I had boobs before I could do long division. Even at 5, I had those fat little mounds like a Skipper doll. In third grade, when the kids on the bus spotted my training bra — the first they'd ever seen — I screamed, red-faced, "It's an undershirt ... an under shirt!" then had a good cry in the guidance counselor's office. By seventh grade, I was a full-blown C, which put me on most girls' shit lists. Freshman year, a D, I was an expert at ignoring guys' pervy stares. Junior year, I was sobbing in the Macy's lingerie section, sifting through the DDs.
"I just don't know where this gene came from," my mom said, her hand on her cheek, slumped in a dressing room chair. "Must be your father's side. They're Russian."
I thought about a reduction, and in college, topping out at DDD, I applied for the procedure through my insurance. When the approval letter finally came, I felt like I'd broken out of prison.
The surgery was intense. Post-op, my boobs looked like a butcher's illustration. They itched from the inside, and I slept with ice packs on my chest. But I rarely complained, because I was too elated. Once my boobs settled, they were firm, high, perfect 34Cs — they looked like J.Lo's in that infamous Versace dress. (I had brought the doc that pic for reference.)
The first year, I was on a natural high. I remember bounding up the stairs to my friend's apartment wearing a black cami — no bra, zero bounce. I bought loads of sporty Calvin Klein bralets. And since smaller boobs made me realize that I wasn't actually fat — my DDDs had made me feel matronly — I hit the gym and started eating better. The pounds melted away, and I came out of my shell, actually saying what I thought, owning my silly sense of humor, and going out with dudes I previously considered out of my league. I understood that cheesy line formerly obese people say on infomercials after losing half their body weight: "I had a new lease on life!"
Two years later though, I started feeling "the creep." It happened the way it does if you've ever put on weight. You feel yourself getting bigger but swear it's just the sodium from last night's Chinese, PMS, anything. My arms started brushing the outer edges of my boobs, and I felt gross if I didn't put a bra on first thing in the morning. I was slouching my shoulders to hide my true size (a familiar pose). I amassed a closetful of drapey black tops, and I got a little quieter. (I admit, I was always struggling with 10 pounds post-college, but my boobs were steadily growing, whether I was having a skinny or a heavy year.)
When I went to the department store to get some new bras, a salesperson offered to measure me. Mimi. I'll never forget her name, because I was staring at her name tag when she delivered the blow: "You're a 34DD, love." Before she could even coil up her measuring tape, I started to feel claustrophobic in my own body. I knew I'd gotten bigger, but this was practically back to square one. I was possessed by The Girl With Big Boobs. How could this have happened?
My surgeon, Michael Pecoraro, M.D., has only seen it about four times in 20 years of practice. He explains the science: "One of the reasons some women have macromastia [the medical term for extremely large breasts] is that their breast tissue has an exaggerated response to estrogen, the hormone that stimulates breast growth." (It may be hereditary, he says.) For some women, even if you remove breast tissue, "the remaining tissue can still have that extreme response to the circulating estrogen."
Still, I immediately wanted a second surgery, even though the obvious question hung in the air: Would this happen again? Dr. Pecoraro said there just isn't a way to predict whose boobs will grow back. I was just unlucky.
"It's highly unlikely it would happen again," he said, explaining that at 27, the chances were slimmer than they would be at 20, when my estrogen levels were especially active.
With zero hesitation, I booked myself an appointment, forking over the savings I'd squirreled away over the years. (Post-recession, my insurer required I basically grow a third boob before covering me.)
I knew exactly what to expect from Dr. P. (the J.Lo, thanks!), but I was surprised by people's reactions when I was going in for round two. While a few were supportive — they saw how self-conscious my big boobs made me — others looked at me with blinking eyes, asking if I'd tried "one of those minimizers." Some implied that going in for plastic surgery once was pretty vain. Twice? That was just indulgent, in a Real Housewives sort of way.
But the worst were those offering earnest, life-coach-y rhetoric, like "Don't you think this is a sign that this is how you're really meant to look?"
I ignored all of it. Having hauled around both big and small boobs, I know what feels right for me.
This article was originally published as "I Had a Breast Reduction ... And My Boobs Grew Back" in the March 2015 issue of Cosmopolitan. to get the issue in the iTunes store!
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