• Melanie Renken


It's been a while. There's been some stuff. Actually, quite a bit of stuff when I think about it.

And now I'm sitting here with a shit ton of feelings that have been collecting, and festering, and building on each other until I feel like a gentle tap will make them POP.

Like a giant pimple. All over the mirror.

You are so welcome for that visual.

Point being, it's been a slow burn.

The last time I wrote something for this site, I was getting ready for my double mastectomy. So we'll pick up where we left off.

I did, indeed, have my boobs cut off. Thanks to COVID, it was outpatient surgery, so I woke up and had to immediately beat feet out of the hospital to open up a bed, despite being in the worst pain of my life (and between a near-fatal car accident and childbirth, I think I'm a pretty decent judge of pain). This was like seriously take-your-breath-away-holy-shit pain. And as much as I love nurses, mine must have been having a bad day. She simply pointed to my clothes and told me to change as soon as possible because they had already called Tom to pick me up. So I did what I do when I'm sad.

Or mad.

Or embarrassed.

Or scared.

I cried.

I really can't tell you where the tears came from. Of all the things I cry about, physical pain generally isn't one of them. I think it was part "What have I done?" with a little "Can you please just hold my hand for a few seconds and tell me it's going to get better?" thrown in there. Maybe a dash of "Did I really only schedule two weeks off for this?"

I'm happy to say that once I was home in my own bed, things got better. The pain became manageable, and friends and family showed me what true love looks like in action. I didn't give much thought at all to the fact I didn't have my boobs anymore. I knew in a few months, I would get new ones and be back to the old me by the start of 2021.

Except after that second surgery a few months later, I started the not-very-pleasant process of learning there wouldn't be a return to the same old me.

My first day back to work, I was told my compensation was being cut. By a lot. They said my (mostly unpaid) time out of the office had made them question whether my compensation was justified. And the answer to that question, they said, was "no."

Then came the drip . . .drip . . . drip of constant criticism. I took too deep of breaths on video calls. I wasn't good at explaining things. I didn't talk enough on group calls.

I apparently sucked at every.single.thing. I mean, I couldn't even breathe right? Seriously?

And I'll tell you what--I would have taken the pain of waking up with freshly sliced boobs any day of the week over the pain of having my confidence stripped. I have so many flaws. So many things I'm not confident about. But my work was the one area of my life where I had felt I was good enough. Better than good enough--I truly believed I was an outstanding lawyer.

Poof. That self-assuredness was gone.

Straight-A-scholarship-dean's-list-overachiever Melanie wasn't so smart after all. Wasn't so special. Was, in fact, a nuisance. Forget what actual quality lawyers had told me--Pretty Woman Vivian was spot-on:"The bad stuff's easier to believe."

So there was that. Complete loss of confidence in the one thing that actually made me confident.

And shame.

I had no idea where I was going or what I was going to do, but I knew there was no way that's where I was supposed to be.

And so began a summer of figuring out where to go from there. A summer of uncertainty and fear. Was there even a job out there I'd be good at? Was there a job I can once again be passionate about? And was there a job that's at least one of those things that will actually pay the bills? Am I just a prima donna who expects too much from a job and, regardless of whether I actually am, was everyone around me thinking that?

So there was that. Fear and total uncertainty.

And shame.

Luckily, I get to call three of the best women on earth my tribe, and we skipped town to head to the beach in the midst of all of this. And it was wonderful. Or at least they were wonderful. And the conversation was wonderful. And just being in their presence was wonderful.

Our first day there, we got ourselves all set up under our beach umbrellas and it was awesome and I couldn't wait to chill and read and talk and talk some more and maybe even nap.

Until I took off my cover-up and it was just my bikini and me.

All of the sudden, all I could see--and all I imagined others could see--were my big fake HELLO-THERE-HERE-WE-ARE boobs.

It's not like I'd ever been uber confident in my body (not that many women can be, in this airbrushed/cropped/filtered social media world of ours), but I'm not gonna lie--I've had a pretty decent bosom going for me since about tenth grade. I've never once judged a woman for choosing to have breast augmentation surgery, but I was pretty happy with what God gave me.

In that moment on the beach, though, I hated the new me. I just wanted my soft, natural, slightly saggy boobs (that could be lifted with a good underwire). I imagined everyone was staring at me and telling their friends to check out the chick with the horrendously fake rack.

I wish I could say that feeling was momentary, but I'm still feeling it. When I wear a tank top or a form-fitting shirt--the same clothes I wore before I got the replacement set--I feel like a phony. I want to walk up to random people and say, "yes, they're fake, but I had really good ones before, too!" And then I beat myself up for being so arrogant as to think anyone is actually looking at my chest--much less, judging it.

The other night, the rugrat was sitting next to me while we watched a movie when he started to lay his head on me. Except there was no way he could get comfortable because you can't possibly be comfortable with your head resting on top of a boulder. My chest, which at one time was the source of food, comfort, and simply . . . home . . . for my one and only kiddo was now just skin stretched over a couple of stiff lumps.

So there's that. Loss and total self-consciousness.

And shame.

But the reconstruction phase has for sure begun. And it's off to a helluva start.

I'm back to doing what I love. I'm at an amazing firm, working with the best of people (who are also the best of attorneys), arguing for a living. (Some call it litigation--tomato/tomahto.) I get paid to write and argue, and my goodness--could there be a better fit for me? It took me finding out where I most certainly didn't want to be to know where I truly belong.

(And I was right before: I'm great at what I do. So to hell with the bullies who made me believe otherwise.)

Regardless of a couple of new body parts, though, my heart is still my heart and there are times I wish it, too, was replaced with a bag of silicone. I sometimes (okay, most of the time) wish I couldn't feel my face flush and hear blood pound in my ears every time I make a mistake. I wish I didn't get so angry over CRT and book banning nonsense arguments. I wish I could just get over the pain and humiliation of being kicked out of the "cool moms" group shortly after writing each of them love letters telling them why they're awesome. I wish I could just stop feeling so freaking passionate about every damn thing, but inadequate at effecting any real change.

But I can't.

The only way to dull the bad feels is to dull everything--even the good feels--and I'm not willing to go back there. I find myself imagining how a few drinks could take the edge off, but I think it through and remember that my fantasy of what drinking will do isn't reality. Reality for me would be drinking way more than a few and waking up like I did too many times to count: full of anxiety, shame, and a self-loathing so deep I wanted to scratch my skin off.

No thanks.

Still feeling. Still loving. Still sober.

So there's that.


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