“How do your breasts feel? How do the drains feel?” I have been asked repeatedly from my friends. I have been thinking about this question and how to best describe it and I think I have come up with a good visual. The thing is that if someone had described this to me before this surgery I would have likely been horrified, but the weird thing is that I actually like most of the feelings that are now part of who my upper body is. I can’t explain it, but only relate it to what some of the feelings represent to me.
For those of us who had the awesome (my experience) pleasure of nursing our babies, part of my description is related to this, but let me start with the drains. Having fifteen inches of tubing sewed and taped into four areas of your body is an odd sensation. Way before this diagnosis, I had several snake dreams. According to my brilliant therapist who is an expert (my opinion) on female archetypes and Jungian dream analysis explained the power in these as it related to my life. More on this in a later writing, but in some of these snake dreams, their teeth on my skin were a part of the dream sequence. Maybe there is some symmetry between the tubes (snakes) and the attachment of them to me (teeth). So the tubes and the attachments are like having four snakes hanging by their teeth from my skin. Though it is wildly uncomfortable, I like the reminder of the dream and its powerful messaging it brought then as I tried to figure it out, and its ultimate metaphor in the way they have landed in my life. The drains have these plastic grenade like looking things hanging off of them as the tubes have to have a place for your body fluids to drain into (I totally get there is way too much info here, but no sugar coating this experience as we all likely know by yesterday’s bathroom trials and tribulations). It is totally disgusting, but like all of these darts coming at me, it amazes me what I become comfortable with at the pace I do. These receptacles have to hang off of something and I am sure that there are fancy decorative inventions newly diagnosed warrior female entrepenuers have developed, I chose to use a red ribbon to represent a Wonder Woman sash of sorts.
I just said to my partner last night, now I have a tiny inkling of what it must feel like to have a set of balls. These fuckers are with me 24/7 and their weight is a constant reminder of this reality. Thank God they are not between my legs, but hanging at my belly button is bad enough. These little “balls” of fire have to me emptied a few times a day and to add insult to injury, their contents must be recorded, added up and then called in to the plastic surgeon’s Queen assistant. This call in is to determine at what point the contents are low enough as to have the tubes removed. This is all vile, but I guess my positive patty attitude is the awareness of the alternative so I have grown to have an appreciation of these little bastards.
So on to how my breasts feel. Here is my favorite explanation of them. Like my milk is coming in for nursing my baby (who I had twenty years ago) and at the same time developed mastitis and simultaneously have been placed in a triple a training bra with a padlock on its hooks and finally like the tingly sensation one gets when your foot is about to fall asleep and then when it falls asleep for too long and becomes almost numb.
The weird part of all of this description is that I like the sensation. So many women told me I would lose all feeling, but these sensations keep me in close connection with my upper body, aware and alert that big changes are happening and to stand up tall and proud and take notice. Like Wonder Woman as she gets ready to stand up and fight her bad ass warrior self against the evil villains of the world.
The term Wonder Woman is often floated around in cards and gifts that have generously landed in my happy and grateful lap this past month. I love that the image of Wonder Woman is connected to my spirit (and now my luscious breasts will be too, just sayin.) My two grandmothers who I consider the first of my Wonder Woman maternal alternatives, Kitsie and Isabelle were strong and pragmatic women. They taught me by their example to move on, move forward, move. I haven’t been writing enough about my mother’s mother, Kathryn, who we all called Kitsie. My grandfather called her Katie though I never connect that name with her. She grew up in Wisconsin and graduated University of Wisconsin in 1937 with a Bachelors in Music. She played the violin, though I never heard her play. The way I remember her career was as a teacher of reading to special needs kids and as a literacy volunteer teaching adults how to read. She was a powerhouse. Her mother died when she was eleven and her wealthy dad thought that shipping her off to a Catholic boarding school with progressive nuns was a good solution to dealing with the loss of his wife. The funny thing, actually not funny at all, super sad, is that my grandmother has an older brother, Everett and he got to stay, “boys are easier and all of that.”
Kind of like my grandmother Isabelle, though much older, dealing with the trauma of breast cancer at 37 and being guided by the “experts” to move on about it, my grandmother Kitsie’s grief was silenced by being sent away so other women in this case, nuns, to deal with. Fortunately for my grandmother, her father had the means to send her to a progressive school with hip and very educated nuns and the role modeling for my grandmother by these women who ended up being her maternal replacements formed her superpowers that would ultimately be my model for strong woman archetype.
The point I am trying to make is that the resilience and her positive attitude grew out of trauma. Sure she could have gone south and there were those south moments in her for sure, but her move forward, move on, move attitude was the gravy of this trauma and I was the unknowingly hungry recipient of its directive.
What my grandmother struggled with, her “stuff” was her never feeling beautiful or pretty or thin enough. The irony is that two of my treasured possessions from her is her mirror that was on her dresser that she got when she was in Florence and her scale that says, “thinner” on it. My grandmother was always “dieting” weight watchers early member club for sure. She also was an early member of Gloria Stevens studios, which were the seventies versions of women’s boutique gyms before people were “working out” before Jane Fonda. She hated having her picture taken so I have few pictures of her. My other grandmother was a super hottie and never had a problem with her looks except as she aged, but she just dealt with it in her pragmatic way and never shying away from a photo.
My grandmother Kitsie would be dieting and simultaneously have a half dozen homemade ice cream parfaits in the freezer “for grandpa.” The food contradictions and messaging started early in my life and I still grapple with the concept of moderation and body image because of it. How ironic. How did I get here? This is what I cherish about writing, it starts me and it finds me as it winds me through the paths and briars along the paths and it never disappoints me as I always end up at the shore’s bountiful edge looking at the sunrise or sunset or the vastness waiting.
Kitsie’s mirror. Kitsie’s scale.
My new custom Wonder Woman shoes from my beautiful man.