My body is not what I thought it was. It isn’t less than I believed it to be; it isn’t weaker. If anything, it’s stronger – more durable, quicker to heal, more inured to pain – than I ever knew. I spent thirty years making assumptions about my body’s capabilities which, based though they were on the experiences of many other people, were quite seriously mistaken. As a result, I have spent the last month disoriented, living in a body I feel I do not know.
While I haven’t blogged much in the last year, a few readers may be aware that JNS and I just had our first (and possibly only) child. Artemis Mary Nelson-Seawright was born – that is, she was wrenched from my protesting body – at 4:10 a.m. on March 28. After an almost abnormally normal pregnancy, a veritable textbook case of healthy gestation, our daughter came into the world in as traumatizing a way as may be possible. My obstetrician called it the most difficult birth she’d attended in her decades long career: the cesarean delivery involved multiple incisions, and several dozen doctors and nurses assisted. My doctor has given us to understand that two generations ago, Artemis and possibly I would not have survived.
Here’s the catch: I wasn’t anesthetized. That’s right, I wasn’t numb.
Before the doctors realized that Artemis would never, ever fit through my pelvis, I labored normally. We’d tried an epidural when active labor began, but it kept wearing off. When I went into the OR, the anesthesiologist spent an hour trying to give me a spinal block; it never took. I never lost sensation. I finally insisted that they just start the surgery. It was an emergency, so they did as I asked. In the end, they did most of the operation except the bit where they actually pulled the baby out, and then they put me under.
It wasn’t that bad. My doctor said it should have been horrible. The hospital staff said the same thing.
The remainder of the surgery was apparently quite unpleasant. My doctor expected me to have sustained a lot of physical trauma. She told me my recovery would be normal, but apparently she told my husband it would be long and rough. I did spend five days in the hospital, but the nurses gave up waiting on me after three days – I really didn’t need much help, and I didn’t need much pain medication. In fact, my incision was almost healed before I left. I was tired for a week or so, but eventually I realized I was iron deficient – I took a supplement, and I felt almost normal again. When JNS finally realized that I was unaware of the magnitude of my surgery, he explained what had really happened. (Actually, he explained that the reason the hospital staff began formula feeding Artemis before I emerged from the recovery room was that they assumed I would be too ill to breastfeed. I wasn’t, though it’s taken a while for me to establish a proper supply of milk).
This experience has contradicted everything I believed about my body. I thought I was a slow healer with an unusually low pain threshold. I thought I was prone to complain about minor physical discomfort. I thought, essentially, that I was weak. I’m now faced with incontrovertible evidence that those things are untrue. As a result, I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking through every medical procedure I’ve ever undergone and realizing that I’ve always been this way – I got a friend to take me out for steak two days after I had my wisdom teeth out, and I didn’t really understand why he thought it was odd. I became severely ill several years ago – I had blood poisoning – because I didn’t recognize the symptoms of an initial illness. That is, I didn’t realize I was in a lot of pain. It didn’t seem that bad, after all; I thought my discomfort was a sign of overdramatic hypochondria.
The list of such incidents goes on and on. I see now that I have always misinterpreted my own physical experience. I feel like I have vertigo; it’s a sense of almost physical disorientation. How can I have lived so long in this body and have understood it so little?