Tuesday, June 07, 2022

It's good to see things from another perspective

I considered not publishing this one. There are some things you don't talk about - like miscarriages, menopause, hysterectomies, and mastectomies but how would not publishing it help anyone in the same situation? I can tick all those boxes. So, for what it's worth, here goes...

I was never a particularly self-conscious person body-wise. Not that I had any sort of model figure as a young woman - I was a little too short, my boobs were always a bit too big but I was happy enough with the way I looked and thought nothing of baring all, be that on a dodgy beach in Greece or in a communal changing room. I remember having a rather animated conversation about an idea for a dictionary many years ago on the way out of a sauna on a business trip. Enthusiastically, my boss (an Italian woman) and I stood discussing our ideas, when I noticed people around us were giving us funny looks. I assumed it was because lexicography was not the most normal of topics, but I slowly realised it was probably because we were both completely naked in the middle of a large room, arms waving, and no one else was!

Obviously over the years I've had five babies, the biggest of which weighed in at 4.5kg, so things aren't quite how they were but again that was more a badge of honour than anything shameful, so I even managed to embrace that version of me and still wander about naked without too much thought.

However, I've been through my own personal war these past few years. My ovarian cancer scare of 2018 left me with a scar from my belly button to my pubic bone. Moreover, an infection I got post-op left me with a rougher edge to the top of that scar. I feared at the time that it might end up looking like 2 belly buttons, one under the other, but in the end, it wasn't quite that bad. I think it took me over a year to walk past my kids in my underwear after that one, and when I did, I'm not sure they even noticed I looked any different.

I had just about come to terms with that when I was hit with last year's boob bombshell. Some dodgy cells found in the milk ducts of my right boob meant all the breast tissue and the nipple had to be removed as a precaution. That left me with the option of one boob as an E cup and the other completely flat, or a more invasive reconstruction of the right to a size B, but a simultaneous reduction of the other to match. I'm not sure I was ready in my early 50s to become completely asexual-looking so opted for the more complex of the two operations, not so much because of how society wanted me to look, but because of how I could face myself. Surgical menopause in 2018, before my body was ready, had already done little for my sense of femininity or self-esteem, so I didn't need to lose my boob on top of the rest, especially before the first scar had even faded.

The upshot is that I look passable in clothes, which is good for my sense of self. No one needs to know what I have been through unless I want them to. But I wasn't ok on the underneath. I took to avoiding mirrors and locking the door to the bathroom. This was a far cry from a few years earlier when I routinely was joined in the bathroom when I was in the bath by some kid or another asking for homework help. I didn't want to see me and I didn't want anyone else to see me either, checkups with the consultant excepted, of course.

After about nine months, Amaia questioned why I was no longer as open as I used to be. At 12, she sees things differently to me I guess. I reminded her what I had been through, as I had kept them in the loop all along, but to my surprise she was completely unfazed. To her I am still me, so all I got was a shrug and a 'so what's the problem?' I told her it made me more self conscious than before and she asked why. I described how I look now - huge scars round half my body, nipples removed and again she said she didn't see why that would change my confidence levels. 'Sounds to me like you now have Barbie boobs!' she said nonchalantly, with a smile.

So, there you have it, two major operations down the line and apparently I now look like a Barbie doll! Well, maybe a wee bit less tall and slim, but still... Maybe it's time I opened up a bit and went back to being just me.

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