I hit puberty by age nine and as if it wasn’t bad enough that not only was I was taller than everyone else in my grade by over a foot - hell I was taller than my teacher! - I also happened to have HUGE boobs. I was a large C by the sixth grade while everyone else was still completely flat. I stood out, but since it had always been that way, it was all I knew, and I accepted it as normal. By middle school I was being made fun of because of my size and I appeared larger than I was because of my boobs, by the time I was in high school I was wearing a 40H cup and my parents started mentioning that they would be supportive if I wanted to have a breast reduction surgery. To be honest, the idea appealed to me, but it always seemed like something that future-Avery would do, but not 16-year-old-Avery.
At this point though, I had constant shoulder pain, I couldn’t stand up straight because my core wasn’t strong enough to hold my own boobs, and gym class? Gym class was hell on earth.
“If you would just work out and not eat McDonald’s all the time…”
By the time my senior year rolled around, I decided I felt ready to talk to my doctor about the steps I needed to take in order to start this process. The first thing I needed to do was have a preliminary meeting with a surgeon to get a recommendation for insurance. “His work is terrible, but you just need the recommendation,” my primary physician told me.
In spite of this warning, I actually felt excited about this idea. for the first time. My mom and I went to the appointment and the doctor walked in. He was giant and looked kind of like Santa Claus, only mean. He looked like he should have retired years ago, so I didn’t know what to expect. Once he was seated, I started to explain to him what I was interested in, and was almost immediately cut off. “Absolutely not” he said, “I would never even consider doing this procedure on you.”
Logically, I asked why. Then I was insulted like I had never been before, by an alleged professional, “You are too overweight. If you would just work out and not eat McDonald’s all the time (yes he said that) then your breasts would shrink and surgery would be unnecessary.” He was confident if I followed his “advice” and lost weight, I would wind up unhappy with my breast reduction choice later.
Fighting back tears and the urge to yell “FUCK YOU”, I tried to explain to him that I was actually a dancer and worked out several times a week. I had even lost 80 pounds but had no breast change. He wouldn’t listen, and he didn’t believe me.
So I left.
I left with my one tiny ounce of hope taken away from me. I was so defeated that I just dropped the whole idea for two years. Life continued as “normal” - my shoulders hurt, two bras weren’t enough, I couldn’t work out well, and my boobs were a pretty common topic of conversation. They had even been nicknamed the Kraken because of their size. Almost every time I went out I heard, “Are those real?”, “Whoa, look at those things!”, or “Damn, can I feel?” I accepted all this as normal and I shouldn’t have. Most of it - ok well all of it – was NOT ok.
“I can help you.”
It was a cold day in January last year, and I decided I had enough of the shoulder pain, the weight plateau, and not feeling confident in who I was. I made an appointment with my doctor and told her what had happened at my meeting with the surgeon two years ago. She listened, apologized and gave me the name of a surgeon based in Columbus, Indiana. When I called and made the appointment I was surprised to find myself actually excited.
Two months later, on March 25, 2014, the big day finally arrived. I was excited but also pretty terrified. What if I had the same exact experience as last time? What if he just laughed in my face again?
My mom met me there and I was so scared that I couldn’t hold back my tears as I waited for the surgeon. When he walked in, he smiled, and said “You look nervous,” which made me laugh. He then asked me what size cup I was, “40H,” I answered. He followed up by saying, “I assume you experience shoulder pain, can’t work out, and have a hard time standing up straight, amongst other issues?”
All I could do was stare. I didn’t have to prove or explain myself? He actually believed me?
Then he said the four most amazing words, “I can help you.”
I couldn’t believe it, he believed me!
He carried and presented himself with such sensitivity and professionalism. I had found my surgeon and felt ready to take this step.
My surgery was scheduled for May 30th, and I had to restrain myself from stopping everyone I met and sharing my good news. My excitement stayed with me right until the day of, then I had a full-blown panic attack, and every fiber of my being wanted to back out. The whole ride to the hospital, I kept repeating, “I’m not going, I’m not going, I’m NOT going.”
Well despite my protests, I went.
At the hospital, I got changed, met my anesthesiologist, and then my surgeon came in to make his marks and it was time to go. Absolutely terrified, I was in tears all the way to the operating room. I’d never had surgery before and I was especially scared of the anesthesia, convinced that I would not wake up afterward. They transferred me to the operating table, and the surgery technician took my hand and stroked my hair, then put on a mask and said “This might burn a little.”
The next thing I knew, I woke up back in my room. Still groggy from the anesthesia I remember asking, “Is it over?” repeatedly and thinking it felt like someone had dropped a cinderblock on my chest. The next few hours went by in a drug-induced blur except for this horrible, obnoxious beeping from a machine behind me. I couldn’t take deep enough breaths because of the whole cinderblock sensation, and as if on cue, the machine would start beeping as soon as I started to drift off to sleep, so I kept jolting awake in panic. Then I heard a small voice in my head, like a 2-year old, and the voice was saying, “I have to pee!!!” Eventually I realized that the 2-year old voice was ME, and this is when things went to shit – pun intended.
You see, having to pee required standing up and moving, which I knew was going to have to happen eventually, but Lord, I had no idea what I had coming. My pain level instantly went from a controlled five to a HOLY FUCKING SHIT 10. My body went cold, and all I could feel was this intense burning radiating throughout my chest. I was nauseated, dizzy and had intense tunnel vision. I remember screaming and not being able to control it. I felt like I was dying. I saw my dad leave the room and thought two things: “Fuck, how bad is this?” and “What the hell have I done to myself?” Then all of a sudden my mom appeared in my field of vision, took my hands, forced me to look her in the eye and told me “I know you can do this.” I finally made it to the bathroom, dry heaving (which, by the way, is bitch with stitches in) and holding my head in my hands. After about fifteen minutes in the bathroom, I regained some composure, and finally felt ready to go home. Something had snapped and I felt strong enough to tolerate the ride home.
New doors opening up to me
The first three days of recovery were horrible. Everything hurt, and sleep was basically non-existent because every four hours I had to take my pain meds which made me nauseous and created a vicious cycle of terrible. And then there was the surgical bra: itchy and stuffed with gauze and steri strips, in a word, disgusting. I hadn’t been able to shower since before surgery and wouldn’t be able to for another two days. 48 hours finally passed and I was able to shower, which was both a huge relief and absolutely heartbreaking. I took off the surgical bra, removed all the gauze, and cried. My mom was immediately in the doorway asking me if I was unhappy with what I saw. The answer was yes and no: No, I did not regret having the surgery, but this was the first time I had ever seen my new body and it was extremely unsettling and overwhelming to see all the blood and the astonishing amount of bruising and stitches, so yes, I was unhappy with what I saw in that moment. And I knew I had put myself through this abuse, it was a lot to take in and my fragile state of mind couldn’t process. But showering…showering was a good, good thing.
About a week later I had my first post-op visit, where they were going to “trim the knots” off of my stitches and then the rest would dissolve. Now, about that trimming business - it’s a total lie! There was no “trimming” involved. There were six spots where they had to pull stitching from, and it hurt so much that all I could do was cry and beg for my mom. I did get to remove all the steri strips and take off the surgical bra for good. As tears were streaming down my face, my surgery technician took my hands, looked me in the eye and said, “You look so beautiful.” That is a moment I will always remember, because it was exactly what I needed to hear. I had fantastic friends that came to stay with me, and I returned to work.
Slowly things started to get easier physically; emotionally I was a disaster and was told to expect to be a wreck for the next couple months until the chemicals and hormones balanced out. Great. Slowly the incisions started to heal, the stitches went away, the pain decreased, and my loving friends and family put up with me as the smallest things made me cry.
I burned the surgical bra in a bonfire. As I watched the ashes fly into the air, a sense of liberation overcame me. My itchy prison of three weeks was destroyed – but to be totally certain, I poked the remains with a big stick until the embers died. My surgical journey was over, and new doors opened up to me, including those to Victoria’s Secret. I found that I could wear only a sports bra to Zumba, and I went running for the first time! I even did a 5K run in Indianapolis! Everything was easier, and my shoulder pain was gone. All of this made all the pain and the scars worth it.
The wounds are fading, and so too are the memories of the pain I had to endure to get what I wanted: a pain-free existence and the chance to be healthier and happier than before.
My breasts today may not be the ones that came naturally to me, but for the first time, I love them.
For the first time, I love me.
Avery Norris lives in Bloomington IN with her cat Aries, whose sole goal in life is to sit on computers when you are trying to type. She enjoys piña coladas and licking things to claim them as her own. She likes warm hugs and saving all the animals and dancing everywhere possible.