The other day I received a massage from a lovely and irreverent masseuse and physical therapist with by the fabulously apropos name of Sue Knotts. Sue, as another friend writes, has “huge unfettered tits,” a British accent and conducts her work way up a river valley in the middle of nowhere in a yurt. The yurt is always warm, the chickadees and juncos and nuthatches twitter outside the plastic, crisscrossed windows, and the river runs below with gusto and song. I love the drive out there this time of year, in autumn, watching the river rage and roil below, the fall leaves wet and sticky while they blow across road and windshield. There is dampness in the air and on my skin as I walk up the small ramp to the yurt. I carry a cooler of fish – my husband’s catch the past few days of three Dungeness crab, two little fresh trout, and, also, a block of frozen sturgeon. All this seafood goes in trade for Sue’s work on my body. I feel excited for the massage, and grateful to both Sue and my husband for providing such an easy deal for me.
Sue invites me in, has me sit in the big chair by the fire, asks me about my health and what’s up these days. I don’t see her nearly as often as I should, as my body needs, certainly as my spirit desires. I tell her the usual, my back, my shoulders, all tense even though I’m not even working right now, though I have no papers to grade. And then, of course, there’s my abdomen. Sue is one of the few therapists I know who’s willing work on my middle, the torn, sore muscles, the fascia she is fond of discussing. She even breaks out a Gray’s Anatomy to show me that line down the center of my abdomen, mine probably a wreck of torn tissue and scars.
So, she gets to work, we talk a little. She laughs with a little low-moaned giggle at how lopsided I am; my right shoulder, a bundle of toughness. Then, she turns me over, and I am looking at leaves and perhaps a dead beetle stuck on the skylight screen overhead, which shows only a white page of sky. She rubs my abdomen, feeling for separated muscles, and rubs the place down low where my scar is, where they pulled my daughter from my body. And suddenly, the water wells in my throat and I’m making sucking and sniffing noises. Tears roll from the corners of my eyes, finding grooves in my neck and dropping onto the table. Suddenly, I am transported to the moment when they took my child out of me, but on Sue’s table I feel more whole and smaller that I imagine how I felt in that operating room, where the blue cloth separated me from my body and my sense of myself is gigantic, like the place from where they took my daughter was actually a mile way.
But on Sue’s table I can feel how small I really am, how close my daughter must have been when they took her and how back then, my arms were fettered so I couldn’t have reached out to grab her even if I had had the energy or wherewithal to do so. I am still so sad that I was so removed from birthing her, even though of course I was there and she was coming from my body and she was quite stuck and there really might have been no other choice. But, all these months later, lo two years, I am crying again, even as I write this.
Sue offered me a tissue box without saying a word since she of course noticed I was crying, but the truth is, I held back on her table because I was embarrassed that I still haven’t stopped crying about how I didn’t birth my own child through my body, that I had to have a cut in my belly to get her out, that my own cervix or pelvis or whatever it was would not open up enough to let her come through into this world without such violence and tugging and yanking and invasion. So, yes, I still cry about it all, even as I think about all those folks, including me, who say and think I should “be over it” already, I “should be grateful,” which I am, for her, but not for the birth, that I “could have died if I stayed at my midwives birth center” if I had indeed still hemorrhaged with the same amount of blood, which is true, of course, though we’ll never know if I would have lost as much blood without the c-section. Anyhow, myself and others can say what they want, the reality is, I still have to cry. So what, so I’m still sad and, short of crying and then going on to function pretty darn well the rest of the day, I don’t really know what else there is to do. Does a person ever need to stop mourning? Is there an ending point to such a momentously difficult event in one’s life? A while ago, over a year at least, I did a little ritual with a group of friends where I let go of saying that the birth wasn’t what I wanted, and said instead that the birth was the perfect one for us, but that affirmation, while I believe it and it helped, doesn’t make all the pain and grief disappear.
Sue said my abdomen definitely felt “boggy.” I thought that word seemed apropos as well. She has good words. My stomach is a big pouch – people talk about the c-section apron, I talk about the fully loaded fanny pack I wear on my stomach. Lately, the fanny pack has gotten fuller, and partly that’s due to the holiday time of overeating, especially with my daughter’s birthday being on Halloween, but I know, too, the bogginess is a lot of pent up energy, still more mourning that needs to happen. However, as I get further away from the birth, the thoughts of “I really should be over it,” happen more often. Plus I keep also thinking, “I’ve already cried about this, haven’t I?”
On an anatomical level, Sue mentioned the possibility that the lymph system housed in the groin may be quite disconnected from the abdomen it’s supposed to be flushing out since the nerves from the surgery are shot. I thought this theory made a lot of sense and haven’t really seen anything about this post-partum complication from the surgery anywhere in books or on the Internet. She likened my situation to women who’ve had breast surgery or mastectomies and have had to have some of their lymph system taken out, and I thought of my sister and that fear she had of lymphedema and thought the same thing about my body.
So, why am I putting all of this emotion and blubbering out there? A long time ago I read an article in a book and I’m sorry I can’t remember nor find the reference to this quote, or possibly this paraphrase since I can’t find the actual reference but here’s the idea I loved: “He had nothing better to do than heal.” I’ve always loved this passage and since I’m not working now – other than, of course, the full time work of rearing my daughter – my other job is to heal. I have to heal from this birth and since I originally started going back to work nine weeks after my daughter was born, I didn’t do enough healing at the time. I got sidetracked with other people’s papers and stories and books to read, and I’m sure at the time, that work was the perfect thing to keep me functioning, but now my job is to just sit here at my desk when I need to and cry, or allow myself to cry on far-away, massage table deep in the woods.