So in the interest of starting at the beginning, I believe it is important to understand what these two jiggly things really meant to me before cancer took one away and I began an occasionally obsessive journey of self-exploration.
Let’s get one thing straight ….in my memory I was never in possession of the perfect rack, but there was never any question that what I had was REALLY IMPORTANT. Don’t get me wrong – with a little help from Victoria’s Secret the Girls could certainly get me free drinks at a bar, but breastfeeding two kids did take some of the oomph out of them. As critical to woman-hood as they are, mine had an unhappy history and were capable of causing a great deal of trouble.
I come from a family of busty women. That is putting it mildly. Growing up, my grandma was only about 5 feet tall and wore a size 4 shoe, but I bet she wore an EEE bra. My great Aunt Midge referred to her boobs as her “Bodacious Tata’s” and my own mother to this day struggles to rein those suckers in so her back doesn’t hurt. While all of them grew up in a generation that didn’t allow for the excess of cleavage showing that seems to be mandatory now in women’s fashion, there is no getting around the fact that they were BIG and men noticed. Even though they wore them proudly, there was no sense that they LIKED their breasts. They talked about how much they hurt their backs, that they couldn’t find bras, shirts, etc that fit around them….talked about reductions, about how to get a doctor’s prescription to be smaller, about how much happier they would be without what they had. There was certainly nothing inspiring as a child waiting for mine to grow.
My own chest took on a life of its own when I was younger than the norm at the time. As I started to develop, my mom was worried so she took me to my pediatrician – A MAN – who poked at them and decided I needed to see a specialist at Children’s hospital. It was bad enough that Dr. Nelson touched my chest but he wanted someone I didn’t know to look at them? And what was wrong that my own doctor couldn’t figure out? Scared that there was something seriously wrong with my newly emerging womanhood off we went to the specialist. Who was another MAN! He checked me out which included to my lasting horror “peak” into my panties to see what was going on “down there”. I will never forget the shame and embarrassment of having a man examine me at that age, and as Megan grew up never had a male doctor her. Thankfully, it was all for nothing – he determined I was fine and sent me away, but the feeling that my body was somehow unusual was not right continued.
I’d like to say that was the end of the shame they created but it was only a start. From “titty twisters” on the playground to the taunts, teasing and grabbing, the boys around me began to notice my growing chest. What was to become years of sexual abuse at the hands of men much older than I began. Always, the inappropriate contact began with my chest. At such a fragile age, I was being shown, time and time again, how letting men touch my body resulted in more attention and “love” and I tried to ignore how sick to my stomach it made me feel. Too young to know that the problem was them, not me, I kept my secrets about the abuse so that I would not get in trouble.
When we started 6th grade we left our relatively rural small elementary school for a middle school in town. Mom had taken me bra shopping and I suffered through the shame of having her try a bra over my shirt in the middle of The Bon Marche girls department. I am sure she was as discrete as she could be, but I felt like I was on display in the middle of a crowded room. And to top it all off there were no lacey pretty bras–they were purely functional Playtex that came complete with a booklet on “The Changes In Your Body”. When I got off the bus at the new school, it became obvious that I had changed dramatically and most of the other girls had not. And again….the boys noticed. Bus rides were spent fending off groping hands coming over the back of the seat; class time was missed as I ran to the bathroom to re-fasten the bra the boy behind me had just undone. It did not take long, in true nasty pubescent girl fashion for me to be labeled “slut” and to get beat up by the jealous, less endowed girls, regardless of them lacking any evidence to support the label. I retreated away from female friendships into a land of boys who obviously wanted to be around me even though their motives were suspect. While my friendships with girlfriends got better as the playing field leveled out in a few years, the conflicting emotions around girls being untrustworthy and backstabbing and boys being nice but always wanting in my pants resulted in years of working on defining what love and respect really were.
My kids were born when I was in my early 20s and my breasts were strictly food producing machines and were worse for the wear at the end of it all. I thought, nearly daily, about how nice it would be to have the old breasts back – nursing my kids had dropped me almost 2 cups sizes resulting in a modified National Geographic look – and wondering if I would ever be able to have a boob job. Thanks to modern lingerie inventions, I could rock the low cut tops and as I neared 40, I was athletic, reasonably attractive and well aware of – and finally in control of – the attention I received. I felt confident, powerful and desirable and occasionally a little sexy.
I count my “cancer anniversary” as my surgery day not the day I was diagnosed. The day they carved away at my body was truly the day my life changed, not the day they told me something has been trying to kill me. But the loss of that sensual part of me that had garnered so much attention over the years was worthy of marking. The mastectomy marked the end of an era in which I – or frankly anyone else – could view my body as a commodity and opened up a period of healing the damage done by a society and life so focused on what a pair of D cups could do for me.
My relationship with the remaining TaTa is conflicted to say the least. In all of its 40+ year old, post breastfeeding droopy glory it now stands out on an otherwise flat surface. After all those years of getting up in the night to pee, arms across my chest cupping my breasts as if they needed to be kept warm or held to my ribs so they didn’t jiggle, now I reach across to cover the wound in the dark. Those nights of lovemaking and caressing are now overshadowed in confusion about how to deal with the flat side of my chest and how to be okay with the attention lavished on the remaining one.
How do you swallow the “boobs aren’t important” conversation when that is how your partner reaches for you in moments of passion? How do you deal with the freakishness of being half boy, half girl in a frilly nightie? Since I wear a prosthesis during the day, it is at night that I have to deal with the reality of the situation in the most vulnerable and challenging moments. So many times, after having worn the prosthetic breast all day I forget….I get underdressed and catch a glance in the mirror – and holy crap! It slams back into me. Watching sex scenes in movies with Neil and all the focus on boobs leaves me at a loss. How can I be sexy looking like this? I have breast envy and find myself staring at women who are oozing out of tight, low cut shirts and dangling their wares as they bend over. I feel like a teenage boy. I just want to be NORMAL but I no longer know what that means.
After a lifetime spent KNOWING how important breasts are, the conflict between my own experience as a woman and an abuse survivor and what I see in the mirror and tell myself is true is disorienting. So I explore my inner terrain and look at the dark shadowy spots in an attempt to shed some light on how I got here. It is important to understand where the story begins, in order to give it the ending I consciously and happily choose. I have to know WHAT I am healing in order to let the healing begin. Little kids can make 2 +2 = 6 and that is to some extend what I did in order to make sense cope with what was going on as a little kid. Even though as an adult I could better wrap my brain around how wrong it was I was unable to heal truly the wound until cancer came and provided a opportunity to change, grow, and heal.