'I'd a boob job abroad but the implants burst and left me in agony - I'm so grateful to the Belfast clinic that removed them'
For several years, Sinead Freeman (34) was in near-constant back pain from her oversized augmented breasts. The busy mother-of-two gained excess weight on her bust after her last son Korey (6), was born, and again after her surrogate pregnancy three years ago for two gay friends.
The problem was exacerbated by the rupturing of breast implants the Newtownabbey woman had inserted abroad after the birth of first child, Jayden (8).
"I actually lost a lot of weight then, and I had very little breast tissue left at all," Sinead recalls.
"I had been a quite ample 34D before. I realise now that I should have had the implants done here, but I went to Tunisia for the procedure instead because it was cheaper.
"I was put up in a five-star hotel and I chose the second biggest size they had - an E cup - to get my empty breasts filled out by as much as possible. Initially, I was very happy with them. They were rounded and were inserted just below the nipple, above the muscle. I was a size eight, and they looked nice."
But as time wore on, Sinead, a former nursing home assistant, began to regret her decision.
After she gained weight, she was horrified to discover a dent developing in her right breast.
"I wish that I'd waited until after the pregnancies because my body had changed so drastically," she admits.
"The size of my breasts just got out of hand, and I had to wear two sports bras in the end. It was embarrassing and the pain was awful. I hated them. I'm only five foot, and they were enormous, and I knew that there was something wrong when the dent appeared in the right one."
The last straw for Sinead came while shopping for clothes with her husband, Graham (28), last Christmas.
"I couldn't get a top to fit me and I burst out crying," she says. "My boobs were squashed in anything I put on.
"My father had been on at me to get them reduced, and when he saw me in pain, he offered to pay for the procedure. Otherwise, I would have got a loan."
Graham and Sinead help her father, a single parent, care for his disabled son, Robert (30).
And with her family's full backing, Sinead made an appointment with River Medical, a leading cosmetic surgery provider, based on Belfast's Lisburn Road.
"The surgeon was very professional and explained everything in advance, including the risk of infection, but I had no hesitation," she says.
"My husband, like most men, liked the size I was, but I couldn't wait to get the implants out."
River Medical booked Sinead into their private hospital in Clane, Co Kildare.
They also carry out procedures in a private Balmoral hospital, but Sinead was happy to travel for a short break.
Graham stayed a in nearby hotel while his wife was admitted for two days.
"It was so much better - I wasn't in a different country this time - and when I woke up I was in no real pain," she recalls.
"It was just a little uncomfortable if I rolled over on to my side, and I was a bit swollen at the start, but my back pain disappeared almost immediately. The surgeon had to scoop out the implants - they had both burst completely. I don't even know if they were silicone.
"It's terrible going to another country and not knowing what's being put into your body. I'd warn other women against going abroad for surgery now.
"While the breast implant procedure was cheaper and I had great accommodation in Tunisia, there's so much that can go wrong and there was no after-care. With River Medical, I was well looked after for as long as I needed to be."
Back to her original bust size and with her breast tissue in the place of the implants, Sinead was thrilled with the results.
Ten days later, however, an unrelated bout of pleurisy put her in hospital overnight.
"I'd had a lingering chest infection, and when I was in Antrim hospital I suspected I had caught an infection," she says. "From my experience in nursing homes, I know the smell of MRSA. A nurse at River Medical did blood tests when I got out and it showed up, so I was prescribed a course of stronger antibiotics to clear the infection." Sinead has slight anchor-shaped scars on her breasts, beneath her nipples, but they are fading fast, and the numbness that was caused by her implants has gone, giving her back sensation in her breasts.
"It's such a relief to have the implants out," she admits. I "hadn't even realised that you have to have them replaced every 10 or 15 years as they drop.
"I'm so much happier now, and dad and Graham are glad for me, too, and to know that I am no longer in pain.
Equally delighted for Sinead are her close friends, including the same-sex couple she gave birth for.
She has no regrets about the surrogacy, despite the toll it took on her body. "It wasn't a problem for me," Sinead says. "It's something I always wanted to do. I had an aunt who couldn't have children and ended up an alcoholic as a result.
"I was just an oven - they didn't use my eggs. The egg donor was another girl they knew. The couple were so happy when the wee boy was born.
"It wasn't hard to give him away at all. He's not mine and I always had that mindset. I keep in touch with them and go to the child's parties."
These days, Sinead can wear what she wants. And she looks fabulous in our special makeover shoot, courtesy of House Of Frazer and Bobbi Brown cosmetics at Victoria Square, Belfast.
"I'm not used to wearing make-up and high heels - it feels strange," she admits. "I'm always in mummy clothes and flats, but I love these clothes, especially the pink dress. Victoria Square's stylist, Katherin Farries, is brilliant.
"I feel absolutely fantastic since having the breast implants removed.
"Before, I was fatigued all the time with carrying about that weight. Now, I'm getting back to running and doing yoga.
"I'd recommend the procedure to anyone who is suffering like I did. It has changed my life for the better."
- River Medical Cosmetic Surgery can be found at 88 Lisburn Road, Belfast, tel: 028 9560 7585 or visit rivermedical.co.uk
Find out more about cosmetic surgery
- A breast uplift is one of the most popular procedures at River Medical, one of the leading cosmetic surgery providers in the country. While many women have implants inserted or replaced at the same time as an uplift, Sinead had hers removed to give her a neater bust-line, in keeping with the smaller breast trend.
- River Medical spokesperson Fiona Dunning says breast augmentation is the most common of breast surgeries, but breast uplift, reduction and breast asymmetry procedures are commonly carried out by consultant plastic surgeons at River Medical.
- Breast uplift procedures cost from £5,000. Many of River Medical's breast uplift clients seek the procedure after pregnancy.
- While childbirth is well documented to cause a great deal of stress on the body and is often blamed for prematurely aged breasts, weight loss and, simply put,the natural pull of gravity, at any age, can cause volume loss and sagging.
- Anyone considering any type of elective surgery should ask themselves important questions about the provider they choose. Is the surgeon a consultant plastic surgeon? Will my surgery be carried out in a fully regulated private general hospital? Will I receive unlimited after-care?
- To arrange a private and confidential consultation, contact River Medical on 028 9560 7585, email email@example.com. Visit rivermedical.co.uk.
- Sinead's outfits are from House of Fraser, Victoria Square, Belfast. Tel 028 9032 2277 for details. See victoriasquare.com