A happy face and the sudden burst of laughter cannot reveal the pain Shiva Shukla suffered as a teenager when she suffered from gigantomastia, a rare condition where women develop extremely large breasts. Fighting the curious and demeaning male gaze throughout her growing years, fighting taboos at home, being ashamed of her body for its unique condition, proving herself to be a fit cabin crew in an airline and becoming eventually a mother, she decided that she would not bear the burden of her physical and mental problems. So she opted for breast reduction surgery and is finally learning to live light and breathe freely.
Dealing with anxiety: “I had pain in my shoulders and back”
As a teenager, Shiva was barely aware of her body, but the unwanted gaze of men and women affected her. Unlike a normal teenage girl, she wouldn’t wear tight fashionable clothes as they might attract unwanted attention.
This was the time when Shiva’s confidence in his body began to corrode and a self-consciousness crept into his mind, affecting his social behavior. Meanwhile, his physical pain increased as his shoulders hurt. “Before, I had pain in my shoulders, back and neck because of the heaviness in my chest, but I saw them as stress. My body was disproportionate with my thin legs, hands and face,” she says.
Currently a resident of Vasant Kunj in Delhi, Shiva, 29, belongs to Lucknow. Growing up in a traditional household meant that discussing private parts was taboo, even with family and friends. “Sometimes I tried to share my ordeal with my mother. I told her about the constant pain in my neck and back that had become droopy under the weight of my large breasts but no one paid attention or considered it a discomfort. Rather no one wanted to listen to me because it was a big deal to discuss someone’s boobs. Not only that, most family members would tell me that I should consider myself lucky as I had been generously endowed. “How can big breasts become a problem? You should consider yourself lucky,” they told me, Shiva said.
What is gigantomastia? “I cried in the bathroom”
Gigantomastia or breast enlargement is a rare condition that involves the development of extremely large breasts due to excessive growth of breast tissue. “It’s usually genetic. My mum and aunts also have big boobs, but they’ve been compensated by fat in other parts of their bodies. I’ve been told to exercise regularly and keep my body in shape,” explains Shiva.
With age and hormonal changes, her condition worsened as her breasts grew disproportionately large. She was unable to understand its condition due to its rarity and low prevalence. “The trauma of my steep chest size dogged me and by the time I was in my twenties my condition became more serious. I often cried in my bathroom and hated my body. didn’t help. Cycling, high intensity training, physiotherapy, I tried everything but nothing worked for me. The excess buildup of tissue in my breasts just wouldn’t go away,” Shiva recalled.
A trip to Guwahati and a lesson learned: “Can I breastfeed my child?”
Shiva would not give up on his dreams though. After graduating, she began training as a cabin crew and was recruited by a private airline. Traveling to different places has brought her joy and confidence. Moreover, she was able to meet her childhood sweetheart, who never abandoned her and eventually married her, in Guwahati, where he was stationed.
It was during such a trip in 2017 that he observed that she was in a lot of physical pain and recommended that she see a doctor for a breast exam. “He is an avid reader and came across an article about breast reduction surgeries. He told me that many women in the United States had undergone similar procedures. Excited about the idea, we met the same day a doctor in Guwahati who told us that surgery would help reduce the size of my breasts, but it could also hinder lactation if I ever had a child,” she explains.
This posed a moral dilemma. Should Shiva jeopardize her motherhood or prioritize her own body? “When I got home I was eager to plan my surgery and I shared that thought with my mother who immediately declined. As a nurse she knew the complications that could arise with my motherhood including including breastfeeding. I didn’t say much at the time, but I continued to meet with doctors in silence,” she adds. But the doctors also warned her of her inability to breastfeed her child.
“In 2018, I decided to marry the man of my dreams. We settled in Guwahati. Life was very peaceful but I kept thinking about the idea of an operation,” says She got pregnant and luckily her husband was posted to Delhi in 2019.
Postpartum trauma: “Breastfeeding worsened my condition”
After giving birth to her baby in 2020, her body changed dramatically with her breasts almost touching her navel. Shiva says her shoulder joints were freezing, she developed cervical spondylitis and was unable to hold her own baby due to the size of her breasts. She would be exhausted and couldn’t even find a supportive bra. “There were hardly any stores that provided me with the right kind of underwear,” says Shiva.
Earlier this year, she decided to have surgery and in July met Dr. Rakesh Khajanchi, Chairman of Plastic, Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery at Medanta, Gurgaon.
Dr. Khajanchi was the voice of comfort she had always wanted to hear. He told her that if she intended to become a mother again, he would give medicine to stop the lactation.
The total cost of the surgery was Rs 2.5 lakh. “My husband’s company initially said they would not cover this operation under the health insurance provided to him. Then the doctor showed my medical papers which indicated that over 450 grams of tissue needed to be removed from my body. They agreed to pay,” she said.
Husband and mother became a pillar of support: ‘The operation took away my aches and pains’
While his father never intervened in these matters, Shiva’s mother kept asking him not to pursue the operation.
“But she came with me and my husband. When the doctors marked my breasts to prepare for the reduction, my mother saw me naked and was shocked. She finally realized how serious the problem was,” says Shiva.
The operation lasted four hours. And about 1.5 kg of tissue was extracted from each breast.
When she woke up, a sharp pain went through her body but she was relieved that it was over. She knew things would only be better for her here. “They had cut out a significant portion of both breasts. They had separated the nipples which they sewed up after extracting the fabric. I was released in three days, but it took me 15 days to recover,” says Shiva.
Her husband, her mother and the three-year-old child helped her bathe, clean herself and disinfect her scars.
“The scars are barely visible now and I’m very relieved. My shoulders are relieved. My back doesn’t hurt anymore and I’m now trying to get into yoga for better posture,” she says.
Shiva says a number of women are going through the same problem but don’t come forward to talk about it. “It’s a new beginning for me. I breathe easy thinking that I can wear whatever clothes I want and live a better life,” she adds. She is now fit and ready to take on the world.