out of sleep until morning. My pain was managed well, with the only thing persistently bothering me being a sore throat from where I had a breathing tube. After a breakfast of croissant and yoghurt, and a sandwich for lunch, I met again with my surgeon before going home.
The drive was bearable, thanks to the pillow I had wedged between my chest and the seatbelt, but it was still an experience I could have lived without.
If there’s something I should interject here, it’s that I’m an obsessive googler. I spent hours looking up everything there is online about this operation – from the specifics of the procedure itself, to the possible complications and to minute details of other people’s experiences. This meant that I was unimaginably well prepared. I’d cleaned my whole house, ensured everything I would need would be at arm level for the foreseeable future, designed a pillow set up so comfortable that I’m still using it, five months later. These are just a few of the many, many things I anticipated I’d need, and I am so glad that I did, because my recovery was excellent.
I had virtually no pain, was able to get up and move around the same day, was cooking dinner two days later, and short of not being able to reach for stuff (not a pain thing, but for fear of ripping my breasts open at the seams), my life was pretty much normal. Of course, I was taking strong pain medication, being well looked after and had the luxury of no deadline on my recovery, which helped. And although I attempted a lot, it did make me exhausted. For some reason, nine days out of hospital I thought it was a great idea to go on an eleven mile walk around the new forest – something I wouldn’t have attempted prior to being in recovery from surgery – and it was emphatically not a great idea.
The one thing that was a small complication was an allergy I had to my second set of dressings. They made all the skin around my wounds itchy, sore and weepy, and my previously dry and healed incisions started suffering because of it. Because it was the middle of a heatwave and I was doing stuff like ambitiously going on walks in the sun, I thought I just needed to take it easy and I didn’t see a professional about it for a while.
Once that was resolved, however, my recovery went entirely smoothly. I couldn’t sleep on my side for a few months and still avoid sleeping on my front, and wore a sports bra 24/7 for 3 months before switching to regular underwired bras. I haven’t had any cause for concern and the only pain I have has been the nerves behind my nipples trying to reconnect, which feels like a sharp zap, but is over before you know it.
The final results
The most difficult thing about this process has been coming to terms with my new body. I wanted the operation for so long and I convinced myself that I would not care if I had malformed breasts with weird nipples or odd scars as long as they were smaller, and while that’s true in some ways, I have to be completely honest about how I feel.
It took a long time for me to be happy with my new breasts. I’d spent so much money and gone through something I knew was my only chance to get it right that I would spend every possible moment evaluating how worth it the whole thing had been. How much of a difference had that kilo of breast tissue really made?
The answer is, lots. I think I expected to not only feel the weight off my shoulders and back (which I definitely do feel, by the way), but an instantaneous awe and excitement as I looked at my new frame. I wanted to go from ‘the girl with massive boobs’ to ‘girl’ without my breasts being significant enough to even factor into it. However, the comments still came, most clothes still didn’t really work with my figure and my dream of going braless remained a fantasy. I spent a long time feeling deflated, disappointed and at some points, depressed, that I just didn’t feel small enough.
I am doing much better in that respect, though. Coming on my period is always difficult, as my breasts swell a bit, and the same goes for the two week return I made to my contraceptive pill before deciding that having a body I’m happy with is more important than having control over when my period comes and goes.
And aside from the photos that prove it, I know the difference is huge. My life has changed completely since the morning I stepped through the doors of that hospital. I can move! I’m no longer in terrible pain! I can breathe properly when I lie down! My breasts aren’t the first thing people mention when they meet me (though I usually end up bringing them up myself pretty fast)! I don’t spend £40 on ugly, beige bras anymore! My coat zips up to the top again!
Overall, I am so happy in all the decisions I have made for this. It’s been so much more than just a ‘boob job’ or a cosmetic thing I did on a whim. People tell me all the time that I’m different now; my confidence is up, my figure makes more sense, I hold myself taller. And it’s true, I can’t imagine being half as happy as I am now a year ago.