It’s Been a While…

And boy, have things changed.

This is a gallery of pictures from today, a typical day with my son. It starts with me feeding him at 6 am. I read to him and play with him for a couple hours and then at 9 am, we  do song circles with EarlyOn. Afterwards, he goes for his first nap of the day. When he wakes up, I feed him again and we do the walk circuit for at least two hours. The walk includes Queen’s Park, groceries, U of T campus, Indigo (where I either write or browse books while he naps), and if the weather is nice, all the way to Spadina. When we get back for the afternoon, we watch a movie, usually one where the main focus is teaching babies to speak, and sing again (he loves singing). He is currently six months old. 

I was looking back at my previous posts and saw how scared I was, how truly frightening the whole pregnancy was to me because it was so foreign. I could feel myself panicking as I slowly lost control of my body, and seeing the physical changes was anxiety-inducing. I remember reading reddit posts of women who had near death experiences with childbirth, who lost so much hair postpartum (which is apparently quite common and reaches its peak at four months after baby has been born – hair is such a marker of identity for most people, making hair loss traumatic as it feels like a loss of identity and the fact that postpartum hair loss is not something often talked about compounds this fear as it makes it an unknown) and teeth (YES, TEETH) and lost the support of their partners as a result. One woman was blasted on reddit for having an arrangement with her husband to agree to plastic surgery before pregnancy for her mental health in order to go back to what she used to look like. The husband is now reneging on this arrangement, and it was so disheartening to see the woman being shamed for not automatically sacrificing herself for her child, even though she went through such trauma during childbirth due to complications. I would think that the least her partner could do was to support her in empowering herself through plastic surgery, especially if he was financially able to do so, AND had agreed to this arrangement beforehand. Keep in mind she wasn’t asking for anything extra – just the things she had lost during childbirth/pregnancy, ie. hair and teeth.

What did I think of my body after I gave birth? I didn’t give birth as much as it was ripped out of me at 1 in the morning. I will go into more detail about the complications, but due to eclampsia, I had to be induced and twelve hours later, had to go through emergency c-section due to loss of heartbeat. It turned out my son was wrapped around his umbilical cord and could not breathe. It was a whirlwind of chaos and consisted mostly of me looking from one woman clad in white to the other with wide eyes, while I laid in bed with my legs open. They looked so worried, all of them – their furrowed eyebrows, yelling at each other, all I could hear was: “Do we have enough time?!” “I just got here, do you think I had enough time to call my team?!” “It takes five minutes for the anaesthesia to even start to take effect – do we have five minutes? Answer me! Do we have five minutes?”

At that last statement, my nurse appeared out of the clad of white bodies, leaned close to my ear, held my hand and said, “Harmony, it’s okay, all right? Your baby’s going to be okay…” and I immediately started sobbing. That was the second time in my life in which my tears completely surprised me. I had no indication they were going to come, no lump in my throat to start forming, no faster heartbeat. Just a deluge of tears that poured out, emotions followed a second later.

The first time was earlier that afternoon, when the needle struck my spine during epidural, and a wave of pain filled my entire body.

But back to the topic at hand – how did I feel about my body postpartum?

It was strange. I couldn’t look at it.

Of course, I didn’t have time to really focus on it. I was in so much pain I could barely move. But had to move because I had to pump and feed my baby, and learn how to breastfeed, and learn so many things I read all about beforehand but realized had no clue what to do once it actually needed to get done. I was looking at my baby and saw a mess of flesh and wrinkles and could not fathom what I had done.

What have I done? I remember asking myself over and over. What have I done? What am I going to do? Why does everyone expect me to do everything when I can’t even move without being in pain?

A mess of things happened. I didn’t react to morphine. Call it karma but turns out, once I really needed painkillers, is the time the universe decided that I will not be reacting to them after a decade of being addicted to them. And because I had been honest about my addiction, nobody believed me about the pain I was experiencing. It wasn’t until the evening doctor who came in to check on me, pale and shivering, drenched in cold sweat and barely breathing, that she advocated for stronger painkillers.

Not that it was THAT strong. For comparison, at the height of my addiction, I was taking over more than a hundred 10 mg hydromorphones straight up the nose daily. They gave me a 1 mg for two days, taken orally. But compared to none, it was a blessing. I still felt a whole lot of pain, but it subsided it a tiny bit, and that was enough to get me out of my bed so that I could hold my baby.

The second messy thing was I lost feeling on my stomach, around the area of the cut, which was expected and my left hand completely, which was and still remains, a mystery. To this day, seven months later, I do not feel my fingers. The neurosurgeon said that nerves grow back, and it did – slowly. It started with my left hand being completely numb from the wrist up, and the neurosurgeon was baffled why I could not feel the electric current that he surged through my hand. My fingers moved, and I could see the machine spike, but I could not feel pain. It was such a weird experience – knowing I should feel pain, but can’t. I can’t describe it. It feels like a failure of sorts, one that you have no control over.

But my nerves are growing back and I am feeling stronger by the day, and I am testament to the idea that humans can truly adapt and endure anything. As I feel SO MUCH STRONGER now that I am regaining my left hand, after being left without one for half a year.

I keep getting distracted, and I don’t mean to be. There are just so many things I want to talk about. But my body –

I didn’t look at my body until about a month later. I knew it looked disgusting. I could see the folds of excess skin on my stomach, the stretch marks that crept all over my skin…everywhere. It was easy to not look at my body – because I was afraid to touch my skin, afraid to unfold the excess skin to look at how my scar was healing, could not stand in front of the mirror long enough to see the damage because of my pain. There was a point where my husband sat me down on the shower chair in the hospital and gave me a sponge bath while the baby was napping – it was the first time in four days that I did this, and I was complaining to him how I smelled like dried blood and sour milk. Fearing infection, my husband offered to bathe me.

It was such a vulnerable moment for me that I could not help but close my eyes. But he was so gentle, and so loving throughout this whole thing. The only thing that kept me going was how happy the baby made him.

Most people would describe my husband as stoic, logical, pensive and analytical. In other words, the complete opposite of me. But in the five days and nights that he spent with me in the hospital, sleeping on the chair while I slept on the bed, all I felt from him was love, support and faith that no matter how hard things get, he would be there for both of us.

And so my feelings of shame towards my body was in no way coming from his judgement or reactions. If anything, he made me feel like a goddess made of iron. He always showed admiration at how strong I was being, even though I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. It was all coming from that alien feeling that this body didn’t belong to me. It was no longer mine. It was just a mound of scarred, painful flesh that existed solely for the care of another – my baby.

It was a grieving of sorts. A break-up that constituted of the body I once knew walking away from me for the last time, and a new body, that served someone else other than myself. I’m going to be honest. I still have not fully accepted this body, as I am sure most of us feel about our bodies. There are some things I would like to change, some things I would like to keep.

But I’ve healed. The acne that was so prominent on my face, shoulders and back are on their way to healing. I am back to my weight pre-partum. Again, the only thing I cannot feel are my fingertips, but have regained control of most of my hand. I no longer feel pain on my legs.

I still don’t feel my fingertips. I still don’t feel my stomach. I still have pain on my back, on a different part this time – one that is exarcabeted, I suspect, by pushing a stroller constantly. I now have white hairs. I’ve actually seen my scar now – it is a straight, neat line across my stomach. It’s weird because it’s dark against something so pale, and my fingers can feel the skin, but the skin that I am poking with my fingers feels foreign to me. It is also softer than the rest of my body. Like baby skin, but cold…and almost scale-like (attractive, I know).

My stretch marks are still a map of spider webs criscrossing through my body, but I’ve come to accept them. My body no longer serves me as a source of pleasure, which I so relished in before, because I felt that it re-framed my assault in a way that empowered me. Now my empowerment comes from the notion that my body is now transofrmed into something else completely – one that nurtures, and nourishes. I milk myself with my hands, and my husband gets frustrated because we bought the most expensive pump in the market. But hey, I am a girl who works with her hands, and milking myself is just faster.

It also makes me feel like I am an active participant in my body’s transformation into a dairy machine. I am a cow and I love it. Self-care had always been something that I had to consciously do, and remind myself to do. It was never my default.

Now, I eat so I can produce milk, so that my son can eat. I walk and exercise so that I can take my son outside, and so he can feel the sun. I shower so that I can wake myself up, and be more present for my son.

A few days ago, I brought him to Queen’s Park and walked across the U of T campus. We sat on the grass even though it was wet, and I let his feet touch the ground. I brought a leaf to his hands and let him feel how it crumbled in his fingers. He marvelled at the transformation. A gust of wind brought the leaves rolling against the grass and flew against our face. We both screamed in delight.

I am completely in love with my son. Everyday I wake up and feel butterflies when he smiles at me. I introduce him to the world gently, knowing that it can be cruel, yet lovely.

It has been a while since I’ve loved the world. For a time, I swore to myself never to fall in love with the world again, as much as I did before, so strongly did I fall that I failed to realize it was unrequited. When I finally did, the heartbreak was so tremendous that I spent my 20s guarded. Distanced. Trying to distract myself from existence.

And now, I see the world through his eyes and I let innocence and naivete flow through me like it did before. Things can be renewed, even bodies. Even bodies that have been torn and stretched and hammered by people who have taken advantage, can be torn and stretched and hammered again to bring a new being into life – one that is pure, whose life will never have to know the darkness you went through if you had any say in it. It gives me hope. It makes me genuinely and supremely happy, knowing that I can protect and love somebody in a way that I was never loved nor protected before. It feels like a chance to do things right.

When he sleeps beside me, I slowly open my laptop and write.

And I can’t help but smile.

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