Felicia Mitchell is a poet and writer who makes her home in southwestern Virginia, where she teaches at Emory & Henry College. She was diagnosed with Stage 2b HER2-positive breast cancer in 2010. Website: www.feliciamitchell.net
I am the first to admit that I have a love-hate relationship with breast forms post-mastectomy. Every now and then, I do put one on. It comforts me to know that there are multiple options (especially for women who wear them regularly).
At first, it stays in the bag with its twin, this knitted breast form gifted to me on the day of my annual mammogram by a kind technician on behalf of a kind knitter.
A knitter and a survivor, I know about these "knockers". But I am skeptical. For one thing, I am not so sure about the name. I prefer clinical names to slang terms, especially for human breasts. Reserving judgment, I spend more time than I need to trying to figure out if wearing something called a "knocker" will negate decades of feminist word choices.
Second, rarely wearing any prosthesis, I prefer going au naturel. Even when I don one, the fashion choice might last ten minutes. With effort, I may manage to wear a prosthetic form for a few hours for dress-up, the way a child might stuff her bra. Sometimes it is fun to put on a form-fitting gold sweater that shimmers. Sometimes I like to look like I am my own Barbie doll. Even so, that always feels a little bit like a lie.
But, third, prosthetic breasts are not easy to wear. The loosest of bras can feel binding. The lightest of bra straps can hurt my right shoulder. Bras aside, the forms are not easy, either. Along with knitted forms, I own two clinical forms—one that should work well (but does not) and one that is too small (which I bought because my original breast was smaller than the other). Neither of these forms is the perfect size or texture. One day, I have vowed for a few years, I may get a prescription to try a newer hybrid form. I’m in no hurry.
Meanwhile, I also have a serviceable and inexpensive beanbag prosthesis. I like this one well enough, except for the fact that it shape-shifts. If I leave the house with the microbead form, I blend in for about two minutes. Within an hour, the form has rebelled. It wants to be a neck wattle, or else it thinks a breast should be shaped more like a bird nest than a volcano. Wearing this form is a lesson in humility. It screams, "Vanity is for the birds!" No worries. I like it well enough and just adjust myself often—discreetly, if I can.
You get the idea. I am not the ideal candidate for a set of "knitted knockers". Even though I am polite and accept the gift, at the same time I felt guilty because I wear a prosthesis so rarely. Plus, I know how to knit. They are just so pretty, pink and brown and delicately formed with the echo of a nipple. They seem to soften the stress of the mammogram because a whole lot of tender care went into fabricating them. I do offer to take just one.
Cynical, I peek in the bag now and then for a few months, trying to decide if I should try one out. One day, I take one out of the bag and hold it up against my chest. It is perky—far too perky. While it is technically my size, size is relative. Breasts sit on the torso in different ways. Fortunately, this “booblet” (my preferred name for the knocker) comes stuffed with a fluffy fiber that I can pull out with my fingers if I loosen a delicate drawstring.
I pull and pull, trying to turn my perky knitted form into a more relaxed form suitable for a woman claiming senior citizenship. I want something that looks a little like my remaining breast, which has shifted away from my heart towards my underarm over these past years. I try the form on with a sports bra for about two minutes. Nope. It goes back into the bag.
Then one day I wake up with a new resolve. What if, in the comfort of my own home, I try to see how long I can go with the prosthetic form inside a loose bra with relatively comfortable straps— without ripping the bra off my body? And you know what? It works. After a few hours, I leave the house to run some errands. I am not wearing a gold sparkly sweater, but I feel like a million dollars anyway.
An unexpected side-effect of this experiment is noticeably better posture. I hold my shoulders in a manner that makes the bra straps feel more comfortable. The biggest surprise, though, is that I decide that I do not feel like a lie.
Learn more about the "knitted knockers" charity: