I should have known I would crash at the Doctors office. How could I not? Still, I didn’t ask anyone to go with me, mainly because I’m done being so needy and broken.
At age 40, I’ve decided to get my tubes tied. Birth control isn’t something I’ve had to worry about for a long time. A few years after Melanie was born, John had a vasectomy. Now John’s dead, Melanie is 7, and I’ve re-entered the dating world.
I’ve never before been so afraid of getting pregnant – not even when I was in college and a baby would have ruined everything. Now the idea of another child reminds me that my life isn’t what I planned and triggers panic attacks about my true alone-ness. I had been feeling good about the consult I had scheduled at Swedish. I’m taking charge! I’m recognizing my limitations and taking steps to own my future. I’m making a smart decision. Still, I woke up sad and lonely. I packed my kids lunches and found this note in Melanie’s lunch box. The pain never seems to go away.
It wasn’t until I was in the exam room later that morning that my eyes began to brim. The doctor walked in and, though I was sad, I instantly liked her. She had short, spikey hair, a smooth face, no makeup, and was very trim with angular features. She wore a crisp button down shirt tucked into tailored dress pants with beautiful masculine/feminine wingtip shoes with high heels. She had a masculine wedding band and seemed unapologetically (but not flamboyantly) gay in a way that made it a non-thing instead of a thing. I was safe with her.
We began to go through my reproductive health history. I detailed my 2 traumatic C-sections – one after 40 hours of labor, the other after 30. I explained that my uterus had almost burst the second time – when they opened me up they said my uterus was paper thin around my old scar and they couldn’t cut there because it wouldn’t have even held stitches, so they had to give me a second scar. I told her of the allergic reaction I’d had to Phenergan during my first labor and how I had gone into convulsions and John thought I was going to die. I mentioned the abdominal herniation I’d had both pregnancies, and how my belly muscles still weren’t put back together, limiting certain forms of exercise. Finally, I told her of my miscarriage in 2006, leading to a traumatic D&C under general anesthesia. Side note – D&C stands for Dilation and Curettage – they open you up and scrape your uterus out so that you don’t have the trauma of hemorrhaging chunks of your dead baby into the bathtub. I still bled for 20 days afterwards. 20 days.
Then, my general health history. The extreme stress, panic attacks, and PTSD-like symptoms since his death. The insomnia leading to a level of exhaustion that seems almost life threatening. For some reason I didn’t mention the fact that, 3 weeks ago, my lips went blue and I fainted at the dinner table, only to be dragged to the couch by my frantic friends while my horrified children looked on. Maybe part of me was afraid that, if I seemed too fragile and weak, then she wouldn’t let me have the surgery.
She was thorough, but also kind. She maintained her composure and professionalism as she wiped her eyes. 18 months later and my ability to make strangers cry is intact. We discussed my ongoing work with my regular doctor to address the health issues that have arisen in my time of grief, and I could tell she was confident that I am receiving solid care. Finally, she said
“I’m just so sorry. I can’t even imagine. I don’t know what else to say.”
And then I said what I always say – that there is nothing else to say besides “I’m sorry.” I was grateful that she didn’t try to offer me a solution or bullshit words of hope. She looked at me with heavy eyes, honored me in my sad place, and I felt understood.
After all of that, there wasn’t any uncertainty between us. My body should never carry another child. My uterus could burst. I’d have to get cut open again. My abdominal muscles would rip open wider. It wouldn’t be safe to carry a child after 18 months of averaging 4 hours of sleep a night. I’m stripped bare, empty, and my reserves are all gone. How could I ever manage single parenthood to 2 traumatized fatherless children while caring for an infant and processing my continued grief? Sterilize me, and do it as soon as possible. Give me some certainty in a life where I feel powerless.
It was then, near the end of the appointment that the tears finally spilled over the edge of my lids. Why hadn’t I brought anyone with me to hold my hand? If John hadn’t died, I wouldn’t have to get sterilized. If he was alive and I had an important doctor’s appointment, he would have come with me. He wouldn’t have let me say no, he would have insisted on coming. I’m so tired of crying alone, yet I’m also painfully aware of the fact that widowhood is a very solo journey. Only I can find my new future.
As the appointment wound down, she told me I would receive a call from someone who would be able to get me on the surgical calendar. She looked at my old file from when I’d been to Swedish years before, and said “When we call you, should we use the number on file ending in 4132, or the number ending in 6915?”
My body became 20lbs heavier yet again, and I responded “Use the number ending in 4132. The other number is for my dead husband. You can remove that.”
She deleted his number from the file, and I was reminded yet again – I am alone.