As you can tell by the title above, I’m posting about a difficult and very personal topic but an important one. If you’re interested in reading Part One, you can read it here.
I discussed in Part One how I was teased and body shamed over my large breast size. It all started in the seventh grade when I seemed to blossom overnight. I remember a day when a boyfriend told me in the 10th grade that I was known, not by my name, but as the “majorette with the big boobs.” Ouch. He was the first boy I dated, the first boy I kissed, and the first boy I fell in love with. It was 1974. One fall evening after a Friday night football game and a Pizza Hut date, we were sitting in his parked car in my parents’ driveway talking and sharing a few innocent kisses, when he decided to, well, putting it bluntly, cop a feel. I was only 15 years old, very naive and an old fashioned girl at that, and his actions won him a big slap in the face and an admonishment that I was not “that kind of a girl.” He was surprised. Much to my surprise, he then told me he had been put up to it. He told me that one of the football coaches had asked him that morning if he was going to the football game that night. He told the coach, yes, and then the coach (who I suppose knew he was dating me) asked him if he had a date with me after the game. When he said yes, his story was that the coach told him he should reach down my shirt and get him a good feel and see if he came back with a big ole handful of cotton. I never knew if his story was true but he seemed sincere when he relayed it to me and I always suspected it was indeed true. And it disgusted me. For a coach to tell a young 16 year old boy with raging hormones who is just beginning to date, to do something like that to a fifteen year old girl is just incomprehensible. Maybe he was joking and didn’t think the boy would actually take him seriously and really do it. And furthermore, to imply that I was stuffing my bra with cotton to have a chest of this size just made me downright angry. If he only knew how I hated my large breasts and the emotional pain they brought me.
This “boyfriend” dumped me not long after this incident which was very hurtful because I had fallen for him hard. Looking back, I guess he didn’t get what he wanted, so he moved on. Maybe that’s all he ever wanted from me anyway and never cared about me. I don’t know. I thought long and hard about confronting the coach but I never did. And I really do regret that. I didn’t want to go through the embarrassment that I had gone through in the 7th grade, but the biggest reason is that I knew he would not admit to ever saying that, even if it was true. I contemplated getting advice from my mother but I remembered the seventh grade incident and sure didn’t want to relive that. I also felt I was big enough to handle this myself and Lord only knows what my father would have done to this boy (or the coach) had it ever reached his ears. I didn’t even want to think about that. My father never much cared for the boy or the fact that I was beginning to date anyway. So I never told my parents and I never confronted that coach. Many years later, I would see that coach’s obituary in the newspaper and I remember feeling such a strange feeling and a deep regret.
The teasing continued on throughout high school. You may be asking why I just didn’t go ahead and get a breast reduction if I was that miserable. Well, I had several reasons, not all of which are easy to explain.
I mentioned in Part One that my sister underwent a breast reduction at the age of 16. A breast reduction is not an easy surgery. The list of complications from breast reduction is a mile long. There’s the risk of infection of course as there is with most surgeries, blood clots, fat necrosis, breast asymmetry, inability to breastfeed, nerve damage and changes in breast sensation which may be permanent or temporary, and pain just to mention a few. There were things about my sister’s surgery which left an indelible impression on me and contributed to my decision to NOT have a reduction (I would ultimately have one but not until my early 50s). There was the incident that happened immediately after her surgery when she was returned to her room from the recovery ward, where a young inexperienced candy striper thought my sister had gone into shock and called a code. My mother said suddenly all hell broke loose and there was a flurry of people in white coats running hysterically to my sister’s bedside. There were bells and whistles going off and my mother, scared out of her wits as you can imagine, fainted dead away on the floor and ultimately had to be put in a wheelchair and carted away. Later she would be chided by a doctor for fainting and getting in the way! Turns out my sister was just showing normal signs of coming out of anesthesia and was not in shock. Back when they did my sister’s surgery, they bound the chest tightly and used adhesive tape. At one post op visit, a nurse hurriedly and forcefully ripped the tape right off of my sister’s chest, stripping skin off right along with the bandage. My screaming and crying sister was left with raw tissue and oozing blood. According to my sister, my mother did a little screaming of her own after that…. at the nurse. With breast reductions there is always some unfavorable scarring (some worse than others). That scarring does usually fade with time. Sometimes during a breast reduction, the entire areola and nipple are removed and then sewn back on. And so there is always a risk of tissue necrosis and nipple/areola loss from a poor blood supply. The milk ducts are severed during the removal of the areola and my sister was warned that her chances of being able to breastfeed if she did choose to do so were very slim. She did try to breastfeed at the birth of her first child but was not able to.
Since I strongly wanted to breastfeed when I had children, I chose not to have a breast reduction until after my childbearing years were over. I told myself I had carried these heavy mammary glands around my entire life and suffered much teasing and heartache because of them so I wanted to use them for what they were intended to be used for. I was hellbent on breastfeeding. After the seventh grade incident when my mother learned how I was being taunted and body shamed, she began constantly urging me to have a breast reduction, despite me saying I didn’t want one and despite me trying to explain to her how important it was for me to breastfeed. Despite my big breasts, I was not having the physical discomfort to the degree that my sister did. I grew very tired of my mother’s almost constant nagging and I began to feel body shamed by even my own mother. I guess in some ways, I became a little rebellious and the more my mother harassed me to get that breast reduction, the more I was determined not to. And as silly as this sounds, I had somehow developed an attitude that if I gave in and got a breast reduction, then every single one of those people who had body shamed me my entire life had somehow won. I was trying hard to love the body that God gave me, to appreciate it the way it was and not change it. To change it meant I had lost this fight. This is very hard to explain, but it’s how I strongly felt at the time.
I reached a point where I had to start having my bras custom made. They were not attractive bras at all and were very expensive. My thirties came and pregnancy and breastfeeding made my breasts get even larger. When I was pregnant, my husband and I chose not to find out the sex of our child. We wanted it to be a surprise and back then ultrasounds just to determine the sex of the baby was just becoming a thing. I honestly used to pray to God that if I had a girl, that she wouldn’t inherit big breasts and have to go through what I did. I never had to worry about that as I had two sons.
I reached my early 40s and I began going to a new gynecologist. The first time I saw him for an annual exam, he did my breast exam and then stepped back and said to me, “You know, you have VERY large breasts!” He said it like it was some big news flash to me and the look on my face must have been priceless. Before I could respond, he smiled, scratched his head. and sheepishly said, “I guess you know that though, huh?” I joked that yes, I had mirrors in my house. He laughed and then tried to clarify what he had meant. He went on to explain that I had not only very large breasts but very dense breasts as well. He said some women can have large breasts but not really dense breasts. But I had both. He asked if I had ever considered a breast reduction. I guess that was the first time I had ever seriously discussed it with a physician.
At one visit to his office, I ended up having to see a nurse practitioner due to him being out on an emergency and she also asked if I had ever considered a reduction. She told me that even though I wasn’t physically bothered by my breast size now, I would probably soon notice that my breasts would cause me increasing discomfort. She said it often happened to women with large breasts in their 40s. In all honesty, I didn’t pay much attention to her. But you know what? She knew what she was talking about and she was dead on! It was in my mid 40s that I started experiencing backaches, neck aches, and getting red, sore ruts in the tops of my shoulder blades from my bra straps. The lady who fit me for my custom made bras sold me some silicone shoulder protectors that you put under the straps. Walking for exercise killed my back (upper and lower). My physical stamina was decreased. My posture from trying to hold dense heavy breasts up was taking its toll and I walked even more stooped over. Finding shirts to fit that looked decent was getting harder and harder. With menopause came weight gain and the first place I always gain is in my breasts. Soon I found myself wearing a 42 K sized bra. Just the physical act of getting a bra on was getting hard. The day I developed tendonitis from struggling with my bra, I knew it was time to seriously consider getting a reduction but I was still hesitant and scared. But then some things happened that convinced me to have the surgery. I guess you could say they were the straws that broke the camel’s back.
To be continued….