I'd always thought them enviably ample, the kind that my generation (growing up in austerity when it was easy to be skinny and my mother used to wear her bra over her vest in an attempt to pad herself out) would have been proud to own. And anyway, apart from a slight blip in the Twiggy era, I've more or less tolerated my body, whatever shape it's been.
But one day I made a mild joke about my daughter's generous breasts and she burst into tears and said she hated them. She couldn't get a decent swimsuit to contain the damn things. They were unbearably hot in summer, ruined the line of her clothes, put her off running and playing badminton and . . . she wanted smaller ones, she said.
Panicked by guilt (how could I have been so insensitive? why had I never realised?), I made all the right noises when she decided to see her GP about breast reduction. The GP, a saintly woman who presides over a hectic inner-city practice, didn't bat an eyelid. She just gave the breasts the once-over, said they were indeed a bit burdensome for a person of 5ft 3in, and that carting them around might eventually cause chronic back trouble. She dispatched my daughter to a surgeon, who agreed to put her on his list.
Eighteen months on, the fantasy is about to become reality. Next Thursday, the 34EE bosom will be cut down to size.
So why am I wide awake at 6am in a turmoil of apprehension, resentment and guilt? After all, they aren't my breasts; in fact I wouldn't turn them down if they were on offer, since my own, having succumbed to the passage of time, aren't what they were. I'm not the one who's going to wake from a two-and-a-half-hour operation with drains protruding from my tenderest parts, stitches in strategic places and repositioned nipples that will in future be for decoration only, no use for breastfeeding . . .
My daughter is no longer a child. She's 23, for goodness sake, has a profession and her own home and a lifestyle that sounds like a lot of fun, most of the time. Why can't I feel pleased for her that she took control and asserted her right to the body she wants?
In the first place, there's indignation. I brought her into the world, I gave her that body, dammit, and now she's sending it back, stamped imperfect. Is that the attitude of a grateful offspring? I was 13 when I noticed my thick ankles, I mourned the slender ones that I'd never have for a couple of hours, then I went and climbed a tree. I didn't go whinging to my mother about how she'd afflicted me with her lousy legs, she would have been offended. She might have made me do the washing up, which everyone knew was the corrective for brooding and self-pity.
And then there's the puritan bit of me that can't be quite reconciled to what feels like the sheer hedonism of it all. This operation: it's just cosmetic really. There are people born with cleft palates and bits of limbs and important internal bits missing. There are women losing breasts they like because of life-threatening disease.
It also all feels a bit like self-mutilation. Maybe I'm just too aware of portions of my family who grafted in mills, mines and factories and had enough to do keeping their bits and pieces intact. They would have thought interference with what God had bestowed on them downright sinful.
I know these are not rational objections, it's not even as though I passed on the offending breasts directly. If my daughter got them from anyone, it was probably my former mother-in-law. Objecting to cosmetic surgery because someone else has lost a leg is like making a full child finish its dinner because some other child across the world is going to bed hungry. And, of course, adults have a perfect right to do whatever they like with their own bodies, even the man down the road with tattoos on his forehead.
There are other things, though. There's the part of me that has never and would never volunteer for pain (unless you count getting pregnant). I did have my veins stripped once, in the days when surgeons were keen on that sort of thing. But only because they promised (they lied) that my legs wouldn't hurt any more.
There's the frankly horrified part of me that loved and protected the child my daughter was, that went to the proper lengths to ensure that she would suffer no unecessary physical pain, including days off school in avoidance of the annual cross- country. And now she's opting for something that's sure to hurt, and I can't even fall back on the ultimate good-mother feeling that I'd go through it for her if only I could - because I wouldn't.
I haven't said any of this to my daughter - to do so would be not only unmotherly but downright unsisterly. Instead, I've assured her that I'll be there when she comes round, and insisted she come and stay with me to recuperate because the hospital will turf her out after three days maximum.
I don't enjoy feeling like this, I'm appalled to find myself so grudging. I wish I could cheer at the thought that she's going to be liberated at last from her monstrous burden.
It isn't just my daughter's large breasts that are going, my image of myself as an unconditionally supportive mother is disappearing, too. And maybe any lingering illusions that I have the slightest control over anything she does. After all, deciding to change one's body shape is a pretty direct way of asserting autonomy, isn't it? Perhaps that is what's really hurting.Reuse content