Tomorrow’s the day. I’m returning to the same old hospital, seeing the same surgeon, going back under into blissful nothing while they remove my tubes.
At the pre-op, the doctor skimmed through the risks of surgery, reading quickly legal and medical terminology and the innumerable ways surgery can go wrong as he traced the words with his finger on the consent form. He threw around words like laproscopic, dehiscence, and salpingectomy. He said “sterilization” and everything went slow-mo except that he kept talking “blah blah blah blah”.
I wanted you.
After you died, I wanted the one who would come after you.
But no more babies will die inside of me, nor will they take me with them.
This is the end. Tomorrow is the day I am sterilized: made clean, is one definition. Maybe there is a purity in this. Maybe this is the beginning.
One of the risks is a dehiscence, which the doctor read aloud and then looked over his shoulder at me and said “which you’re all too familiar with”. It means, in medical terminology, a splitting open. “You have no idea”, I want to say back but don’t.
If one more person tells me how good this is going to go, that everything is going to be okay or how everything is going to work out in the end, I’m going to scream. “This is a new chapter”, I’ve been parroting back. Smiling and allowing them to feel like they are comforting me. When my mask slips, they look closer at me, touch my arm and say “Really, Monica. Everything’s going to be okay.” And I nod and smile and say “Yes, it’s going to go very smoothly.” But that kind of positive thinking, silver lining, sureity is reserved for those whose babies were not fine one day and dead the next. For those who didn’t have a surgery designed to fix that nearly killed them and left them with the dream of another child a death sentence. For those who’s husbands weren’t weeping over them when they woke up from surgery because they survived and then putting the first nail in the coffin of their marriage two days later. I’m a statistic. Harvey was a statistic. When you are in the 1% of terrible shit happening, the probabilities that those who rely on the belief the “everything is going to be okay” are no longer in your main frame of reference. When the rug keeps getting pulled out from under you, the security that everything’s going to work out because most things do, is all but gone. I’m pretty sure I’m going to die tomorrow. I’m pretty sure some freak thing is going to happen and I’m going to die. But I can’t say that out loud. Nobody can hear that and nod and say “You must be terrified.” No, everyone has to make it okay, to reassure and convince me that there is some kind of order in the universe, that “I’ve been through enough” and somehow because of that it is going to be easy and normal and as planned. And if it is, then they all get tolean more solidly on their confidence and say, “See, everything’s okay in the end.” But if I die, a very small chance I readily admit, they end up in shock, telling each other stories about how they just saw me yesterday, how it’s incredible that so many horrible things could happen to one family in such a short time, then they have to grapple without a rug under their feet.
This is what we do. This is what we tell each other. And we are usually right, except when we are wrong, horribly and devastatingly wrong. But we have to say it to ourselves, to each other because it’s too much for us to look at the alternative. And it further alienates someone like me, who has lived the alternative, who is the alternative, who nearly became the alternative. To have little faith in probabilities and statistics, to no longer be sure that everything will work out, to have no faith that I might get a good thing because I’ve had so much bad is lonely and sorrowful and it beats me down. It feels like everyone but me can see the silver lining, can believe their shit won’t get totally fucked up, again. There are many side effects of traumatic events and these long term ones, the ones that rock the very foundation and topple the structure we’ve built around us, this is one of the worst.
I try my best though. I smile and agree and say yes new chapter, new beginning, I’m trying to make it feel like that, fresh start. I will myself to rejoin them and believe again. But there’s little room for my fear that I might die and leave Vesta motherless, even though that fear has basis because I almost died last time and people die in routine surgeries every day. There is no room for what this means in terms of Harvey. There is no room for what this means for my future, for the continued emptiness I feel deep in my belly, since he was born and died and how there will now be a physical space inside me, another part of me, taken out, removed, gone. There is no room for what it means to be without my husband tomorrow. That I still feel like this is his, too. His infertility, too, even though he’s off on his way with someone else. His too, except I don’t even want him there anyway, except that the person I have leaned on for 13 years, the person who went through all of this with me, I don’t even want to be around. See that? See how it’s both, see how it’s everything all at once?
It’s not just a tube removal. It’s not just whether I survive or don’t or anywhere in between. It’s all the shit that swirls around the tubes, the uterus, the energetic body of my reproduction, the end of my fertility. It’s that I feel like I continue to bear the brunt of it alone. That each of these punches landed much more squarely and solidly on my face. That on rare days like this, having a half marriage with a child in grown up clothes sounds more appealing than facing it alone. That I’m tired. That, honestly, it doesn’t sound like such a bad thing if I go to sleep on the table tomorrow and never wake up. Except for Vesta, of course. If I struggle bearing all of this, there’s no way I would wish for her to have to go on without me at 5 years old. Good Lord, she’s had enough. And so have I.
So, let’s make some room for our fears. Let’s make some room for what we are really feeling, in all its complexities. Of course, this is a new chapter. Of course this is an end and a beginning. Of course it’s likely that everything is going to go smoothly and as planned. But it’s okay if I’m afraid I’m going to die because I might and you don’t have to try to convince me of something you have no way of knowing. It’s okay that there is further devastation around the loss of my tubes. That it’s the end of my dreams for another baby, for the family I had, for the fact that if Harvey survived I probably would have no need for them anyway and they’d just stay in there. It’s that the one little egg that became my son who died floated down one of this tubes. That we have so little of him, so few places he was but inside my body, he was there and so another part of him is leaving. That my husband doesn’t have to do any of this with me and can just go begin another family with relative ease. Who’s canvas wasn’t wiped clean like mine, who can have a similar version of the life we planned, just with new characters. That’s some devastating shit, right there.
It’s hard to suffer in a culture that doesn’t t honor or even want to acknowledge suffering, depsite how much each of us suffers inside ourselves. In a culture where it’s not okay to say these kinds of things. Where we think our positive intentions and attitudes will change our course and so called “negative” thinking will lead to poor outcomes. I’m writing this and I’m thinking “you can’t say this shit!” Once upon a time, my baby died and I thought I would die from it, from how I felt, for days and weeks and even months, but even that wasn’t forever. So, it’s okay if you ask about my surgery and I say “I think I’m going to die. And it’s bringing up all these terrible feelings and hateful thoughts and taking me away from my ability to see all that I have, all that I want in my life and to feel grateful”. And for you to say “”that’s awful. That’s terrifying. I’m so sorry. This is all too much for one person to have to deal with. And to do it alone? To have all of this going on and to have to help Vesta through it, too. That is some hard shit. I wish it was easier for you. Can I help?” And for me say “you just did.” I wanted someone to say to me, ” I hope you don’t die tomorrow” because that’s what is true. It’s not true that everything is going to be okay because we don’t know that but what we do know is that you love me or like me a really lot and you want me to stay alive.
And after all of that, when I meet someone now who has recently lost a baby, I often find myself tongue tied. When a baby who died has an anniversary coming up, I have no idead how to comfort the parents, what words to say, to be more quiet than soothing, to sit or to speak. It’s not easy becasue we have no culutre context. We are not given any lesson in sitting pateintly, compassionately and quietly next to suffering. We don’t learn how to witness, observe and hold space for each other. We want to fix, make better, erase, ease and get back to feeling good as soon as possible. Our cultrual bar is “happy” and if you fall below that bar, which the vast amjority of us do let’s admit, there is something wrong and if you stay below that bar for an unnamed bu culutrally acknowledged apporpriate time frame, then consequences begin. People begin to worry, people loss patience, people feel like we are bringing them down. So often I think that what I have to say is too confronting. I am so comfortable with death and hardship and suffering that I tend to talk about it with the same intention I give to talking about my last trip to the grocery store. And that is off putting. Most people in my world haven’t had to confront so many challenges and tramas and cozy up to them like I have. Cheryl Strayed, in her adivce column “Dear Sugar”, repsonded to a greiving mother that: “They live on Planet Earth. And you live on Planet My Baby Died” and it’s so very very true to me. It’s hard for me to gauge now, what the experience of other’s is like because I have been so entrenched and wading through my shit just to get through the days, to try to make some meaning and sense out of al of this, that I we live on different planets and it goes both ways. You and I, we are hard to reach, now that we live on different planets.
The loss of my tubes, becoming sterile, adding another dehiscence, another splitting open, it’s very complex for me. It saves me from dying but that’s all it saves me from. It begins a new chapter but not one I ever imagined or wanted. It doesn’t fix anything. It isn’t the end and yet it is the end. There is something final final about this. There exists the strong possibility that I will survive and there will be some “made clean” both in my body and mind. It’s possible that I will feel free, that I will be able to forgive my husband more readily and accept the path that he is now taking with greater ease. It is possibly that my sterilization will bring another baby into my life, via some other way babies come into the world, who needs me and who I need more than anything. It’s possible that this is all for the good. It’s possible that it all totally sucks and I may never get over it. I may remain angry at myself, my husband, the universe who were all players in this hand that I have been dealt. It’s possible that this will never heal quite right, either. It’s possible that it just is. It is what it is and nothing else. That what my job is to keep moving through the world is to find meaning, is to make meaning, is to let the experiences of the last 20 months color how I see the world, let them change me, let me celebrate the things I like better about myself because of them and allow me to accept the things they have given me that I hate about myself now. Possibly, there is no there there. In fact, there is no there there. It’s a constant moving forward, moving through, in times of ease and in times of struggle, that makes us human, that might be my bridge back to Planet Earth. That might be the bridge between your suffering and mine which we can both cross over to or meet in the middle of.
I have feelings that are fleeting but feel entirely true. But they nearly always pass, they always soften, they always transform. And I guess that’s why we don’t need to fix each other, we don’t need to make things better or paint the silver lining on the pile of shit. We can just sit next to each other, holding on for dear life to each other’s hands, and say “This sucks. But I’m right here next to you.” Let’s be here to witness and observe, to hold space for the movement of emotions. To let them flow and make meaning later. Draw conclusions when we are far beyond them. But for now, we just sit together and see each other through it.