I raised my arms and felt the tight squeeze of the measuring tape pull across my sides.
“40 B,” she said. “Well, actually, more like 40 A, but, um…”
I could tell she was trying to protect my feelings. When I walked into the specialty bra store, the sales woman looked up. Judging by how happy she was that I — or anyone — had walked in, I’m guessing she hadn’t seen a single visitor for at least an hour.
“Hi, I’m Liza. I just had a mastectomy a few weeks ago, and I’m here to try and find a bra for the very first time.” For the past 8 weeks, I have been confined to hospital grade compression bras, sports bras that had become stretched out from me stepping into them and pulling them over my hips, and a specialty mastectomy zip-up bra that I had splurged on at about 4 weeks post-op.
I have been growing tired of these strange pieces of cloth and really wanted to buy a new bra — something I haven’t done in over 3 years (I was wearing maternity bras, then nursing bras, then didn’t want to buy any new bras prior to surgery).
“So, the bras without any underwire are over there,” she pointed to the tiny small section that took up about 1/1000th of the store. “You should be able to find something there.”
I nearly skipped my way over to the selection of bras. Though the sales woman apologized for the limited selection, I was thrilled just look at anything that didn’t involve velcro and 4″ shoulder straps. I grabbed a half dozen cute bras, made my way over to the dressing room, and excitedly began my fitting adventure!
“Eww” and “Sigh” and “Crap” soon replaced my feelings of joy and excitement. Nothing fit. Either the band was too tight or too loose; the cups were too tight or too loose; or the shoulder straps felt like they were pinching my awkwardly numb body.
The surgery changed my boobs; it didn’t change my body. So, while my cup size shrunk significantly due to scarring and small implants, my actual body is still that of a plus-sized woman. Lately, I’ve been regretting not going through the expanders process.
In the dressing room, humility replaced excitement. Embarrassment replaced joy. Depression soon replaced glee.
Frankly, I’m not sure how long I stood in that dressing room. I truly have no idea how much time had passed. Before my mastectomy, my bra size was completely predictable. Everything fit. Everything felt good. Everything worked.
Today, for the first time, as I tried to fit my old life onto my new body, I was smacked with the reality that I had a new reality.
I grabbed my bag, threw on my winter coat, and opened the dressing room door.
“How’d you do?” she said with a smile.
“I’m sorry. They just didn’t seem to fit.”
I wasn’t talking about the bras.
Refusing to quit, I walked out of the store and into the 32 degree air. Breathe, Liza.
I walked to the next specialty store and immediately went to the section of wire free bras, grabbing another half dozen in my new size.
“Can I help you find anything?” the sales woman asked.
“I’m all set … Just had a mastectomy…. Need some bras …. I’ll start with these,” I said quickly. It hurt just to say those words.
On my way to the dressing room, I flashed a smile — a feeble attempt at massaging my rudeness — and entered into a dressing room near her register.
Same shit. Different store.
“Knock knock,” sang the sales woman. “Everything okay in there? How do they fit?”
I opened the door.
It was impossible to hide the tears that had soaked the top of my sweater. Impossible to hide the wetness of my sleeves where I had tried to wipe my face. The redness of my face matched the padded bra hanging on the wall behind me.
“I’m just … I’m just … I’m so different. I just don’t fit in,” was all I could muster. I tried my best to smile, embarrassed at my breakdown in front of this total stranger.
The next half dozen — a mix of comfort bras, padded bras, bras that lifted, and bras that covered — didn’t fit either. Cups were too big; bands were too small. Bands were too big; cups were too small. Because my implants are so tight (they don’t move around like my natural breasts), it’s impossible to move or lift them in any way.
She thought she was being helpful.
“Here, try this neat little doo-dad. It’ll help fill out the cups that are too big.” She handed me a squishy device and I felt my afternoon coffee come back into my throat. I’ve been watching television shows with zombies lately, and I felt like I had just been given a severed hand.
“Yeah, I … no. No thanks. I’m not interested in having silicone on the inside AND the outside.” As if they were two ends of a magnet, the silicone in my body wouldn’t allow the silicone in my hand to come any closer.
After nearly an hour, I settled on a bra that felt the most comfortable — cotton, soft, and eerily resembling the bras I’ve been relegated to for the past 8 weeks. Already comfortable with her seeing my breasts and stretch marks, the sales woman and I were standing side by side and staring in the mirror.
“I mean, you look fine in a shirt. Even though the bra doesn’t look perfect, you look fine in a shirt.” She was trying to make me feel better. I was spiraling down the toilet.
“I know. I know. I’m thankful to be alive,” was all I could say to ease the discomfort we were both feeling. “What’s the big deal about a bra when I could have gotten cancer, right?”
I selected the least of the few dozen evils and asked the sales woman if she could grab me the bra in a few other colors while I got dressed.
I paid for my new bras — the ones that look good when I have on a shirt, sweater, and a bullet proof vest — and walked out the door. I inhaled the 32 degree air, found my way to my car, opened the door, threw the bags inside, sank into my seat and thumped my head against the wheel. I cried. Sobbed. Pissed off that I was feeling so strongly about something so stupid; angry that I wasn’t letting myself just be upset. Not letting myself grieve, mourn. Mourn decisions that were once so easy. Grieve for the loss of the familiar, of my body, and of my new reality.
“Stop feeling bad about feeling bad,” said my sister, Mary, who I called once I stopped heaving. “Yeah, fine, you’re alive, you didn’t get cancer, blah blah blah. But, Liza, c’mon, you lost a piece of your body, and today, in an effort to move on, you moved right in. You moved right into the very middle of the pain. So, while you’re in here — cry. Mourn. Grieve.”
Some days, you just want to fit in.
Peace, love, and wondering if I’ll ever take the bras out of the car,