Twenty-one days after my reproductive organs were yanked through my birth canal, I accidentally went wedding dress shopping.
I don’t recommend this.
I don’t recommend any kind of shopping three weeks post surgery, unless you traverse said shopping emporium by way of velvet-lined, pillow-packed coach and are accompanied by people who fetch what you want and bring it to you. Bonus points if they pay for it, too.
I especially don’t recommend jamming yourself into couture created by camouflaging cinching corsets with swaths of satin and silk that some commission-currying consultant will clamp so snugly to your corpus you can’t cough, all to show you how to look like a million skinny bucks.
The memories make me swoony, and not from a case of romantic vapors. I can’t breathe just remembering how I couldn’t breathe…and how much it hurt.
A radical hysterectomy and double oophorectomy render the belly more than tender. The discussion boards and informational articles over on Hyster Sisters call it swelly belly: post-op inflammation and tenderness that can last for a few weeks or a few months. Add to it GI inflammation from getting glutened and forget putting on anything other than a gunny sack, unless you love to hurt.
I tried explaining this to my friend who said we needed to treat ourselves by shopping. I said it wouldn’t be a treat; it would be torture. Not to be dissuaded, she came over and insisted I go. We went.
(Do you have friends like that? Ones who think they’re doing you a favor by pushing you out the door when you don’t feel well, who ignore your protestations and say whatever they want you to do will be good for you when you know it won’t be good for you? It’s tough to handle, especially when you’re longing to be normal and normal activity like wedding gown shopping sounds so normally wonderful. Still, the blame’s on me for not standing up for myself. I am responsible for my well being.)
We went to Carrie’s Bridal Collection, an independent shop nearby. Everything is off-the-rack and under $1,000. Yup, less than $1k.
“We’ll just look,” my friend said.
The fashion consultant was so nice and helpful, explaining how to peruse the racks, which were packed with gowns in all styles and sizes. I didn’t expect to find much in a size 2 but we fittingly found 2 plus 3 more in either 4 or 6 that hit most of my preferences.
“You have to try them on!” my friend insisted.
So much for just looking.
Okay, I was a little excited about trying on at least one. Standing nearly naked in the dressing room, however, those four incisions looked rather angry. I whispered, “Sorry,” to them and the rest of my swollen belly before wriggling into the first dress: a size 2 cross between a fit-and-flare and an A-line. It wasn’t too bad until the consultant zipped it.
I gingerly stepped onto the little stage and looked at myself in the three-way mirror. From three different angles I saw myself laced with pain. How I would survive five hours in this sheath without passing out? No go.
The next dress swallowed me in swaths of tulle. The third dress my friend loved but by this time, I was feeling faint and curtly nixed it. She urged me to try one more and then we’d go.
It was a size 6 but it had everything on my wish list. I put in on, which wasn’t easy. The pushing and pulling added to the pain but once I had the dress on and looked at myself in the mirror, I forgot the pain.
I stepped out of the dressing room so the consultant could zip me.
When I looked at myself in the three-way mirror, I felt what I’d always heard people say I would feel when I found the right dress. I felt beautiful. I felt radiant.
I felt like a bride.
And I didn’t feel as much pain in this dress as I had in the others. Maybe getting a larger dress was the way to go. It could be tailored just enough to fit but not constrict. What a concept!
Usually size-bound (when you won’t buy something that looks awesome on you because the label has a number higher than the one you’ve chosen for yourself), I unbound myself and bought the dreamy dress.
Carrie, the shop owner, gave me a long satin sash and a beautiful brooch so we could make a belt for the dress because I hated the sewn-on beading. I have big, big love for Carrie.
The seamstress Carrie recommended, Melissa, amazed me. I insisted on having room to swell so Melissa cut the length of the bodice and joined it to the skirt in a way that flattered my figure by skimming my hips without crushing my abdomen. The open back gave me extra breathing room and prevented the bodice from constricting my abdomen, an unexpected yet daring bonus.
Because that backless design forbade bra-wearing, Melissa sewed cups into the bodice and she took tiny darts in the back of the cap sleeves so it would stay in place.
Melissa even made the belt I wanted and did it in a way that accentuated the waist without cutting or binding me.
On my wedding day, 4 1/2 months after surgery, I felt comfortable as well as beautiful. I felt comfortable even though my belly wasn’t completely healed, even though I still had inflammation.
They say women have to suffer for fashion, but that’s hogwash. One’s wedding day is too special to suffer. The pain will show, marring the flawless face you spent $200 getting airbrushed (my teen niece and honorary niece did my makeup.
If you’re like me and your gut swells, either from a GI disease like celiac or from surgery like a hysterectomy, forget the labels and dress for comfort. The look of relief is beautifully priceless.