There is something of a knee-jerk reaction evoked when the very idea of cosmetic surgery is bandied about. Is it still that taboo? Is it representative of a disturbing illicit subculture, so desperate are we fair maidens vying for outward perfection?
I don't think so.
The cruel arc of the surgeon's scalpel has chop-chopped its way through my fair bosom, and the surgeon's had her pound of flesh (literally) - it's just that I paid for it to be that way.
So, I broke the taboo. I've had cosmetic surgery, and now I'm talking about it.
First I'll tell you how it came to be.
This is a difficult post for me to write because there's backstory, history, relationships, recriminations. It all starts in a very normal way: a teenage girl gets boobs. And then keeps getting boobs. And then she goes on the pill. And then there was no stopping them.
And the problem wasn't ever the boobs, so much; it was how people reacted to them which dictated how I felt about myself and how I eventually came to react. Without incriminating the driving force behind my unexpected decision last May, this is most likely the best juncture to introduce you to my mother.
Sometimes it feels like a disservice that I'm her daughter; I fumble my way through life being absolutely nothing she had ever expected. In every sense but two, I am my father's daughter; I've got a fairly dry sense of humour with a geeky twist (thanks to my avid Terry Pratchett-reading father), I question to the point of pedantry (I'm working on it...) and I love my food. And those two senses? Well, for one, I'm stunted, undersized, short. And for the second... I've got a very fiery temper.
So when my mother, in all her halting English, begins to label me as 'fat' and 'unattractive', screaming rows were to be had.
Now you understand why I said it's difficult. She never really meant fat; she was only ever referring to my boobs after all: in the most lexically-challenged way possible, what she meant to say was 'Christ, your boobs are huge.' Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I wish I'd understood her when I was younger... But, you know, the fiery temper thing...
And this is how, 4 years after it all started, I ended up in a hospital gown at 7 in the morning with my mother's words of 'I'll pay for it' ringing in my ears.
So let's just pause it here for the chronic skim-readers, just to prevent further mud-flinging and false impressions. For those of you in the coercion camp, let me dispel the notion that my mother's behaviour (and, in fact, my mother) forced my choice. It was actually down to my own lack of self-esteem, the fact that my work blouse would pop open when serving customers, the lack of attractive underwear, the buying of larger-sized clothing to accommodate my large friends, the back pain and my absolute and burning hatred for huge knockers. Anyone who has felt down about any of the above problems that their bundles of too-much-joy can bring could probably empathise: if you're offered a positive change, then you grab that shining chance.
You see, there's always been a thing about my boobs.
When I was 18, I found a huge lump in my right breast. It was about 5cm across and I cried myself to sleep every night, convinced I was going to die of cancer and was never going to live the life I wanted.
The lump, luckily enough, wasn't cancer. It was a disgusting lump of 'gristle', a fibroadenoma, which I promptly had scooped out when told it could grow to the size of a tennis ball if I was particularly unlucky. So, having previously undergone some kind of surgery, another kind in the same area didn't bother me. In fact, I was excited.
The surgeon, a buxom Greek woman clearly making the most of her (huge) assets, approached me with consternation and perhaps a little disappointment. Was I sure? They're still so youthful and pert, she cooed while drawing on me in marker pen.
The whole process was fairly quick, but only because I was privileged enough to have the operation done privately. The risks were explained to me repeatedly in black and white; both prose and doublespeak. In the surgeon's mind, she was sure I was too young, too pert, had nothing that was out of place. In my mind, the changing-room mirror in shops mapped out my body in harsh lighting; I felt ungainly and cruelly prevented from attaining a body I wanted.
So, let's talk about the risk-factor.
- Permanent scarring: It fades, but it's not attractive.
- Loss of nipple sensitivity: Your whole nipple is taken out and moved, and cutting out of the breast tissue could damage its connection to the milk ducts. Meaning...
- Possible inability to breast feed: If you want to breast feed any future progeny, this could scupper your desires.
- Thrombosis: It's rare, but it can happen.
- Bruising, swelling, infection: See above.
This is not something you can passively enter into and it's not a fait-accompli. Your body is your body, just like the other patient's body is her body. What applies to a does not necessarily apply to b.
If you're wondering about Kiwi's opinion throughout all this... He was the epitome of calm. He actively encouraged me while quietly reminding me in the midst of the maelstrom, that if I wanted surgery then that was fine and he'd love me whatever. However, once I'd set the snowball rolling (mixing metaphors is probably as bad as mixing one's drinks), I was single-minded and resolute. Whaddyaknow, he's still here and he doesn't cringe in horror when he catches sight of my scars.
Most people aren't silly-minded enough to think surgery is a walk in a lovely park dotted with flowers on a sunny afternoon which is neither too hot or too cold. Cosmetic surgery is painful and exhausting. You're essentially signing a disclosure for someone to dive right in and either insert or remove things from your body which are not necessary. So yes, surgery is painful, and perhaps the fact that it's unnecessary is the factor which amps up the pain stakes.
How's it done?
For most women, the procedure consists of two incisions, plus one around the areola. It's called the 'anchor scar', because it circles the areola and proceeds vertically down the middle of the breast, where it curves around underneath. After that, the fat and excess tissue is removed, the nipple and areola are shifted up (and in some cases made smaller) and you're sewn up and in the recovery room. The whole experience takes around 2.5 hours and is more dangerous than having silicone implants put in.
My experience was far from perfect; my surgeon was determined to be cautious and from the moment I was wheeled out of surgery after the first operation, to bursting into tears 10 days later while the dressings were removed, I think I knew there was something not quite right. After the first operation, I'd gone from a 32GG to a 32E. As the nurse tried to reassure me and gave me an awkward hug (I don't mind hugs but when I can tell someone isn't the friendly type, I'd rather not have one thankyouverymuch), I agreed to see my surgeon and cried all the way home on the bus. Thankfully Kiwi held my hand the whole way.
You see, I'd asked for a 32C. There was no medical reason why she hadn't gone the 'full whack', so to speak, so I was absolutely gutted beyond belief.
As for that meeting with my surgeon: I brought my dad. He told her in no uncertain terms that I was unsatisfied. She scheduled the surgery for the next week; there happened to be an opening. At that point, I didn't even care that I had exams the week after my surgery, or that my dissertation was due. I just wanted everything done.
The second round of surgery was the worst; I knew what to expect and it was worse than that.
So less talk of sizes and more talk of the hospital stay.
The anaesthetic was the worst; my body hates it. After 2.5 hours in surgery, I'll be blunt, I was desperate to go to the bathroom. The nurses didn't want me to get up, but I felt fine, I insisted and stood up. I should have listened. Instant nausea and dizziness made me stagger but I took deep breaths and swallowed a lot and I championed through.
After that, I remembered to stay in my 'bed-goes-up-bed-goes-down' à la Homer Simpson. The very worst thing about the whole experience was not, in fact, the hospital menu, which Kiwi ate most of; it was the blood drains. These, which Kiwi referred to as my 'blood bottles', were connected to my body through a small tube in each armpit. Every time I went to the bathroom, I had to pick them up and trot in. The amount of times I dropped them and froze, terrified that they would smash and I'd be covered in my own personal biohazard, was unimaginable.
So, when I sat on one of those tubes and accidentally disconnected one from its hermetic little structure, causing blood to leak all over myself, I completely freaked out, believing myself to be bleeding, dying OH MY GOD THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG.
Clutching my precious drains the day after surgery #1. Saucy hospital gown with an open back? Check.
The nurse just laughed and cleaned me up.
The blood drains are essential for removing fluid build-up and blood which occurs during surgery. For the most part, apart from having to carry them around (though I did stick them in my handbag) the worst part of having these drains was the removal, for which I had to have a half hour break while I recovered from the rising waves of nausea. Admittedly, the nausea had been so bad the second time that the on-call night doctor injected me with anti-emetics (which later formed a sizable clot in my puny wrist). All the same, the sensation of having stitches in a place I can't quite see pulled at with a blade-handy nurse, and then the added sensation of having what felt like a metre of plastic tubing (in reality a couple of centimetres or less) being pulled slowly out of you... And the whistling and making 'phut' sounds as the air rushes into it...
Well, I really came over all queasy, and I'm not squeamish.
- Pain: As you'd expect, there is some. Don't roll on your front in the middle of the night, or accidentally knee yourself in the boob (not explaining that one). Your body will ache, and for the first 4 or so days, you may need help doing basic things like sitting up. You need to sleep propped up so you don't get stuck on your back like a sad tortoise in the mornings. I was provided with both paracetamol and codeine before I left the hospital, in addition to precautionary antibiotics. Pain is of course a wonderfully subjective thing, but in all honesty all I needed was some good old paracetamol. My pain threshold is fairly low (and I'm a whiny bitch when in pain), but paracetamol was more than strong enough.
- Things with buttons: It goes without saying, but loose, comfortable clothing with zips or buttons (or both, if you're recovering extra snazzily) will be your closest friends. Doing simple things like looking down to fasten your jeans become difficult (thankfully the mystique in mine and Kiwi's relationship expired like a damp squib a long time ago).
- Other difficulties: Showering was a big one; and Kiwi lovingly washed my hair over the side of the bath everyday. You can't get your dressings wet because it may hinder healing, so feeling clean is harder than it should be. You can't lift anything heavy and don't try and reach for things in high cabinets if you're only 5'1". It is inadvisable, trust me.
Dressings and undressings.
The dressing will vary as per your surgeon's personal preference (ha!), but I ended up with a fairly serious and awful bandage of hugeness stretched right across my chest. In addition to this attractive medical deliciousness, you're strapped (forced and manhandled protestingly) into a sports bra while you're only semi-conscious and dozing in and out from anaesthetic. This sports bra will become your home for the next 6-8 weeks. Learn to love it or it will consume you.
The other dressings include large gauze nipple dressings with hilarious nipple holes cut out, disturbingly reminiscent of a low-grade peephole bra. And you'll expect some steri-strips, to hold your wounded knockers together while they do their thing.
After a week, a nasty kind of chemical reaction begins to take place between the adhesive in the dressings and your unwashed skin. This was the number one RIGHT UP THERE WITH THAT TIME I DOT DOT DOT on the scale of pain. The operation? No sweat. Having dressings ripped off your tender skin, and then alcohol wipes to help remove the excess adhesive? I THOUGHT SHE WAS GOING TO TEAR MY NIPPLES OFF.
The pain was excruciating.
See that white thing? That's the dressing. Now tell me it won't hurt when they rip it off.
After the dressing was first removed and I considered my new body for the second time, the sight is not pretty. The scars are puckered and there are still bits to heal and settle. Over time (and after applying copious amounts of Bio-Oil), the scars heal and begin to fade. As long as you follow the marching orders of your drill sergeant, there shouldn't be any real problems. And, as a plus, I lost over a kilo, and I had to stop and think that all of that weight had been taken out of my breasts! I was fairly impressed.
I ended up at a bigger-than-I-wanted 32DD, and yes, I was disappointed. However, having compared before and after shots (just like they do in weight-loss adverts), I noticed how much less hump there was in my lady-lumps (I'm so sorry for any affiliation to the Black Eyed Peas). I looked, for the first time, flatter, more in proportion and my buttons on my clothes fastened without my usual prerequisite hidden safety pin. It was kind of a miracle moment for me.
I remain philosophical, however. I didn't get what I wanted - maybe that was for a reason. Right where I'm standing right now is a fairly good place to be. However, I can't rule out the possibility that I won't get it done again, some time in the future when I'm hoping my maternal instinct kicks in and I end up with some gene-pool tadpoles (even though I hate kids).
As regards the whole cosmetic surgery thing - well, I don't plan on ever getting anything else done; I'm just not that kind of girl. But for the meanwhile, I am enjoying what I (have no longer) got, and thankful I've been so incredibly fortunate to have been allowed this opportunity.
If you have any questions, then let me know! :)