What Happened When I Had My Breast Implants Removed

Real Meets Reality

It’s been 16 days today since I had my breast implants removed. That doesn’t sound like a long time in recovery terms, but it’s long enough to have an idea what my body will look like from this point forward. It’s a shock. An adjustment. A paradigm shift.

I keep catching glimpses of myself in the mirror and doing double takes. My breasts are missing from my reflection.

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Before and after pictures of my breasts in my 34G bra.

I remember 13. Being in gym class in the eighth grade and running around the track with my arms crossed in front of my chest. It was like they had appeared overnight. Puffy and new and incredibly tender. The bras bought by my mom were ill-fitting and unsupportive. Maybe she just didn’t know. All my life she had had petite breasts, although I had heard her sisters joke that she was the only one of the four of them that was “stacked.” Maybe her mom didn’t know either. Maybe her breasts deflated with each baby, too, except I know she didn’t breastfeed. She bought me a 36C but I probably should’ve been in a 34D-34DD.

That’s roughly the size they remained until I had them augmented at 26. Multiple pregnancies and nursing two babies took their toll, as my breast size and shape ebbed and flowed. But when I look back on pictures, they were naturally beautiful in all of their iterations.

I simply couldn’t see it.

My stitches have dissolved. Long, thick scars line the creases under each breast. The plastic surgeon who removed my implants cut through the same incisions from my implant surgery, so the wounds are heavy and obvious. I am on day #6 of antibiotics for an infection under my right one. It’s bright red, itches terribly, and hurts like hell.

These things happen.

16 days ago, I had breasts that overflowed a 34G bra. Now I’m barely a 34B — and most of it is skin. That’s reality.

When I initially scheduled the surgery, the first available date they had was in October — two months out. I booked it. When they called on Tuesday, September 4th and said, “We had a cancellation for Thursday the 6th, would you like to move your procedure up?”, I said, “Uhhhhhhhh…..Yeah, okay.”

Then I hung up the phone. “Fuck.”

It was happening.

For real.

Same luxurious type of office and same cloth gown, but no kids with me this time to kick the doctor. The stool-spinning baby from my first surgery is 16 now and was in her Arabic class at University when I went in for my explant. Her three younger sisters, including the 18-month-old in on my knee from my previous story and two more Lovelys to whom I gave birth to in the four years following implantation, were at school as well. They are now 13, 10, and 8.

It was just me and my “explant doula” — my lover whom I had asked to accompany me — and we barely had time to take a seat in the empty waiting room before we were called back.

This time, the valium came before surgery, instead of during recovery. This time, I elected to have the procedure done in the office under local anesthetic. This time, I wanted to feel “in control”. I needed to be aware of the implants leaving my body. It felt somehow important to my psychological healing to be conscious of what was happening to me. Plus, I’m not squeamish and I prefer stoic alertness to comfortable haze.

I walked into the surgical suite $2000 lighter in the checkbook and with zero expectation this time that I would look “better” or be sexier or more attractive afterward.

In fact, the doctor made sure that I was aware of the aesthetic ramifications of the procedure.

“You will lose almost all of the volume. Imagine taking the helium out of a mylar balloon.”

Got it.

He also said, “I see why you want to explant. Your implants are a grossly irresponsible size for your frame. I’m actually surprised that you don’t have nerve damage. My medical advice is that these need to come out. They aren’t good for your health.”

I knew that one already.

Dr. Carter was, like my previous doctor, very handsome and affable. He also had zero connection to anyone with whom I was having sex, so that was an improvement on last time.

I laid down on the table in the surgical suite and talked casually with Dr. C. and his nurse about mundane bullshit, while they exposed, draped, and disinfected my chest. My doula was at the head of the table on my left — close enough to hold both my hand and my gaze and lovingly distract me from the sounds of flesh being cut and sewn — but still at an angle where he could look away if he got woozy.

Dr. Carter said that the local anesthetic would be the worst part, but I barely felt it because the undersides of my breasts had long gone numb from the initial implantation.

He said that there would be no pain, but that it would be “messy” when he punctured the implant. He said that he would insert a drain with a electric pump to remove the saline and that it would be loud.

It was.

I remember feeling the liquid that had resided in my body for 13 years soak the left side of my body.

It was like a baptism to have the stagnant saline, a stand in for my misguided intentions and regret, flow out of me and soak my torso — dripping onto the floor. A confession. An absolution. The fluid was still clear and sterile after 13 years. There was comfort in that revelation.

I thought I would feel them coming out, as you do with a C-section when you feel the pressure of your baby being lifted from the hole in your body — but I didn’t. There simply came a point when I felt the tugging of the needle and sutures and knew they were gone.

When I sat up for the nurse to bandage me, I remember telling myself, “Don’t look down. Don’t look down. You’re not ready, and it doesn’t matter.”

I fucking looked down.

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Immediately post-explant, still on the table.

Wrinkly skin and nipples. Concave dents where there should’ve been fullness. That’s all that remained of my breasts.

My lover braced my arm and steadied me walking out. He told me that I looked better already. On the car ride home, he held my hand between shifting gears. Shift. Hand. Shift. Hand. I was grateful he accepted the request to care for me. He couldn’t stay with me during the day, so I was happy when he stopped for a car wash and to pick up my prescriptions. It meant more time with him. I was also thankful I had had found the strength to admit to myself that I didn’t need to be strong and independent in this moment — that it was okay to ask him to come with me. I had nothing to prove. He was the only one I wanted there with me.

He handed me off to my oldest daughter to take over for the next few hours, but not before hugging me gently and whispering, “I want you to know you’re more beautiful now than ever.” He kissed me on the forehead. I turned and looked at my daughter who had tears in her eyes, too. “Mama, you look so much better. I’m so happy for you!” And she took me upstairs to sleep.

When my three youngest got home, it was a bit of a let down. With the unguarded honesty typical of children, they all expressed some degree of disappointment at my new shape. Their consensus was that they had loved my big, ol’ boobs and were going to miss them.

They said they were the only soft part about me. That hurt my heart.

The most reaction was that of my 10 year old autistic daughter who literally recoiled that night when she saw me change for bed. “Mom!?!?!? Why are your boobs so ragged??? That’s going to take some getting used to.” She wasn’t wrong and I couldn’t be mad. I had raised her thinking that augmented breasts like the ones I had had were the norm.

Along that vein, I have some guilt to process that, as the mother of four daughters, I may have altered their perceptions of what their post-pubescent bodies should look like and the expectations they will have for themselves as they grow. I’ll be working with them to correct that.

My mom came over that night and helped my kids with dinner and homework. She kept trying to reassure me.

“They will get better! You always had big boobs! I’m sure they’ll come back.”

She didn’t seem to get that that wasn’t the point. I needed to be okay even if they didn’t.

The next morning was a little rough. I was still foggy from the valium and the Percocet, and I couldn’t get my kids on the bus fast enough. I’m pretty sure their hair was only half-brushed, and my little one may have been wearing the same uniform from the day before, but that was okay.

It was shower time. The itch and the sweat were too much and I was anxious to see my naked body for the first time.

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Me resting in my writing chair on the day after my surgery, still bandaged and pre-shower, with my nurse kitty.

Home alone, unwrapping my bandages, I felt fear.

No, not fear.

Terror.

With the bandages on, I looked like I had just had a double mastectomy. My chest was completely flat. The nurse had bound me very tightly to promote tissue reattachment to the chest wall.

I couldn’t imagine there was anything remotely resembling breasts under there.

As I slowly unwound them, I cried. Hard. And then I stopped, completely consumed by my reflection.

I stared for maybe ten minutes, trying to recognize the women staring back at me. I turned side to side, leaned forward and back. I watched the ways they moved and the ways they didn’t. Mercifully, it was less judgement and more information gathering.

And some point, I got in the shower which was amazing and cathartic. The warm water soothed my body, and the crying resumed. I let my hands explore what was left, shaking with sobs.

It was over. The emotion was overwhelming. It was a flood of relief, shock, grief, pain, sorrow, and hope.

It was reconciliation.

Two weeks later and my nipples have resumed a “normal” shape. They are no longer stretched out, and are very responsive to touch and temperature. In fact, they are more sensitive now than before. During my third shower (because you count showers like mile markers during times like these) I had to turn away from the spray because the sensation was overwhelming. My nipples had started reconnecting with the nerves they were separated from all of these years.

The mechanics of my body have changed. I stand taller. I hold my shoulders back instead of pulling them forward and down. My spine doesn’t protrude as much and I have fewer headaches than before. My body was sore in that first week because setting down two pounds of weight that I had been carrying in my chest for 13 years engaged some new muscles and released some exhausted ones.

My favorite tattoo on my back is now distorted because the skin it was tattooed on was stretched by my implants when I had it done. It’s one of my favorite Beatles lyrics from Across the Universe:

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Limitless

undying love

that

shines around

me

like

a million suns,

and

calls me

on and on

across

the

universe.

My first night with my lover wasn’t easy. It was exactly one week later. I was nervous. Throughout our date that night, I watched the clock tick toward bedtime, wondering how I was going to be okay when we finally turned in for the night. I wanted to be with him, but I was self-conscious about my body to a degree I had never experienced before. It was an odd feeling to want to be so close to someone and held back by my psyche. He turned off the light for me. I cried. A lot. He held me and reminded me, “You know I was there, right? I’ve seen them already”, and, yes, I cognitively knew this. It didn’t change the fact that my breasts, a big part of my sexuality, weren’t just smaller, they were deformed.

And I didn’t know what it would be like to have sex with deformed breasts. How would they move? Where would they fall when I was on my back? Or upright? Would he be able to see the wrinkles and the sagging skin in the dark? Would he recoil when his hand touched the remnants?

What happened was this: When he told me that I was beautiful and that he was more attracted to me then than he was before the surgery, I believed him. He touched me gently and lovingly. He attended to the parts of my body I felt good about and reassured me about the one I didn’t.

We had the kind of sex in that dark room that moves you deep down in your soul and intertwines both your bodies and your spirits. And I slept puffy eyed and completely naked in his arms.

I sit here with lots of grief and no regrets.

I’m sad for the time lost. I’m sorry for my girls growing up, laying their heads on my chest in sickness and fear and finding comfort in my implants, not the breasts that fed them. I struggle that they are just now getting to know my “real” body.

“No regrets” means that I don’t regret getting them out, not that I don’t regret getting them. That one I’m still working on. I try to live my life intentionally and accept that every mistake I make is an opportunity for growth and learning, but this one is rough. It’s hard to see what I’ve gained from having made this choice 13 years ago. Maybe an opportunity to love myself “just the way I am.”

That doesn’t feel quite right.

My ex-husband used to describe flat-chested women as “disgusting.” It gives me some satisfaction to now fall into that category.

I have a contentious relationship with my ex. Although he initiated the divorce, he admitted shortly thereafter that he didn’t want it after all and had just been trying to manipulate me into wanting him more. He told me that he had never really imagined us apart. I had taken his declaration seriously and, once he put that wheel in motion, realized that divorce was exactly what I wanted. I just needed him to be the one to initiate it.

He still harbors resentment that I wouldn’t reconcile with him. He feels cheated and abandoned.

The courts weren’t kind to him in the decree. The judge declared that “Father is clearly interested in money, and not the best interests of the children.” He lost his wife. He lost his house. He sees his girls every other weekend. He pays 36% of his pre-tax income to the five of us in support. He will continue to do so for the next 10 years. He has suffered a substantial amount of loss.

And he indirectly paid for my explant.

I had a naive notion that the surgery might, as a side effect, have a positive impact on his emotional state and relieve him of the attraction he still professed to have to me. Maybe it would resolve some of his grief over the divorce knowing that he no longer wanted me sexually.

I showed up to our weekend visitation exchange 8 days after removal in a form-fitting tank top and a ballcap. He snarled when he looked at me and slammed the the front door of his house behind himself and the girls.

When he dropped them off at my place two days later, after his visitation, he squealed his tires and peeled out of the parking lot.

I see now that it’s possible, even likely, that removing my implants just made him angrier and caused him more grief. It makes sense that it might’ve signaled to him that there was now zero hope for reconciliation, although I had tried to communicate that to him countless times before. The surgery made it clear that I wasn’t interested in his attraction to me. It sent the message, loud and clear, that I didn’t want his attention and never would again. It was another loss to tick off his list. So it was tough for him, too.

Nonetheless, nine months after my finalized decree, I feel officially divorced.

I have six months until I can get a consultation to see about a lift or excess skin removal. I don’t know if I will do it, but I have the date on my calendar.

My breasts are damaged. I’m not in denial about that. They have empty pockets where the implants resided. I read that it’s possible they will fill in and “fluff up,” but I don’t have high hopes or expectations. They have changed since the surgery already and I don’t believe there is much to be done about the tissue damage underneath without surgical intervention. But increasing their aesthetic value wasn’t the point, anyway.

I may or may not have them lifted, but I will never have implants again. Whatever modifications I choose, if any, will happen with only the tissue that is there and I will make the decision for me. I will make it based on what I want for my body. I have considered that succumbing to a surgical correction might constitute a “failure” on my part, but I don’t accept that as truth. I made a mistake in having them put in, and it’s okay to want to try to mitigate the damage. I’m only 39.

I talk a lot about “doing the work” to get okay with myself. I haven’t yet figured out what that means.

  • I look at myself in the mirror every day and do affirmations.
  • I remind myself I’m beautiful and that my lover thinks so, too.
  • I try on new styles in the stores and revel in my ability to wear spaghetti straps and flimsy materials.
  • I actively resist wear extremely baggy shirts to hide my silhouette.

These are all good things, but I’m not sure they constitute the “work” just yet.

It’s a tough place to be because I don’t necessarily believe in “accepting myself just the way I am”. I’m about making myself better and growing and changing. I hesitated to even write this yet because I don’t feel like I have landed anywhere that could serve as a guidepost for anyone else.

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Me, 2 weeks out from my explant, rocking my first braless top since the seventh grade. Yay!

So, I’m still figuring it out. But I can tell you that, in this moment — after the surgery is said and done — I am okay. I am happier now with the way my body both looks and feels than before, even if the masses might disagree that it’s an improvement.

This is not the end of my story.

It’s a beginning.

Thank you for reading. It’s been 6 months since my surgery and the story continues. Here’s my next piece. Thanks for reading. -AJ

Mama, writer, lover, fighter — I wear my heart on my sleeve because my pants pockets are too small. www.ajkaywriter.com

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