It must have been a week after I had given birth. We were home, and my stitches needed cleaning, the bandage replacing. I lay back on the bed, and Oneal removed the bandage that my OB had applied just before we were discharged from the hospital.
“How does it look?” I asked.
“Very neat. It’s just a line. You wouldn’t know they were stitches,” Oneal said, sounding impressed.
I couldn’t see, so I took my phone and took a picture of the stitches. There it was, a ten-inch line across my abdomen.
“The baby fit through that?”
“Yup.” Oneal went on to recap the details of the surgery while applying betadine and attaching a new bandage. I felt the cotton swab on my tender flesh. There was no pain, but the area felt bruised, sensitive.
I stared at the picture on my phone. There was a line across my abdomen. It was hard to believe that my 24 hours of hard, intense labor was solved by that line, and that my son and my uterus exited my body through that line.
Oneal finished cleaning the wound and applying the bandage. I put my clothes back on, turned to my side, curled up, and started crying.
At first I couldn’t explain why I was crying. Oneal held me until I found the words.
I felt like I’d given up.
Seeing my scar made me feel battered and bruised. My face was gaunt, pale. My legs looked so skinny. My abdomen consisted of flabby flesh, and the skin seemed loose, dry, tired. I felt weak, and even standing up straight took so much effort.
I felt like the surgery had taken so much from me. We’d had so many ideas for our birth plan, though we always knew there was a chance things would go differently. Twenty-four hours of labor and surgery were very different from what I’d imagined.
I felt like I’d given up control of my body. I felt like my body had become a battlefield, and though I fought so hard, in the end I couldn’t do anything.
In my head, I knew that it couldn’t be helped. Lucas had his own plans, and the birth team had taken us both through the ordeal safely. But at that moment, a week after giving birth, all I could think of was how much abuse my body had taken.
I don’t know how long I cried that day. But for a few days after that, I cried every time I looked in the mirror, every time I felt my tender muscles, every time I saw my skinny calves.
In retrospect, I realize how traumatic that surgery was, emotionally, psychologically.
For all of my adult life, I’d used and abused this body. I went wall-climbing and hiking. I went running and swimming. I worked out and practiced yoga. I loved good food, good drink, sex, dance. I prided myself on physical strength and endurance. I thoroughly enjoyed use of my body, and I threw myself into every physical activity I chose.
And then childbirth happened.
You know how you want something so much, for so long? And then you finally get it, and it’s not quite what you imagined? I suppose my birth experience was like that.
Here was a body much loved and used. Yet after such an ordeal, I felt like my body was not mine. I felt like all the strength I’d built up before pregnancy, and the joy I derived from so much physical activity, was suddenly gone.
That day, I told Oneal, “I think it will be a long while before I like my body again.”
I took pictures of my naked body on that day: breasts, abdomen, scar, face. I took pictures again every few weeks, just to see how my body was changing.
Even now, I look in the mirror, and I see a tired woman with a bony face. I’m sure it’s not as bad as I think.
It will be a while before I like my body again. But as my wounds heal, my strength will return, and maybe I’ll feel like myself again.