Everyone struggles in some way or another. This month, Journey with Jen as she learns to embrace these broken, fragile places and finds the value in them.
*please note: this post is from the heart of a woman, for a woman—may the men not be uncomfortable, but gain deeper understanding, value and appreciation for issues women confront and overcome. additionally, may each reader see what it means to be a burn survivor, still now, over twenty-seven years later. All my life I’ve listened to comments about how wonderful boobs are.
My problem is, I don’t have any. I never have.
They would have been nice to have when all my friends were growing their own set. You know, to at least have some clue to what they were experiencing. They would have been nice to pull out on my wedding night. From what I understand, it’s a pretty exciting component. And for certain, they would have been beneficial to have had when my children were born.
I’ve lived hearing about boobs, seeing paintings and sculptures of boobs, commercials about bras supporting boobs, reading scriptures about boobs, and helping NICU moms use their boobs for their babies.
So how does a woman feel like a woman without them? Without having ever had them? What does femininity mean to a woman who never experienced an obvious development of becoming a woman?
They’re not questions you would necessarily ask a thirteen year-old, or a sixteen year-old or a twenty year-old. They probably wouldn’t be able to answer them. These are deep questions, difficult for me to confront still, at thirty-four. But ones I’ve spent a lifetime attempting to answer—for myself.
These are questions I’ve brought to the Lord numerous times through my life, and many times again just in the last few weeks.
They do say when it rains it pours. Honestly, it’s all a matter of perception and experience. My family and I have endured the rain. I’ve witnessed others withstand heartbreaking circumstances. Therefore, when things feel like they’re falling apart, I cope from the reality that things could always be much worse.
But an attack is an attack. We have to see it for what it is to know how to battle it. At a time when we in our home were experiencing a storm, a time when our vulnerability to share it caused our character and integrity to come under fire, a time when my Mom was recuperating from a fractured wrist and my Aunt from knee replacement, I noticed a subtle change in my body.
Let me say, when we’re broken, we don’t know if what we’re seeing really is what is.
I was feeling weak, discouraged, and heavy-laden. During my shower, I thought, “My left implant seems smaller.” But I hoped my perception was affected by my state-of-mind. You know. I hoped I was just seeing things.
Over the next few days it became pretty obvious I wasn’t. My left implant had ruptured.
Seems like a simple fix. Go see the doc and get a new boob.
That may be somewhat of a straightforward solution if I actually had breasts to begin with. But remember, I don’t. I never have.
Breast reconstructive surgeries started for me when I was fifteen. My first surgeon didn’t educate my parents on the process. Tissue expanders would have been a nice option, but in his defense, there wasn’t an industry then like there is now. Therefore, implants were inserted in my chest with minimal ability for the scarring to stretch. It was one of the most painful experiences. You’re probably thinking, “Really? Compared to third degree burns?” I can say, my first breast reconstructive surgery ranks up there with some of my most terrible memories over the years.
Up until eighteen, I went through several more surgeries for my breasts. The implants kept falling; lack of support to hold them. There was even an attempt to make nipples for me. Let me say ladies, looking back now, I would decline that option. But as a young teenage girl, whose body didn’t look anything like it was suppose to, I was desperate for whatever might help make me look a bit more normal. However, I’ve seen lots of nipples in my line of work, and even though it was a detailed process of grafting and tattooing, the fact of the matter is, they don’t look like nipples.
Not long ago, I spoke with a woman who underwent breast reconstructive surgery after her battle with breast cancer. She opted out of the nipple construction and decided to get her own tattoo. She had her favorite flower tattooed over her reconstructed breast. Obviously, it’s not an art everyone can see to appreciate, but it’s special, because it’s for her. It’s something beautiful in place of what would only be an attempt for normal. As we know, “normal” takes on a new meaning after such a loss.
From eighteen to twenty-eight, I was breast surgery free. That is, until after Gavin’s birth. My left implant ruptured and it had to be replaced. However, ten years wasn’t too shabby for that set. (Reread that last sentence as if you were talking about tires. It adds an element of humor that is a must in situations like these). The surgery was out patient and took longer than anticipated. Brandon’s concern heightened when the staff started turning the lights off in the waiting room to close and he still hadn’t heard what was going on with me. The surgery took four hours. Shortly after I was awake, vomiting post op, we were booted out with an emesis basin and a cool washcloth for the ride home. That was just the beginning of an unpleasant recovery. The amount of scar tissue made it a challenge to replace the implants, and I felt it in the days following.
These are the reasons for my tears. I get so frustrated with it all. Honestly, I just wish I had my own. At some point in my life, I wish I had had my own. I wish I experienced that effortlessly natural development of a woman’s body. I wish this was an issue of enhancement and not reconstruction.
These are the reasons for my tears. I don’t know how many times these suckers can be replaced before I hear something along the lines, “I’m sorry, Heather. All the previous surgeries have created too much scar tissue and we’re not going to be able to replace them.” I don’t know there will ever come an age I’ll be okay without having anything, because come on, it’s not like they look normal anyway, but at least in my clothes I have the normal shape of a woman. And while there are some women rendered flat chested without a hint of breast tissue with no desire for reconstruction after surviving cancer or injury, I can say, I don’t want to forfeit this small piece of femininity that I never experienced on my own.
So here we go, back to the OR today for a piece of femininity. My surgeon is practical, and yet super sensitive to my concerns. We’re giving it a go with some ADM, specifically Strattice Reconstructive Tissue Matrix derived from porcine tissue used to reinforce my weak scar tissue, and some silicone gel implants. We’re hoping for a good twenty-five years for the next set. Which would be five times longer than the ones I have now. I’d say that’s something to be optimistic about!
So what about those questions? How does a woman feel like a woman without breasts? Without having ever had them? What does femininity mean to a woman who never experienced an obvious development of becoming a woman?
Remember how I said that I was broken when I realized my implant was ruptured?
It is such a metaphor. Life had me completely deflated. At the same time I realized my boob was too!
While some of you may be reading this not having experienced the loss of your breasts, you have experienced those feelings of deflation. Nothing is left in you. You’ve lost your volume. Your excitement is nil, you’re running on empty.
Again, how does one feel like a woman when one is deflated? When one is broken?
Last spring, Brandon and I had the opportunity to meet Bob Goff. After meeting him, I just had to read his book. My Mom got it for me for my birthday and I was able to get into it this summer. God’s timing is….well, timely.
In his book, Love Does, Bob shares the story of his wedding cake. It landed on the pavement before it made it to the table. They served it anyway, gravel pieces and all! Bob used the experience to make an analogy to life. He says, “I simply decided that I wasn’t going to let the residual rocks and small pieces of gravel get in the way of me getting served up and used.”
Isn’t that good stuff? Well, take this in. He proceeds,
“It has always seemed to me that broken things, just like broken people, get used more; it’s probably because God has more pieces to work with.”
Now that changes the outlook of being deflated!
When I acknowledge the reality that my body isn’t what it was born to be. When I recognize there is not much of my body that is natural. When I get fed up with the reminders of my injury, I remind myself what a testimony it is and how God is using all my brokenness to connect and reach out to people in theirs. Deflated boob and all.
I’ve seen many women with boobs of their own, who didn’t have an ounce of authentic beauty, and I feel more sorry for them than I’ve ever felt in my own moments of self-pity.
Beauty is a mindset. And when the world comes in attack against your beauty, acknowledge your imperfections, be realistic with what is in the mirror, but remind yourself that God can use every piece of you, especially the broken ones, as you give yourself to Him. And He makes ALL THINGS beautiful!
Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT
Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.
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