Why I Wouldn't Let My Husband Touch My Breasts
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Men love breasts. But there he was, saddled with two rapidly depreciating assets slated for liquidation within five years. It pained me to think he could grow attached to my two transient body parts, so they became The Untouchables, ignored during any meaningful intimate encounters, never accentuated or placed on display. The more unnoticed their presence, the more unnoticed their absence. Pretend they’re not here, because soon enough, they won’t be.
The surgery was scheduled for a Monday morning in the middle of June, a few months shy of my 29thbirthday. My husband and parents sat in the waiting room as two surgical teams meticulously disassembled and then reassembled my chest. The doctors substituted soft, supple breast tissue with stiff, awkward tissue expanders, simultaneously removing my breasts and my inherited risk. Five hours later, I awoke in the recovery room feeling – rightly – like I’d been carved wide open. I began to cry out, but my throat, raw from intubation, produced only a whimper: “It really, really hurts.”
After a week, I summoned the courage to do what I had dreaded: I looked at my eradicated breasts. My husband undressed me to shower, stood me in front of the bathroom mirror, and there it was — my defaced chest, like roadkill, the mangled aftermath of a hit-and-run. All the parts were still there, but everything was askew. My breasts, which only five months earlier had nourished my infant son, were unrecognizable. Half-filled expanders left the surface concave, nipples turned outward and sagged, breast-like mounds underscored by two 5-inch bloody incisions, and the whole unsightly mess framed by four surgical drains snaking out from my skin.
A cry, seated deep in my gut, erupted from my mouth and filled the silent bathroom. Deep, primal howls. A profound and unfamiliar embarrassment to be naked in front of my husband. A rush to cover myself back up. A refusal to shower without the physical and emotional security of my surgical bra.
My husband held me in those moments, then pulled me gently into the shower and began to shampoo my hair. Tenderly, he washed my back and legs and arms and belly, careful to avoid the site of so much emotional and physical pain. After, he patted me dry with a soft towel. He emptied my surgical drains, measuring and recording the levels of dirty orange fluid that poured from them, and used a blow dryer to ensure my incision sites weren’t damp.
That night, I discovered a card he’d left next to my bedside: “Throughout our life, we constantly redefine ‘normal.’ While we yearn for previous definitions of the word, building a new normal is what we must do. The next definition is more important than the last one. Rest assured, you and your body will find the new normal soon.”
Over the following days, I cried less and looked longer at that new chest of mine. The drains came out and incisions turned into scars. Without the full use of my arms, team showering became a sort of marital sport. We playfully bickered over the proper way to apply conditioner (start with the ends, not with the roots), how much to lather a loofah (till the suds are falling off, please) and whether the skill of shaving one’s own face also qualifies you to shave another’s legs (it does not). If he was ever sad about the new state of my body, he never once let it show.
Ultimately, through weekly saline injections, my expanders lived up to their name and inflated my new breasts to the buxom size of my choosing. It was like going through puberty in fast forward, only this time I got to say “more, please!” Eventually, and perhaps ironically, the mastectomy left me with a better bust than the one I started with; I traded deflated, post-breast-feeding A-cups for new perma-perky C’s. And the best part: These new gals weren’t out to kill me.