"I don't know," grinned my friend Amanda,"I think you've got a half decent chest."
Hmph. Half decent indeed. I was about 14 I started to realize that only one of my breasts was developing. That's weird, I thought. Oh well, puberty is weird, bodies are weird, it will all work out eventually. I was about 17 when I realized it probably wouldn't. Damn. Somehow I had ended up with one D cup breast and one A cup breast. Imagine, if you will: at this point I am a dancer. I am a teenage girl. I am sexually active. I am utterly mortified. Sort of.
You know, the weird thing is, in retrospect I can't really remember it being that great a source of strife. I don't know if it was because of the fact that there were always plenty of shoulder pads around (since even in the early 90s I knew that I didn't want padded shoulders and tore them out of all my clothes), if it was because the boy I was dating was a tortured arteeste type who probably thought it was very avant garde to have a monoboobed girlfriend, or if it was just because I hung out with the neatest most supportive bunch of people on the planet. It just didn't seem that big a deal. Probably because it was a gradual development (and lack thereof), as opposed to a sudden loss. It was a hassle, though.
I didn't go swimming for years, despite the constant nagging from certain insensitive people. I had a tough time finding a leotard under which I could wear a bra, and it was hard to find a comfortable way of sleeping. Covering up the difference, however, just became a routine. Wake up. Realize you have 14 minutes to get to school. Look on floor for clothes. Look on floor for bra. Look on floor for the 2 shoulder pads wrapped in panty hose that have become your left breast. Put them all on and fly out the door with grubby hair and a lot of lipstick. That was me, 5 mornings a week, for 4 years. Eventually I just started to wear a bra all the time, and it became as though that was my body, as though that was me, naked. On the rare occasions that I was without clothing (like in the shower, or other times I won't go into because my dad will read this) I sort of didn't pay attention to my chest, the same way I ignore my lips if they are bare. It didn't really occur to me that it would ever be any different. I always had bigger fish to fry, and I figured that if someone was going to see me without clothing, that person had better like me enough not to care.
There were also some fun bonuses to my asymmetrical state. When I was in high school I volunteered at the local AIDS Committee, and wore a red ribbon everyday. My wonderful friend Mike and I used to perform the following exchange to alarm substitute teachers:
Me: Hey Mike, I just dropped my red ribbon. Could you grab it for me? It is under your desk.
Mike: Sure thing. Here ya go.
Me: Arg. I've totally got my hands full. Could you just pin it on me?
Mike: No problem. (at which point he would appear to be obligingly plunging the pin deep into my chest.)
Me: (Very bored sounding) Ummm, ow?
Mike: Geez! Sorry. (Then he'd pull the pin out slowly, and re-pin it on me properly).
It never failed to startle. Then there was the time I was at a party and a really annoying Morrissey wannabe guy was consistently groping me, within 10 feet of his alleged girlfriend. The look on his face was priceless when I glared at him, yanked out my home-made boob, handed it to him and suggested that he take it elsewhere and leave me alone.
When I was almost 20, I started to get fed up with the situation. I began to feel off kilter all the time, and annoyed that certain clothes never hung right on me. I hated having constantly to wear unsexy underwear in favour of stretched out training bras which seemed to offer Maximum Stuffage Realism. I decided to see if there was some way I could be even chested.
I went to speak to my doctor about it, and I was part way through my explanation when she cut in with "Everyone has one breast a little larger than the other, you know." Well, of course I knew that. Had I not read countless advice columns in YM Magazine? Yes I had. "Can I just... show you?" I asked, wondering how I could have phrased that to sound less like a proposition. When I did, she did a bit of a double take. "Oh," she said "I see what you mean." I smiled patronizingly. We talked about plastic surgeons. Oddly enough, my friend Mike's father is a plastic surgeon, but imagining future meals around the Pierson dinner table, I opted against having this man revamp my boobs. I chose a local (Oshawa) female plastic surgeon and was put on a very long waiting list. When I finally got to see her, I asked if she could just reduce the larger breast to the size of the smaller, and I could just be tiny. She didn't feel this was an option, because of all the scarring involved in taking a breast down 4 cup sizes.
Heavens. That meant that we were talking implants. Well, implant, anyway. This was an entirely different ball game. What about leakage? What about Pamela Anderson? What about my feminism? We sat down and she talked to me about the fact that implants were now made of salt water, not silicone. This meant that if it did leak I would just pee it out. Huh. Also, it would be a natural small shape, not gargantuan orbs. I knew I didn't want both breasts as large as the larger one, so I decided to strive for an even B cup. I was told that I would be able to breast feed out of the enlarged one, but not the reduced one. I had visions of my breasts turning into salt water taffy if over manipulated. I put the image out of my mind and agreed to the procedure. Yay! I went back to Windsor (where I was going to glorious St. Clair College) and imagined coming home after Christmas with a huge collection of foxy bras. I told no one except my roommates.
About a week before I was supposed to go back to Oshawa for Christmas and the surgery ("What did YOU get for Christmas, Audra?" "THESE!") I called the plastic surgeon's office, just to make sure all was well. Yikes. It seemed that OHIP had agreed to cover the enlargement of my left breast, but not the reduction of the right. OH super. As I did during at all instances of stress at that time, I called the increasingly famous Mike. He wasn't home, so I spoke with his very cool mom. "Don't worry!" she said, "You'll get your surgery even if Don [Mike's father] has to do it on the pool table in the basement!"
It eventually did get all cleared up, thanks both to Dr. Pierson and my own plastic surgeon (who's name escapes me, strangely). I was on my way to symmetry! Around about this time I thought I ought to tell my dad and stepmom and mom what was about to happen. They were surprised, because I'd said nothing, but supportive (heh heh) all the same. Actually, until recently, visiting me in the hospital was the last time my mom and dad were in the same room, I think. Anyhow, bla bla bla preparation, December 11th was The Day. B-Day, so to speak. I didn't sleep at all the night before because the jerky arteeste (now ex)boyfriend mentioned above had taken pictures of me before hand, a la the ultimate Before and After shot, and we were going to collaborate on something when the whole thing was through. Well, he called me to tell me that he had used film that his girlfriend had stolen from the dollar store where she worked, and quel surprise, the pictures hadn't worked out. So I spent the entire night awake and mad. If you ever meet someone named Clint Griffin, kick him for me.
At any rate, the next morning, I was all a bundle of nerves and exhausted incoherence, standing in front of my closet, trying to decide what to wear to the hospital. I settled on a sort of "June Cleaver Summer Picnic" dress, took out my 6 earrings and picked off the last of my nail polish (both of which were not allowed in the operating room) and we set off for the hospital. My fashion crisis was perhaps fruitless, because as soon as I got in the pre-op part of the building, I had to strip down and put on a fetching little hospital robe. I took off my bra and quickly wrapped it around the shoulder pad and pantyhose 'breast', without it really registering this was the last time I would have to do this. Everything seemed sort of a few layers removed from reality. I had never been under anesthetic before! I had never been cut open before! They were gonna remove my nipple and re-attach it!
This was way worse than the pre-haircut jitters I always got in the salon waiting room.
I was wheeled into the operating room, and drawn on by the nice woman who was now in charge of my bosomy beauty. She said "So we'll cut here [she draws a circle around my nipple] and here [a line under each breast, one to take stuff out, one to put stuff in] and stitch you all up as good as new." They put a mask over my mouth and nose and tell me to take deep breaths. I felt like I was suffocating and start to freak out. That is the last thing I remember.
Then I was foggy headed and I going to throw up. This I know for certain. The nurse pushing me down the hallway on a stretcher and asked "Did you have a breast reduction or enlargement?" "Both," I answered. She clucked her tongue like "Hoo boy, they overmedicated this one!" but didn't say anything else. I was taken to my room, where my family (except for my probably mortified teenage brother) were waiting. I'm sure I was a charming hostess, stitched up, plastic tubes draining blood from my incisions, and throwing up. Oh, the sheer glamour of it all. I get some sleep, wake up in the middle of the night and drag my IV to the washroom to pee, where even though I have been told not to, I peek in the bandages. I have what a friend will later dub FrankenBoobs, but they more or less match. Wow. I have 2 breasts the same size, and they are both attached to me. This is beyond exciting.
The implant feels sort of sloshy, and the reduced boob is bruised and cut up, but I think it looks so cool. The next day I go home, where I am not allowed to get my chest wet for 3 weeks.
It is probably a weird thing for people when their daughter is getting breast reconstructive surgery. My doting father and stepmother ask how I am a lot, but we didn't really talk about what had happened until my friend Trevor came to visit, bursting in the room with "SO! How're your tits?" Gay men can get away with this stuff, you don't even want to kill them. I laughed and laughed. They were just great, thanks!
My first trip out, after lurking around the house for 3 weeks was to The Bar, Whitby's creatively named gay bar. Upon entering I was descended upon by a drag queen who shrieked my name and whirled me around in a bear hug, until he realized that I, too, am squealing but in agony. "New boobs" explained Trevor. They both nodded wisely. I had a fun evening. I was the talk of the town.
By the time I went back to Windsor, after having my stitches out, I was feeling quite pleased with myself. I am in love with my naked body. I have cartoon boobs. They are funny and perfect and perky and very very scarred. I went on the hugest bra buying binge since my roommate Summer forgot to take her Lithium. I bought push up bras and corsets and all kind of cool shit. I am, it seems, a 34 B. Who knew? I attended an art opening in a velvet bustier and tiny sweater, and when anyone ogled me I would stand up straighter and say "Your tax dollars at work." I went home one night after an evening at the Eclectic Cafe, having spilled tea on myself. "OH my GOD!" my mother-hen roommate, Theresa, screams. "Audra sprung a LEAK!!" I wondered if having a implant-boob may be as much a novelty as having a stuffing-boob.
Actually, it is a lot more fun. It has been almost 4 years since the surgery, and it is tough to remember the body I used to have. I now wear what ever I like, and as little as I like. I rarely feel self conscious about my naked body like a lot of women do. As a matter of fact I'm quite pleased with it. After ignoring my breasts for so long, I now look at them and feel them often. You can tell which is fake, but who cares? I sure don't. I can wear leotards and v-neck shirts and bathing suits with glee. I lounge around undressed longer than I have to, and my collection of fancy underwear is only going to expand from here. I wouldn't have done it if it cost money and I wouldn't have done it for a boy, but I'm glad it happened the way it did.
For free and for me.