Love Your Body: It was only after I lost a limb that I learned to be kind to myself
"I have to see myself as a whole person."
Many women have a complicated relationship with their body, often starting from a very young age when they become aware of what society considers 'normal' and 'attractive'. In a new series, Her meets a selection of Irish women who have transformed their thinking and learned to love their bodies as a result...
It took losing a leg for Caroline Heffernan McGrane to learn to love her body. Prior to that, Caroline, from Lucan in Dublin, says she spent nearly all her whole life worrying about her looks and shape.
"I've been on diets since I was young – even when I was a size 10 I was dieting. I always felt inferior. I was always thinking 'oh the size of me' or 'if only I was this size or that size'.
"I remember being overweight and one lady saying 'you've a lovely face'. In other words, she meant 'you have a lovely face but you're fat!'
When Caroline was 37 she had to have a knee replacement on her right leg, and the following year her left. Having had a hysterectomy a few years earlier, she had gone through menopause at just 31, and subsequently developed ostheoarthritis.
The second knee operation wasn't as successful as the first, and after that knee was replaced for a second time it became septic.
"That's when my life became a battle of wills. I ended up having six replacements. I fought like a tiger to save my leg. Years of pain, tears, hospital and struggles. The infection was rare. It just couldn't be killed."
After a 15-year battle to save her leg, Caroline's consultant told her there was nothing more he could do.
"On January 11, 2018, I had my leg amputated. Very high above knee. My stump is very small. It shocked me beyond words."
Caroline's outlook changed after she lost her leg
Caroline says that, when she got home from hospital, she felt full of anger and grief.
"My confidence was on the floor. I didn't feel like Caroline anymore. I felt abnormal. So low, so shocked. The grief was horrible, the loss was huge.
"I still feel my old leg. There's days I go to put my shoe on both feet. The brain is amazing – it is not letting go of my old leg."
Her first sun holiday after the amputation was particularly difficult.
"I was no longer worrying about the size of my tummy or how I looked in my swimwear. I was trying to keep my little limb covered because I was embarrassed. Strangers think they have a right to ask 'Oh what happened to you?'"
However, losing a leg has caused Caroline to re-asses her priorities and to practice self acceptance.
"I used to put huge pressure on myself and would worry about silly things. 'Oh my God I've 10 hairs on my leg, my lip isn't waxed.' When you lose a limb, you realise all that stuff is so trivial. I've accepted that I'm never gonna have a flat stomach or the perfect hair or a beautiful swan neck.
"I have to see myself as a whole person, a real woman. I am me – yes, I've no leg, but I have a false one and look like the complete package when its on.
"My loss of leg does not define me. There's just less of me and a different way of getting around. I'm not saying it's easy. It's a state of mind. You can lie down and take the loss, or stand up and live a life and experience the good and bad that comes your way."
Caroline has learned to love her prosthetic limb
The experience of becoming an amputee caused Caroline to set up a Facebook group called Amputee Ireland And Beyond, so she could connect with other people like her.
"I grab everyday and live it. I feel luckier than most. We're all unique, wonderful. You have to love yourself, be kind and stop putting pressure on yourselves."
She has recently joined Slimming World, but this diet is inspired from the positive motivation of boosting her health and not the feelings of shame she once had around her body.
"I didn't know whether to get weighed with the leg on or off, or weigh the leg separately. The leader said to me, "Don't take it off, it's part of you. It's you and it's your leg. That actually made me feel good."