A Double Mastectomy Convinced Me to Stop Bad-Mouthing My Body

It is a Sunday, four days after my double mastectomy and three weeks after finishing six rounds of chemotherapy. I am standing in front of my bathroom mirror, about to look at the surgery site for the first time. I take off the surgical bra and see two large, rectangular bandages. I pinch their corners and breathe in, then out. I pull them off.

I stare at the terrain of my chest. There are two wide, horizontal incisions. Bruising. Swelling. There are two hard, breast-like mounds, which are temporary implants partially filled with saline and supported by a substance called AlloDerm, molded beneath my skin.

I stare.

I remember four days ago, when I took a shower the morning of my surgery and looked down at the breasts I'd complained about because they'd shrunk and lost volume after feeding two babies. I wish I'd appreciated that they were symmetrical and unmarred and natural, instead of calling them pancakes.

I think about how often I have bad-mouthed my body -- out loud, inside my head, with my actions. Oh, if I had known.

If I had known.

I wouldn't have hated my bunions, or cursed my cellulite. I wouldn't have resented my younger self for spending too much time in the sun, resulting in wrinkles. I wouldn't have wasted so much time sucking in my belly that pops out, or scrutinizing my upper thighs in every pair of pants.

I wouldn't have called my breasts pancakes.

The funny thing is, I knew better. We all do. We know that the "ideal body," against which we are taught to measure our own, is a manufactured falsehood. We know that real women have cellulite and wrinkles and body parts that stick out. We know that few natural breasts stand up by themselves. Yet I still saw these things as flaws. Judging and criticizing my body had become ingrained as a nearly automatic process.

I lean forward against the sink this post-surgery Sunday, bald, breastless and bony, with drain tubes dangling from my sides. Part of me wants to hate what I see. What I feel, instead, is deep compassion for my body. I feel remorse for bad-mouthing it all these years when it has served me in extraordinary ways. It has grown, birthed and fed two babies. Walked, laughed and slept in dozens of gorgeous places on this planet. Hugged others, held many hands, served as a place of comfort and safety for my kids. Tolerated chemotherapy. Delivered me from the trauma of major surgery. Carried me, from my bed each morning and back to it again at night, for 37 years.

What a wonder, this body.

I make a promise.

No more judgement. I say.

I don't know it yet, but it is a promise I will keep. It is one of those moments in life where there is a clear demarcation: Before I lost my breasts, and after.

After, I will watch the process of reconstruction and I will be so amazed by the work of art my plastic surgeon is performing that I will not pay attention to the scars. I will be so excited by new hair sprouting that I will show it off even though it is mostly grey. I will still rub anti-wrinkle cream around my eyes, but I will be looking less at the wrinkles and more at the eyes. I will not care, at all, about cellulite when I am paying attention to the feeling of my feet on the ground. Any time the old voice creeps up, wanting to criticize, I will reroute it, and thank my body for carrying me from my bed each morning and back to it again at night.

What a wonder that really is.