Why I Got Breast Implants — And Then Had Them Removed

Photo: Courtesy of Stephanie March.
This is a story with a happy ending. It has a normal enough beginning. A scary middle part wherein the heroine thinks it’s all over. But, remarkably, it’s all okay — great, even — in the end.

Three years ago, I embarked on an unwanted, and partially unwarranted, odyssey through hospital corridors, doctors’ offices, and all the first-aid aisles of seemingly all the Duane Reade pharmacies in New York City. It started when my appendix burst in October of 2013. It continued with a late-night emergency appendectomy surgery in November, surgery for my endometriosis in December, and elective surgery for a breast augmentation in August of the following year. That last one was the one that brought me to my knees.

Before I go any further, I want to say clearly and truly that I have no problem with plastic surgery. None whatsoever. It’s a private matter. It’s nobody’s business. It often turns out just fine. And I fully anticipate my revisiting it in the years to come, if I’m being honest.

But I now know that my decision to have a breast augmentation in 2014 was the wrong decision, for so many reasons. I was 39 years old, and my life was disintegrating. Couldn’t get a job I wanted on camera, couldn’t get attention for my production projects, couldn’t travel the world far enough or fast enough or immerse myself in philanthropy enough to make it all go away. It was like watching a glacier cleave into giant chunks: massive and seemingly well beyond my control. See, the other thing that was happening was that my marriage of nearly 10 years (and 14 together) was falling apart. And nothing, nothing was helping me cope. Not therapy, not patience, not wine-soaked dinners with friends where I “got it all out.” Great spidery cracks widened over time. Boom. Boom. Boom.

I could not fix it — any of it. My job. My relationship. My life. Not a damn thing. But not being one to sit on a problem (after all, as Joan Baez said, “Action is the antidote to despair”), I decided to try one last thing. And what I did next was exactly what you are not supposed to do when it comes to plastic surgery. I decided to change my body because I couldn’t change my life. The previous health issues and surgeries had left their mark, and I was down about 15 pounds. Down and sad and tired. You know what doesn’t look so great when that happens? Your breasts.

Let me tell you a little something about nice breasts. If you have the time and the money, you can buy them. How remarkable is that? Thanks, Science! Bingo. That’s what I was going to do. Get a little boost. (Believe me, it has not escaped my attention how convoluted is the logic that I wanted surgery to make me feel better about prior surgeries.)

In retrospect, there were signals that this might not be the right path for me. Every implant I tried on seemed alien, too large. I didn’t feel ready to throw away my pretty bras. I worried that I’d look top-heavy. But I ignored the signs and soldiered on.

In retrospect, there were signals that this might not be the right path for me.

Much to the bewilderment of my friends, my family, and my soon-to-be-ex-husband, in August of 2014 I got a breast augmentation. One of my best friends, who happens to be a doctor, picked me up from the surgery. “What’s the point of having a gay doctor bestie if he can’t help you with your boob job?” he asked. I went home, took some Percocet, reclined upright, and waited for the perfection to set in. And it did. In 5 weeks I looked darn good. Skinny from my misery. Nice breasts from my wallet. My life may have been falling apart, but this? This was pretty good.

That is, until one morning in early October when I sat up in bed and felt a sickening wet mucus sliding down my chest. It was everywhere, soaking my shirt and the sheets. My right implant was infected and the seams of the scar on my right breast had burst. I raced to my surgeon’s office. He shot me full of anesthesia, deftly removed the entire implant, cleaned and packed the wound, and immediately sent me to an infectious disease doctor.

I had a hole in my breast for 6 weeks while I blasted my body with antibiotics. I had the implant put back in. I had another infection and rupture on Christmas Eve. I had it taken out again. I had more cultures and tests and conversations with doctors than I care to recall.

All of them came to the same conclusion: My surgeon was, and is, a superlative doctor and a conscientious practitioner. His work and operating theater are immaculate. The problem wasn’t something anyone could have prevented or predicted — it was that I am allergic to implants. Plain and simple. My body did. Not. Want. Them. I kept trying to “fix” my body, and it kept telling me to leave it alone. I’ve since learned that breast implant complications and adverse outcomes, like the one I experienced, occur in at least 1% of breast implant patients, according to the FDA.

In April, after so much back and forth and so many pieces of gauze and soft bras and waiting to operate until the infections cleared up and not being able to use my arms properly, my surgeon looked at me and gently said, “I want you to have what you want. I want you to be happy. But the universe is talking to you. I think you should listen.”

By this point, my marriage had completely tanked, it was all over the tabloids, and my mother had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and moved in with me for her treatment. It was time to move on and deal with my life. I said, “Enough of this. I have other things to worry about. Take them out. I’m done with this project.”

The day of the final surgery arrived, and before I went under, I spent a few moments catching up with my surgeon. I told him I was getting a divorce and nervously joked, “New people are going to see these for the first time in years. You have to make them look good.” He smiled very kindly and said, “Don’t worry. You never needed me for that.”

I have accepted this episode as a part of my larger story. And I refuse to be ashamed of it.

Today, just over a year has passed, and I know now more than ever that my surgeon was right. My mother’s treatment has concluded. Her scans look good. I expanded my business. I said goodbye to my home of 10 years and got a great new apartment. I traveled to Sri Lanka. I shot a very fun show with an absolutely hilarious and delightful group of people.

And yes, a new person has seen my breasts. It felt awkward at first: Those scars announce news about my medical history a little earlier than I might have wanted to share it. In an ideal world, I might have snuck subtle improvements in — done a little work here and there and passed it off as a God-given attribute. But in reality, my torso says, “I tried this thing and it didn’t work out.” He seems not to mind. In fact, he has been quite tender about it.

But finally, once and for all, this isn’t about what anyone else thinks. It really does not matter anymore. I have accepted this episode as a part of my larger story. And I refuse to be ashamed of it. I am taking back my body, my story, and myself in a bathing suit. Today, the scars are fading into fine white lines. My breasts are small, well proportioned, and just right for my body. Every day, the evidence of all that happened fades a little more, and my year of living terribly recedes into memory.

All that I had, all that I was, from the beginning, was all I needed to be. And now, I anticipate summer of 2016 with great joy. I will be poolside, beachside, and swimming — and perhaps, in a more daring moment (with a margarita nearby), I will be topless. I have nothing to hide.

Stephanie March is an actress noted for her sharply intelligent and sympathetic portrayals of a variety of female characters in television, film, and theater. She is best known for her role as ADA Alex Cabot on TV’s hit series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and most recently starred on Adult Swim’s Neon Joe. She has appeared on 30 Rock, Happy Endings, Rescue Me, Grey’s Anatomy, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, The Treatment, Predisposed, and Innocence and has been seen onstage in the critically acclaimed revivals of Death of a Salesman, Talk Radio, and Boys’ Life. March spends a significant amount of time traveling globally in her capacity as an activist for causes benefiting women and education. She is on the advisory board of OneKid OneWorld. She was on the board of directors of Safe Horizon for five years. She is the celebrity ambassador for the World of Children Award and an advocate for Planned Parenthood. In December of 2013, March founded Rouge New York with her business partner, Rebecca Perkins. Helping women celebrate their individual beauty is Rouge's mission. March is a graduate of Northwestern University.

More from Body