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Embracing My Breasts

Twenty years after enhancement surgery, it’s time to own up

More women have augmented breasts in Orange County than anywhere else on the planet. Nationwide, roughly 312,000 women each year make the decision to add on, and of that number, only about 70,000 choose to undergo reconstruction after cancer surgery.

You’d think we’d be used to all this pneumatic abundance, and yet, at parties, lunch with the ladies, or eavesdropping at Starbucks, an excited buzz of laughter-spiked speculation follows each nouveau tata into the room. “Think those are hers?” ¶ I’m also a speculator. Since my own foray into the world of the newly endowed, I’ve taken a keen interest in who has had work on theirs,

and whose came for free; who is like my precociously busty BFF Karen Kreisheimer, who arrived breathless at my house with her first bra in sixth grade, and who, like me, used spray starch to stiffen her starter 28 double-A into a pointed, conical structure that caved in far too easily.

My original breasts were in almost constant use for eight years. My three children came fairly close together, and each was nursed for a bit more than a year. The result was that, by age 32, I was a woman with almost no memory of my prepregnancy breasts. They had been nicely large for so long that I was shocked when, after my youngest child was weaned well into her second year, I opened my robe to find that my cups, once full, were sad, deflated party balloons.

I was newly divorced, with three children and a great job. One of the few perks of being divorced was that every other weekend afforded an island of time to myself. After months of weekends spent missing my children and watching old movies on TV, it was time to venture back into the dating world.

Turns out, being available only twice a month has an aphrodisiac effect on men, so life was too full and happy to pay attention to my deficits for very long. I barely noticed what was missing, except on those occasions when my hands came in contact with my chest and found nothing there. When I pulled someone close, I found myself having to pull them in a little tighter before they reached me.

Now and then, I remembered my rhythmic jiggle as I walked, and how that made me feel ... womanly. The thought embarrassed me; I forced down the recollection of how the hint of cleavage in my Gap tee made me feel a little sexy, even when my day was about nose-wiping and housewifery.

My NOW card, left over from the ’70s, would be wrested from me if such thoughts were made known to the wrong people. It seemed sinfully superficial to equate breast size and shape with my more innate qualities, which I knew resided somewhere above my shoulders. Tummy tuckers and plastic surgery devotees? Vain weirdos, I thought.

One aspect of my job as a nurse-educator was to book speakers for the physicians’ continuing-education luncheons. At one month’s event, a plastic surgeon, chosen to speak because of his skill with trauma victims, turned his talk to breast enhancement, and how it was possible to get your former breasts back.

It was quite a new deal back then, when tearing the necklines of our T-shirts a la “Flashdance” was as edgy as we got. This also was Minnesota, where the women are strong and don’t go in for phony baloney. I stood awestruck in the back of the room. Seriously?

And that’s how, in my 30s, I became smitten with the idea of getting my breasts pumped back up. These thoughts disappeared for long periods of time, but kept coming back. None of the men I dated during my single-mom years suggested that my becoming more fluffy was important to them. On the contrary, the California guy who would become my second husband offered serious objection to the idea of enhancement. But my lust for just a mite more mammary kept returning, until eventually, and happily, I decided to go for what I wanted.

On my initial consultation with the plastic surgeon, I told him all I wanted was to fit back into my old bras. Nothing fancy, just a reinflation. The doc said the trauma of shrinkage could be successfully treated. He said his job would be easier because I simply had a former image I was trying to regain, rather than loftier ideas about my proposed dimensions.

I left the office with two competing voices carping at me: On the one side, a chastening tirade against frippery. Mom-nurse-Minnesotans take seriously the ideas of unnecessary pain and possible side effects. I knew infection was a possibility, and in the pre-Internet library, I pored through photos of ghastly mistakes women had to correct or live with in their attempts at self-aggrandizement. And what about general anesthesia, huh?

Then, a version of the old hair-dye commercial (“If I have only one life, let me live it as a blonde.”) would play in my mind: “… let me live it as a bodacious blonde.”

One day at work, I mentioned my dilemma to my friend Terry, a smart, pretty ward secretary. She jumped from her seat and pulled me into the nearest bathroom. She backed into a stall, and placed my hands on her rather ample proportions.

“Squeeze,” she said, “then tell me what you feel.”

I heeded her command. “Soft. Nice. Very squeezable.”

“Boob job.”

Terry was smiling like she’d swallowed a canary.

So, whether it was Terry’s exuberance, the doc’s confidence, or some very un-Midwestern attraction to style over substance, my next visit to the surgeon’s office was to have the pre-op blood work.

The surgery was done with twilight sleep, as it often was in the mid-’80s, so my fears of general anesthesia were gone. The procedure was made easy by my doctor’s gentle manner and reassuring small talk. He was completely honest about the first 24 hours, and as he predicted, I really did feel like I’d been hit by a freight train.

But recovery was short, and within a few days, I was back to car-pooling and my hospital job. The surgical scrubs I wore to work did not advertise my newfound qualities. This brought to mind my engagement, when I thought everyone would see my little ring from afar, and be blinded by the huge change the betrothal made in my life. Except for my fiance’s pre-op dread turning into leering approval, it really didn’t make the news.

While I was still adjusting to the new me, my face reddened when the topic turned to boob jobs. I’d drop my napkin and lower my head under the table to search for it until the subject changed. It took me a few years, and possibly the move to Orange County, to start feeling entitled to my acquired dimensions rather than embarrassed and foolish. After a short time, I stopped being shy when the conversation turned to natural versus fake.

When you’ve had the new ones longer than you didn’t have them, it’s time to say, “Why, yes, they’re mine!”

Illustration by Megan Berkheiser and Mike Caldwell

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue.

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