Every body tells a story. What we take away from that story determines how we write the next chapter.
I made it to the hospital in the first stage of labour; still able to talk and sign all the requisite registration forms between waves of pain.
“You were on Degrassi.”
It wasn’t a question, merely stated as fact with a knowing smile from the triage nurse. I made a joke about being impressed she could still recognize me in my current condition then promptly threw up in her garbage pail.
I was ushered into a room where I fully intended to listen to my labour playlist full of happy and relaxing tunes while starting into my first well-rehearsed labour position. I was introduced to the obstetrician on duty (not my regular OB) who asked if I intended to have an epidural.
“I’d prefer to give birth without one since I’ve read it can make pushing more difficult…” I said resolutely. “That’s bullshit.” He answered and just as abruptly left the room to help somewhere else.
I was taken aback — had I just been admonished? Had everything I read been wrong? What…and then I couldn’t think anymore as the second stage of labour was surely upon me. Absolutely no positions were helpful and there was constant, agonizing pain in my back. I could never have imagined such pain nor can I accurately describe it. My husband dutifully rubbed my back and whispered words of encouragement as I lapsed into shocked silence, hunched over on my knees, rocking back and forth. Whereas before I had brief moments of relief to look forward to, now there was only pain…utter and unrelenting.
Yes, I did opt for an epidural — despite everything I’d studied about the “joy of natural birth” and the knowing advice from my mom. The anesthesiologist complimented me on having an easy-to-access injection site as I was helped onto a bed and hooked up to a fetal heart monitor. I’d exercised throughout my entire pregnancy so even though I had gained a healthy 30 pounds, I was hopeful my body would be stronger and more resilient after. I waited desperately for some relief — anything. In what felt like an eternity but was probably more like ten minutes, I was able to find my voice and even crack a joke. “You don’t have to be afraid of me now.” I smiled at my husband, already in his scrubs.
My relief was overshadowed by some increasingly anxious calls for the OB. There was a tension that permeated throughout the room and even in my drugged state, I could tell something was wrong. James told me later he could see more and more nurses coming in, whispering to each other. Once the OB came in, he was barking orders at everyone to move. Apparently there was little to no fetal heartbeat and I was told they would have to operate immediately. Before I knew it, James was telling me how much he loved me as I was whisked to the operating room. He wasn’t allowed to come with me. I think I told him everything’s going to be okay — thanks largely to the epidural because normally I would’ve been on high alert — but I could see the fear in his eyes.
It was crying, which was a good thing, and I felt a surge of relief. James was ushered in and allowed to hold our baby. “It’s a boy!” he cheered as he held him next to my head. “Our Grayson” I smiled, still a bit loopy from the drugs and relief. It still didn’t feel quite real — there was a disconnect. Grayson was taken away while my incision was stitched up — or rather, stapled shut as I was surprised to learn later. The OB and the anesthesiologist were very chatty with me while I waited to be wheeled down to the recovery room. We chatted about fitness, working out, quitting smoking…I was told I wouldn’t be able to hold my baby until the anesthetic wore off — which could take a few hours — but James would be able to show him to visiting family without me. I was grateful for the banter because it distracted me from worrying about Grayson’s Apgar score and where he actually was (had he been accidentally switched with another baby or smuggled out of the hospital?!). It felt like forever waiting in the recovery room, alone, not knowing where my baby was…not being able to hold him. Did I really even just have a baby? I tried for the umpteenth time to wriggle my toes — the sign I could be moved into a room and be reunited with James and Grayson.
It was a while later when I fully realized my scar wasn’t like my sister’s, my sister-in-law’s — or anyone else’s I knew. It was vertical. I tried my best not to overdo it too soon but before I knew it, the scar was oozing with puss. I went to my family doctor who reassured me it was fine and put new gauze on it. But it wasn’t fine — and before I knew it the scar was starting to open. I went to a walk-in this time and got antibiotics and more gauze. After it seemed to heal and I had the staples removed, it opened yet again. What was I doing wrong?! I was tired of hearing “you need to take it easy.” I had no family who were able to help out and I was constantly having to get up and down with Grayson since he wasn’t sleeping well. James was working long hours to provide for us and was exhausted by the time he got home. I thought I was taking it easy by not working out right away. Little did I know that having less fat around the middle combined with a vertical scar creates more pull. The most I had lifted was my five-pound son in his car seat — but I carried him around constantly just to stop him from crying and the only way I could get him to sleep was by swinging or rocking him incessantly in that thing. Years later I had carpel tunnel surgery because of that freak’n car seat.
Each time the scar opened and healed it looked a bit messier. My sister was angry at the OB. She insisted that a vertical incision hadn’t been necessary. Her C-section had been an emergency and she had a horizontal scar — and why staples when most get stitches which are less prone to opening? I posed these questions to my regular OB at my follow-up. He said it’s a personal choice based on what the OB prefers and reiterated what others had told me: he must have felt the vertical scar would be faster in light of the emergency.
“But it’s only faster if the surgeon is better at doing vertical incisions than horizontal ones — not because doing one is faster,” insisted my sister. She bought me a book about caesarean sections and recovery. I was grateful for her concern but also confused…then angry. I felt affronted and ripped off somehow. Anger gave way to depression and I wallowed in self-pity for the next month or so while James did his best to console me and remind me of what really matters. Easy for him to say, I thought. After years of getting myself in shape and being the healthiest I’d ever been before getting pregnant at 40, my body wasn’t working right, I hadn’t had the natural birth I wanted, I wasn’t sleeping and now I had this ugly scar that wouldn’t heal properly. A few months later, I had an emergency appendectomy — another scar. Granted this one was much smaller and I was actually excited for the hospital visit: a mini vacation! The nurse told me they would keep me until I passed gas in order to make sure I was okay, but when I told this to the doctor who came to discharge me — the very next morning — he told me I could pass gas at home. Humiliation added to injury.
James and I had already started trying to get pregnant again. Mostly because we had agreed that two was manageable and being older, we weren’t sure how much longer we’d be able to. I had felt immense pressure to get back in shape quickly — I mean, I’m a personal trainer for crying out loud and occasionally in the public eye — but after the appendectomy, I finally gave permission to go easy on myself. Slowly but surely, muscle memory helped me to lose the excess fat and regain the shape I had once known. Except for my abs. I could still feel them working — meaning there was no diastasis recti (separation between the left and right abdominal muscles and a common, postpartum issue for women) — but still I was embarrassed to show my flawed belly in public.
A few days after my appendectomy I was shocked and terrified when a home pregnancy test turned positive. I had just been pumped full of morphine at the hospital… and anesthesia — not to mention a few drinks once back home…and now I sat paralyzed in fear staring at the faint blue line on my pee stick. I remember sitting in the small room of a walk-in clinic, anxiously clinging to James while we waited for confirmation. Staff at the front desk were talking loudly about who I am and what shows they had seen me in — like I wasn’t in in the room right next door, overhearing everything they were saying. I tried to shut them out while hoping desperately that it was a mistake…before my surgery the doctor had asked if there was a chance I could be pregnant — how could it possibly be okay?! The doctor came back and confirmed what we already knew. I was pregnant.
A few months and a horrific miscarriage later, I was pregnant yet again — and this time, we felt ready. Labour started a bit early thanks to a bad case of the flu. I wound up having another caesarian and this time, the OB offered to keep the same incision and do her best to neaten up the scar. She also asked if I wanted my tubes tied but I wasn’t ready to make that kind of commitment while vomiting from the flu between contractions. I made sure I did less this time. I didn’t try to carry the car seat around as much, I asked for help from a friend (thank you Laura Mulholland!) and I let myself heal. Something else changed this time — despite breast-feeding issues, severe sleep deprivation and carpal tunnel surgery (damn that car seat!): I was grateful. Not right away mind you (did I mention the sleep deprivation?) but gradually, when I was able to properly reflect, it dawned on me that somehow my body had survived two miracles of birth. Having a baby is BADASS. It doesn’t matter that some women give birth with no epidural or can run a marathon right after — what our bodies are capable of is nothing short of amazing! I started looking at my scars in a whole new way…with pride. That’s right people, I gave birth to two amazing human beings — I DID THAT.
I still have belly skin that hangs down during sex and looks crepey. Short of surgery or gaining excess weight, there’s no way to get rid of my overhang but I can minimize and prevent the wrinkly skin by exfoliating, moisturizing, protecting it from the sun and eating a healthy diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. I know my belly is strong and resilient and if I want six-pack abs I can work extra hard when I choose to — but for me, perfect abs no longer equates to a six-pack. It means healthy, strong abs that are working for and not against me (i.e., no inflammation or gastrointestinal distress).
Every body tells a story. What we take away from that story determines how we write the next chapter. No matter what body part you may be fixated on, it may help to remember what it has been through.