Complication #7. During pregnancy I did notice a few weird skin things that happen with such great hormonal fluctuations, like skin tags or discoloration, but for the most part they went away. However, one particularly bothersome tag remained on my upper thigh, and since I had gained weight during pregnancy, this tag rubbed a little too often on my upper thigh. After I visited the local doctor who gave me the prescription to have an ultrasound so I could find out I had gallstones, decided to go back again and ask her to remove the tag by freezing it with liquid nitrogen, which she mentioned as a possibility. The experience of having my legs in stirrups again while being worked on only added to the seemingly endless array of disgrace to my undersides, but, at least, I thought, the thing wouldn’t bug me anymore. Well, apparently, I killed the queen, and the drones buzzed out with a vengeance. After I removed the band-aid from my leg, I contracted a gross skin poxvirus called molluscum contagiosum, which looks pretty much like it sounds. I blamed the local doctor, by the way, because a.) she should have known that this complication could occur and didn’t tell me, or b.) she gave me the disease because her clinic wasn’t clean enough. This virus is not harmful, but it is ugly, and since during this time I was also experiencing Complication #8, my hair falling out in clumps all over the place, I wasn’t in the mood to be more uglified. Then the worst part was, my baby daughter contracted this virus a few months later – hers lasted about four months, with us trying to treat it with various creams and teatree oils, but, mostly, hers just finally went away one day. Mine did, too, but it took over a year before the last drone finally died.
Complication #9. Athlete’s foot. Seriously. Never had athlete’s foot in my life, even though I was always an athlete, always with sweaty feet, always wearing sandals in the summer, no matter the rain or dampness on my soles, or rain boots in the winter, when my feet got too hot in neoprene or capilene. And then, constantly, when I was pregnant, I showered in the YMCA locker room after swimming without my flips flops, with total insolence toward the petrie dish surely proliferating on the dirty tiled floor. Plus, for sixteen years I lived with a husband who did have athlete’s foot (I’m outing my husband’s foot disorder); I shared the same shower with him, and kvetched when he sprayed the stinky foot spray in our bedroom. So, suddenly, a few months after my daughter was born, this virus shows up on my feet, too? With its itchiness and pink, raw skin, and hardened soles? Now? Why? Because my immune system was shot full of holes during birth and all the viruses I’d fended off during my mostly healthy life were happy to be out to get me now. Of course, I wasn’t really the victim of these viruses, but I sure felt like one, which leads me to….
Complication #10. Sex. The complete lack of libido and desire and energy to even have one thought about perhaps maybe even thinking about having sex with another human being and/or the issue of painful sex. I don’t actually want to write about this subject, not because I’m bashful, but because I’m worried weirdos will Google keywords such as painful sex and find my blog, which will be, I’m sure, a major disappointment to them, although I guess I don’t care about disappointing weirdos. Let’s just start by saying the six week rule after birth by which to have sex is crap. Try six months at best. Yes, yes, my poor husband, and lo, all the other poor partners (read: male partners) out there. But with the advent of complications number seven, eight, and nine, which, by coincidence or eerie fact, all ensued at right about that six week mark, I didn’t feel particularly sexy in my lower regions or any region for that matter. The difference for me between the sensual joy I experienced during pregnancy, where I felt creative and womanly and authentically feminine for perhaps the first time in my life, and then post-birth, where I felt sore, tired, creaky, cranky, bloated, and absolutely lust-dead, was quite a shift, for both me and my main man.
The lack of libido is a real aftereffect of hormonal changes, especially while breastfeeding. My life was all about coping with the challenges of new motherhood for the first several months, especially in my physically compromised state, and sex was the last thing from my mind. But meanwhile, my boobs were out and about a lot for those around me to see. The myth about breastfeeding edging out the husband, which reminds me of that old joke that Robin Williams did a long long, time ago about babies coming out of the womb, pointing to their mother’s big breasts, and saying “those are for me,” has, for me and my partner, pretty much been true. However, if we’re rating priorities, feeding my daughter my milk was and will always be more of a priority to me than having sex. My husband has been accepting of this new situation. He knows breastfeeding is important for our daughter’s development, and he knew ahead of the fact that I’d breastfeed our child for a long time, and he while he might not have known that this period of reduced sexual activity would only allow him to get more spiritually fit via patience and understanding and virtual celibacy, he gets to learn that spiritual fitness is an unexpected outcome of marrying me. In any case, almost all the pictures he took soon after the birth show my daughter nursing, usually with an obvious close-up of my big old boob. And Freud thought women had penis envy.
Another aspect to consider is that, even though I had a c-section, sex was extremely painful, in fact, impossible for me, for many, many months. Perhaps this pain is not normal or usual, since a fifty-four hour labor with eleven hours of pushing and having one’s baby’s head stuck between a pelvic bone is also not normal or usual. We did try to have sex at that magical six week mark because I was wanting desperately for the birth not to have happened the way it did and so tried to pretend everything was normal. But that night, it was quite apparent nothing was going inside of me. I didn’t actually know how sore I was inside until we tried, and then probably a month later tried again, and then after another lapse of time, again. The knowing how much it hurt me was not exactly a turn on for my husband, and after the third try, I don’t think we tried again for a long, long time. These efforts at getting back to normal through sex, for me, only made me realize how different my new body was, and made me start facing the reality of what I’d been through.
The final, and most important, aspect to this subject about sex is that, after having a c-section and feeling so sad about that reality, the truth was, I didn’t want anyone going inside of my vagina if my daughter couldn’t come out. The vaginal canal, to me, now seemed a marred place, a place inside my body, once full of hope and expectation. My whole body was split down the middle, right where my scar still bulged a little pink. The mix of pain and soreness and emotional loss all welled inside of me and I didn’t want to deal with it at all. I wanted only for my daughter to have come out of my body through the passage built for her, which felt swollen and painful with the absence of her not coming through. I imagined my insides were once a small natural spring, dug into a dirty canal by third world workers, whom were never paid well or compensated for their labors, and then the channel devolved into a wasteland. The waters, like the Chicago River perhaps, flowed the wrong way and caused crime and pollution in the city. I realize this metaphor may be over the top, but when women say things like “vaginal birth is overrated” or try to compare the difficulties of their vaginal births to my c-sectioned one, or try to stop me from talking about this subject, I look for words and images to explain how I feel. My energy was stuck in the place where my child was stuck. I want more than anything to clean up the canal, to have it returned to its natural spring-like state, and while the recovery is better now than earlier on, there is still work to be done before visitors will be completely welcome and encouraged to explore.