Veronica had her top surgery on Monday. It has been an incredibly emotional week-and-a-half for her. She’d waited for the surgery for a long time and at one point, she wasn’t sure it was going to be possible for months or even years more. The results of the surgery — even though she still has a little bruising and some swelling — have brought her to joyful tears. It’s a huge step: seeing her chest without its prosthetics was a major dysphoria trigger. She’s even referred to it as the first significant step for her transition.*
Naturally, it has also been an incredibly emotional week-and-a-half for me. Surgery is always somewhat scary, no matter how routine the procedure, how many times the surgical team have performed it, or how short the operation. I was also excited to see her joy, nervous that the results might not match her deep-rooted desires, and worried if I’d be physically up to supporting her through her recovery. Now, I’m relieved, happy, joyful, and slightly nervous (recovery period nerves!).
We arrived at the clinic (see below) at 9 a.m. and Veronica went in for prep about ten minutes later. The surgeon let me know everything went well at 2 p.m., and she was cleared to go home just before 5 p.m. The clinic quite rightly believes in strict privacy for patients, so there are no visitors allowed in the recovery area. Therefore, it was a long day in the waiting room for me and my amazingly supportive mother, who drove us up and home — and made sure I stayed level-headed all day.
Doctor’s and hospital waiting rooms are part of family life. People go to appointments with their partners, children, parents and even siblings and friends for all sorts of reasons. I find waiting to be a very emotionally charged experience, especially in the case of surgery. I generally distract myself with work for as long as my laptop battery lasts and then try to read.
But this time was different because this was my first experience of waiting for a life-changing surgery to be over. Having someone there to re-direct my thoughts away from “what if?” was absolutely necessary. I highly recommend having someone else there or at least on call to any transperson’s partner, family member or friend who’s got that waiting room feeling. The weight of those emotions might need an extra pair of shoulders to bear.
The phrase “life-changing surgery” might sound like hyperbole if you’ve never known a trans or nonbinary person who had dysphoria that surgical intervention could fix. It’s not hyperbole — for a long time, I’ve watched the toll the mirror takes on Veronica and I could see it growing stronger. Dysphoria can be devastating.
If you ever find yourself trying to debate the necessity of surgery in those cases, then stop. Just stop. If your partner, child, sibling, parent or friend tells you they need surgery, don’t tell them they probably mean want instead of need; don’t ask if they’ve considered less invasive options (whatever that means); don’t bring up your opinions on “plastic” surgery. Be supportive. Let them lead the conversation.
When the time comes, be ready to bear those waiting room emotions because that’s part of your story as a trans person’s ally. It’ll be a tough day, but it is so worth it.
*We both really want to emphasize that this is her experience of it. Not every transperson sees top surgery as necessary, let alone as the first significant step. Everyone’s journey is different — and that’s a beautiful thing.
The clinic: Veronica had her top surgery at the main private hospital of Auralia, a major Irish private clinic specializing in cosmetic, weight loss and gynecological and fertility treatments and surgeries. Although their website does not have any information about surgeries for trans and nonbinary people**, they have performed top surgery for several trans women. The surgeon was very knowledgeable about the latest research on breast implants. The reception staff and surgeon treated Veronica exactly as they should — as a woman getting breast augmentation — in the initial call, at the consultation, on the day of surgery, and in follow-up calls.
**A topic for another post: there are no clinics or hospitals in Ireland that mention surgeries for trans and nonbinary people on their websites.