Back in my 30’s I told my husband that I reserved the right to have a breast lift in my 50s. As a larger breasted woman I knew a time was coming when the complicated relationship I had with my chest would become simply annoying – like a party guest who overstays their welcome, and I imagined, in a non specific way, doing something about it.
And then for twenty years or so I pretty much forgot about the idea of surgery. I bought more expensive bras which did a good job of keeping me feeling confident and fairly comfortable. And my breasts were just something about me. Something I never really liked, but just part of who I was. But what woman hasn’t been annoyed or shamed or maddened by someone commenting on her breasts. Or her body in general. Not just men commenting, but mostly men.
And then, in May 2022, the New York Times published this article by the talented writer Melissa Febos. The Feminist Case for Breast Reduction.
It was a lightbulb going on. An ah-ha moment. She had the words that I had never searched for about what it was like to live with unwanted attention for an accidental genetic attribute. I am sure that my sometimes quite prickly personality comes in part from people feeling free to comment on my breasts from a terribly early age. What 12 or 13 year old has the language or confidence to clap back at an adult man or peer boy who has absolutely overstepped today’s standards, but not the standards of the 1970s? Want to see a young girl shrink into herself? Comment on her body.
I started researching breast reduction and started really resenting the limitations large breasts cause, and resenting even more the objectification society puts on women. I shared my feelings with my wonderful husband and he was, as expected, amazing and accepting and supportive.
We discussed where. The US was not really on our radar since the cost would be higher there and we both have a high level of comfort with healthcare around the world. We considered Türkiye, we’d been there last April and felt that Istanbul or Izmir would be good places to stay for a few weeks. But Thailand rose to the top of the list because I read good things about experiences there, and we know and enjoy Bangkok. And we hadn’t been to Thailand for five years, and could work it into broader Asia travels. Thailand is well known for medical tourism, so you can find a lot of information on line.
I contacted a company called Medical Departures and was sent two quotes for two different hospitals and doctors. I choose Yanhee International Hospital because they specialize in cosmetic and plastic surgery, and because it is right next to an MRT line, the Blue Line. Yup, our desire to have good access to public transit does influence all our decisions. I was able to research the Doctor on line and got a sense of his level of experience and how many of these types of surgeries he had preformed. I arranged two appointments, a consultation and an actual surgery date. These were confirmed December 1, 2022, for January 19th for consultation and mammogram, and 20th for surgery.
We both agreed that if anything felt off, or if either of us wasn’t comfortable with the hospital or Doctor we’d hit the brakes. I didn’t share our plan with anyone- sorry good friends and family, I needed to be in my bubble about this and didn’t think I could handle any kind of reaction from my nearest and dearest. I have pledged to never do that again. Rich took the brunt of that decision since he had no one to support him. So, for anyone else considering this, consider your partner’s need for support versus your desire for privacy. We had each other for support, which was enough for us, for this decision.
The incredibly well staffed hospital was clearly signed with a specific check-in desk for international customers, and we were accompanied up to a waiting room and given a number. For our consultation appointment we did spend the usual amount of time waiting before meeting the doctor, and then a lot of time waiting to complete the blood draw, EKG, mammogram, ultrasound mammogram, and chest x-ray. We broke the cardinal rule of hospital visits – we failed to bring a phone charger. And snacks. We both felt a little shaken when at first the Doctor seemed to have no idea that we had booked a surgery date already, but then the international coordinator, a young man with a clipboard, showed up and all was well.
Six hours of tests, signing consent forms, paying with a credit card, waiting, and one lunch in the hospital cafe later, we were sent off with an appointment slip for the next day and instructions for me to neither eat nor drink anything after midnight.
I’m not sure international elective surgery is for everyone, you need a certain level of acceptance that you’re going to feel at a loss at times. When two nurses are chatting in Thai while trying and failing to get an IV in the back of your hand – that requires a strong belief that all will be well. Turns out I have small and deep veins in my hands so after 3 tries (yikes!), the very calm anesthesiologist whom I’d met the day before told me he would put the IV in my hand once I was under. Phew!
Not since I was a child with a fractured jaw have I been put under general anesthesia so I have no experience to compare this to. Was it what we in the US would consider usual? No idea. I breathed in through my mouth as instructed and woke up to a nurse gently patting my cheeks and saying Madam, Madam. It was three or four hours later and when they rolled me back to my room there was my husband. What a welcome sight. I’m sure he has more to say about what it’s like to be the one waiting for surgery to be over, but I will be forever grateful for his support and planning skills and calm manner.
Apparently in the US this surgery is sometimes accompanied by an overnight stay in the hospital, sometimes a same day discharge, but at this hospital they planned for a three night stay. I asked for a two night stay after the first night, since all seemed to be going well, and the Doctor agreed.
We’ve just returned from the first follow up appointment where some of the stitches were removed and the dressings changed. We will have one more follow appointment in five days where the final stitches will be removed and off we’ll go to our next adventure.
One final thought, I’ve been grateful to be strong and healthy for so long. Able to do everything I want to do – bicycle tour, hike long distances, travel with Rich, enjoy family and friends – now I look forward to doing everything I do with a bit more comfort. As I was signing consent forms the day before surgery the lovely Thai nurse, dressed as all female staff were in fitted lavender skirts and jackets, with matching nurse hats, said “Madam, this is consent form for breast reduction.“ she broke from form for a moment and sighed, and gestured to her own chest, “And god has not given me enough.” So many of us have complicated relationships with our bodies. I’m glad to have been able to make mine a bit less complicated.