Photographed by Ashley Armitage.
I was 15 when, mid-conversation with a group of friends, one of the guys turned to another and said, “Really? You’re trying to take a picture of her tits?” I was a 36C at the time and my boobs were seemingly growing bigger every night, but until that moment, I hadn't realized they were a topic of conversation or felt the need to cover up.
Not long after, I started having to buy bras in bigger sizes every few months until my mother eventually insisted on getting me a minimizer bra to make my “floatation devices,” as she called them, look smaller. Her other affectionate nickname for me was "boobs," which made my friends laugh, but made me increasingly self-aware.
My back hurt, my posture was horrible, and I was sweating constantly. Running up and down stairs at home and at school required me to hold on for dear life; actually exercising required three sports bras. Even after losing 40 pounds during my second year of university, my boobs didn’t go anywhere. I wanted to hide, and baggy clothing could only conceal so much.
By the time I turned 19, my mom suggested we go in for a breast reduction consultation. I met with a surgeon who patiently answered all my questions (What will the scars look like? What if I go too small? Has anyone come back with regrets? ) and my mom’s main one (Will she be able to breastfeed? The answer: It's 50/50). The doctor pointed out that getting insurance coverage for a breast reduction has become increasingly challenging in Canada, where I live, but I got full coverage after citing the pain my breasts have caused.
I booked the surgery, but not long after, doubts started to creep in. My boyfriend's sister had gotten a reduction she regretted and warned me that I was too young and insecure to make a major change to my body. The talk scared the shit out of me, so I decided to put it off until the end of university.
When I graduated, I was 21-years-old, five-foot-three, 190 pounds, and wearing a 38DDD (the surgeon later told me I was most likely a G). I was sore all the time, suffering from a bad case of “double boob,” and getting cysts and skin irritations from sweating. I was overwhelmed and felt like didn’t have control over my body. Two years later, at 23, I finally booked the surgery.
Surgery Day: Tuesday, May 2nd
After an emotional week leading up to the surgery, I had no energy left to be nervous the morning of. I checked in, dressed in a hospital gown, and got my IV put in. Two hours later, I was ushered into the operating room for the fun part: getting my boobs drawn on. I had settled on a C, but when my surgeon and I talked about my weight and body proportions and held both a C and D up to see how each would look, I opted for the D. I'm not a small person and I didn't need small boobs — just manageable ones.
When I woke up after surgery, my chest felt like it was on fire. Within minutes, I requested every narcotic they could give me, and half an hour later as I was wheeled out to my mother (who was freaking out), I was feeling great. Once home, I fell asleep every fifteen minutes for the remainder of the day, and only vaguely remember instigating some argument with my boyfriend and saying hi to my father.
Day 1: Wednesday
Thanks to a nice cocktail of Percocet and Tylenol 3 every four hours in addition to antibiotics, I was sleeping like a baby, unable to even make it through one episode of Sherlock. My boobs had swelled like crazy, which would have worried me had my surgeon not prepared me.
Considering my general pain threshold is roughly 0/10, I was seriously hurting whenever I got up and moved around, so I stayed sitting up in bed for the most part. I was bandaged up tightly and rocking a cool new accessory: a pair of tubes designed to drain any remaining gunk out until the bandages were removed two days later.
I had my first post-surgery freakout that night, when I woke to see my left tube significantly more full than the other thanks to a blood clot. Turns out, it was perfectly normal, but I quickly realized that recovery would not be a lot of lying in bed and feeling sorry for myself (my favorite past time). I had to make sure I was up walking around, moving my legs, and doing breathing exercises to prevent any more clots.
Day 2: Thursday
By day two, I was taking fewer meds and feeling more positive. My pain was a manageable 4/10. The bigger issue was how the pain changed every hour. I went from feeling soreness, to tightness, to burning, to plain old discomfort. It was worth it, though — I couldn’t believe how perky (albeit swollen) my boobs were. They were no longer down to my stomach and that felt freaking fantastic. Less great was the fact that I was so groggy that I couldn’t write texts or emails without getting disoriented.
Day 3: Friday
Today was the day I'd be going to the hospital to get my bandages off. The apprehension of seeing my new boobs for the first time had me in tears the day before — I was preparing myself for the absolute worst. My boyfriend drove me and sat by while I went down the list of questions my mother instructed me to ask the doctor. Do I need to still sleep reclined? No. Do I need to remove the stitches? No, they dissolve. When can I wear an underwire bra? In a few weeks, or whenever it doesn’t hurt.
When the bandages came off, all I could do was stare. There was a circle around the nipple to where they moved it, a line going down from the nipple to the bottom of my breasts, and stitches all along the underside. Sure, my breasts were sewn together, and they were red and inflamed, but they were mine. I was on a high from the excitement and managed to make it meds-free for eight hours — until my boyfriend seemingly hit every pothole possible while driving.
After three days, I was able to take a shower with assistance; a day later, I could do it by myself. But the most frustrating part of all was how limited my activity was — simple reaching and bending took a lot out of me. I couldn’t pick up my puppy or reach the bottom or top shelf of my pantry.
Mid-week came with a lot of emotions — after taking a closer look at all my incisions and the developing scars, I started to break down. My body went through a huge change and my breasts didn’t quite feel like they were mine yet. It didn’t help that I was feeling the pressure of having to go to Vegas with my mom and sister in a month. I had no idea what my body was going to look like, especially in a bathing suit.
Still, during that first week, I managed a shopping trip for bras (sports bras, but nevertheless, seeing my boobs in a bra instead of weighed down made me a lot more emotional than I expected), sat down for coffee at my boyfriend’s sister’s place, and managed to survive a sushi dinner out, where I learned that people look at you oddly when you try to recline in your chair and clutch your chest in public.
Exactly a week after my surgery, I was moving around a bit more and feeling well enough for a job interview over Skype. The hardest part of recovery at this point, as a lifelong stomach sleeper, was having to sleep on my back. According to my surgeon, week two was supposed to be the time to stay home, eat snacks, Netflix, and lay low. If only. I was in the bathroom at a friend's place a few days after finishing my antibiotics when I checked to make sure my incisions were healing properly. I was greeted with major redness, funky-colored scabs, and drainage all from my left breast. My right one, on the other hand, was loving life.
I headed to the ER, where hours later, I was prescribed a round of intravenous antibiotics, which thankfully meant that I didn’t have an abscess, the substantially worse and more complicated potential outcome. Instead, I’d just have a walking IV for the next five days.
Of course, I had two interviews for a big job coming up, one of which I had to cancel when I had to go to the ER again to get yet another IV put in. I wallowed in some self pity over my situation until a few days later, when my boyfriend’s eight-year-old nephew broke his arm and took on surgery like a champ. Nothing like the bravery of a child to make you realize what a wuss you really are.
After the weekend, I paid a visit to my surgeon once her office opened and she told me I likely didn’t have the infection any longer and was healing normally.
After my IV was taken out, my wounds were still pretty open and I was just sore and swollen enough that I had to wait to put on a real bra. But I was getting tired of sports bras and bralettes that didn’t give me shape and showed my nipples, so I found a workaround: nipple covers. I also ended up going through more panty liners than I would on my period, as I had to line my bras with them to protect my wounds. Later this week, I shed my first happy tears since the operation after buying my first bikini in 10 years.
I had finally started to feel like myself again. The remnants of my wounds still required some TLC, but it was a good reminder to take care of my body — something I can’t say I do all that often. By now, I was so sick of being miserable and irritable that I decided to chin up. I walked on the treadmill, made dinner for the family who had put up with me at peak bitch mode, and offered to run errands for my mom. I found myself wanting to do a lot more, but tried to be careful to not overdo it.
The week was full of ups and downs as I realized the importance of taking care of myself physically, emotionally, and mentally after such a big change. It was time to prepare myself for an overall healthier life. The big highlight of this week was when I tried on my old bathing suits while packing for Vegas. Some didn’t cover the surgery scars that extended to my sides, but surprisingly, I didn’t mind. It felt pretty badass to wear a scar that told a story, and it felt even better to finally feel in control of my body again.
People keep telling me that my boobs are still big, but I never wanted to be small. I wanted lighter ones that I could easily fit into a bra and that wouldn’t pull in a top — and that's exactly what I got. Bonus: I can actually see my nipples now — who would've thought?
Most people with large breasts that cause pain and discomfort think about having a reduction at one point or another, and those who have had the surgery usually claim it was the best decision they ever made. But that doesn’t make it any easier to go under the knife; everyone has their own reasons to be nervous. Ultimately, I decided that the procedure was commonplace and safe and my surgeon was trustworthy and capable. Truthfully, I was more scared of the emotional recovery, which was as hard as I expected.
It wasn’t until my vacation a month after that I realized the significance of the change. I felt more confident than I had in a long time, and being able to wear bathing suits and clothes I would never have before only played a small role. After making this decision on my own, I feel a lot more liberated and empowered to make more changes in my life. Having the strength to do this made me realize how capable I am of taking care of myself, and how important self-care and self-love really is.
Photographed by Ashley Armitage.