Body image seems to fluctuate—at least it has for me. When I was younger, I was ashamed of my boobs, which erupted from my chest in the sixth grade. (People thought I was this busty adult woman when I was 12.) By high school, I was convinced I was overweight, probably because my sister was rail thin, yet she obsessed about losing weight.

Oddly enough, I was pretty happy with my body in college. I accepted that I wasn’t perfect and began dressing to suit my shape. Of course, after college, I had my dirty dance with Fen-Phen, and, honestly, that was probably when I felt the best about my body. I was very thin but maintained the “ladies.” Sure, the crazed look in my eye was a negative, but, really, most men weren’t looking me in the eye, so it all worked out. Until the FDA stepped in, anyway.

By the time I got married, I didn’t spend much time thinking about my body. I wasn’t fit and trim, but it worked for me. That changed after I had my first child. My boobs started to drop, and a spare tire appeared around my waist. There had always been a hint of the tire, but it came out in full force during pregnancy, and it never really went away. The skin was loose, and it just looked bad. My hips also spread, so, you know, it was good times. I knew I wanted to have another kid, so I didn’t turn to plastic surgery right away. I trained for triathlons and managed to get back some of my shape by working out.

But the damage increased after my son was born three years later. More spare tire, more clinically depressed boobs, and just an overall doughiness that I had never seen on myself before. I had never been a faithful exerciser, but somehow I had always managed to look decent. Now I looked squishy.

Again, I turned to exercise. I trained for a half marathon. I hired a trainer—the whole nine. So I was running longer distances, doing sprints and hills, lifting weights, and suffering through core training. Even though I lost a lot of body fat and inches came off, my stomach was just beyond repair, and nothing could turn the frown upside down on my boobs. So, I began looking into surgery—specifically, a mini-tummy tuck, a breast lift, and liposuction on my outer thighs, tummy, and hips.

My husband is a doctor, so he knew exactly who should do it. Even though he knew my surgeon professionally, he was really nervous—probably because, as a doctor, he knows every bad scenario that could possibly play out. I actually wasn’t scared until the day before, when I became terrified of dying on the table. I didn’t want my friends chatting about my death by lipo. What a stupid way to die, right?

But my surgeon was great, and I liked that she’s a woman. I didn’t feel like I had to explain that looking like a Hooters waitress wasn’t the goal. She knew instinctively that I just wanted to look nice in a dress and not have to be trussed up in Spanx and industrial-strength bras.

The surgery took about five hours, and the main thing I remember was feeling angry because the nurse woke me up when I was having a good dream about my daughter. My throat was really raw from the breathing tube, so they forced me to drink water. My husband describes my disposition at the time as “cranky.” (Much like his, I suppose, when he wrote the check for the procedures.) I was so bound up in compression garments and bandages that I just felt squeezed. My breasts were as hard as rocks, so that was a bit troublesome, but they didn’t stay that way. It took about three or four months before I knew what my new body would look like.

Overall, the recovery wasn’t too bad. I had to wear the compression garment for six weeks. The only time it could come off was when I showered or it got washed. That took some getting used to—especially because for the first week I had to wear it while going to the bathroom. Attempting to urinate while basically wearing bike shorts was the worst. Don’t even get me started on the other function.

My body was certainly a little tender, and, for about a month, I was uncomfortable when I slept. Listen, I’m not great with pain—although I guess after having two children, I’m better than I was. But the recovery was more about being sore and uncomfortable. I took the pain medication the doctor gave me for three days, then I downgraded to ibuprofen.

It’s been about a year and a half, and I can honestly say I’m so happy I did it. I love clothes now, and I care more about finding things that fit properly than camouflaging. I’m also a lot more comfortable; my gut made sitting in a waistband for any long period of time close to unbearable. As for how it affected my marriage, my husband only begrudgingly went along with the surgery, but now that it’s done, I feel so much better about myself. I’m happier, which makes him happier—he’s good like that. He also likes that my boobs look the way they did when we were dating in high school. (Not that he ever saw them, Mom.) What else? Oh, I’ll wear a bikini, which I never did after my first baby when I looked like a bad Britney Spears.

That said, surgery definitely hasn’t negated my need to exercise—I work out between three and five times a week—but I think I’m more aerodynamic now. I know it sounds nuts, but I glide in the water when I swim, and I find running much less of a struggle than it used to be. Makes sense. There’s definitely less hanging off of me.

People say one surgery leads to more, and I guess that’s true. Immediately following the procedures, I started thinking, “Gosh, what else can I get done?” I’ve slowly lost interest in some of the ideas I kicked around before, but I really want the inside of my thighs done because my tri shorts give me “sausage leg.” We’ll see.

* Not the author’s real name