I was diagnosed with Poland Syndrome at age 8.

With precocious puberty, I was already on edge about how my body was developing, so when I noticed my breasts beginning to differ by multiple cup sizes with no end in sight, it really affected my ability to view myself positively.

By the age of 10, one breast was barely an A cup while the other was a D. I never experienced a normal shopping trip, or getting ready in the gym with my peers, or even simple things as swimming (especially being a Michigan girl born on the water).

I still remember the time I went shopping at Macy’s for the upcoming 8th grade school year, trying on hundreds of shirts with multiple patterns to hide my missing breast, and then looking at myself and blurting out; “I’m ugly. I’m only half a woman.”

That began my long journey through school, hiding myself, believing I wasn’t worthy of love or acceptance. Even when getting into short relationships in my high school years, I was terrified of being found out as different or rumoured as a freak.

While school was hard to navigate, it was no match to the endless hurdles with health insurance to be approved for prosthetics and bras. An all-male board found that I only needed TWO prosthetic bras a year, through which I responded as a middle schooler that if I was deemed to only be allowed two bras for a year, then all board members should only be permitted to have two pairs of underwear a year. In short, I got more bras.

But, these small victories were completely overshadowed by the endless denials from our insurance provided to cover the necessary surgery to give me a full breast, as well as fixing defects in the larger breast.

After 9 years of fighting to get approval, a year before graduation I was approved for tissue expanders. This was the first glimpse of normalcy for me, and I found it cathartic to go into my expander appointments since I felt that the end was in sight. But even after thinking we crossed the last hurdle, insurance once again tries to throw another curveball….

The day of surgery to get my tissue expanders removed and a breast implant put in place, the insurance company did not send out approval. As I was being wheeled away, my family as well as The University of Michigan did not know if this would be approved or not, and if the burden of payment would fall on our family or the university.

My surgical team had to go into my surgery not knowing if they would ever get paid, thus why a few members dropped out and we had to scramble to get other medical doctors to donate their time to fill the operating team. Even then, my parents had to pull from their retirement to help me get this surgery; I am forever thankful for their sacrifice not only for this moment but the years of support they gave me during this struggle.

It has now been more than 7 years since the time I helped document Poland syndrome at The University of Michigan and received my breast reconstruction surgery. I am a much more confident woman, and realize that the struggles that I faced in my youth have made me a much more compassionate and understanding person as an adult. In this time I already have alleviated the weight of not having a breast on one side naturally; I’m actually am happy with my condition and realize it doesn’t affect my beauty nor my worth. I am beautiful woman – whether it be with breasts, no breasts, or just one.

Written by Carrie for PIP-UK