Monday, May 23, 2011

If It Ain't Broke...

Warning: This post is for women of the non-squeamish sort.

As far as I can fathom, the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," was propagated by men. There are very few things that I cannot think of a way to improve, and there are other things in life that, well, if they're not broken, they are at least seriously warped.

Take womanhood for example.

Prior to adolescence, blood = bad. Honestly. What does your mother say? "I'm going in this room and I don't want to hear a peep from you unless you're bleeding or the house is burning down!"

See? Bleeding, house burning down. Equivalent.

So, even though I had been well prepared by my nurse mother and sex ed classes galore, all I could think when I pulled down my jeans after having the worst stomach pains of my life was that no band aid in the world was going to fix this. But alas, my seventh grade self would soon learn that "this" was the portal by which we entered womanhood.

Myself, I would have chosen something much more fun and a great deal less painful, not to mention gross.

Of course, I already knew the world was a mess. I had already been bullied repeatedly, thought of dying, and had seen death. I knew that life was not perfect.

What I was unaware of was that being broken was just a natural part of it, not to be fought. There was no doctor who thought this was wrong, no quick fix, and no appealing way to make it go away (although my sister did plead with my mother, my mother staunchly repeated that no physician would perform a hysterectomy on a 15-year-old no matter how bad her cramps were).

So when this dreaded monthly visitor finally exited my life during pregnancy, I was expecting great respite.

Until I lost that baby, and the visitor was back. But this time it meant emptiness, brokenness. And every month, it was like the red visitor laughed in my face with an utter contempt for my desolation, my bitterness, my--how else do I put it?--brokenness. My friends were all having babies. My little sister even. Why not me?

It wasn't like I had been far along. I hadn't even gone to the doctor. I had only just told my husband. And I certainly didn't tell anyone else until after my firstborn had safely arrived.

But it didn't really matter. I could be full, but instead I was empty. And every month, there was a bright red reminder of my failure--because that was how it felt whether it was or not.

Later, both times I was pregnant, I got another great shock: being full was not what I had expected either. I was not empty. Ohhhh, noooo. I was full, but was the creature inside me human? The scene of the beast emerging from John Hurt's abdomen in "Alien" replayed itself in my mind, and I do have to say that my first glance at my eldest did little to dispel it.

You see, being pregnant just made me aware that I was broken in still more ways--bizarre cravings, the inability to smell chocolate and refrain from vomiting, the need to pee every half hour (if that), the swollen feet, headaches, dizziness, high blood sugar, low blood pressure followed by high blood pressure. The list went on and on.

And birth only made it worse. If I had an opening, it was oozing. Even openings I wasn't used to were oozing. I needed only to think of my little one and my breasts leaked. No, "leaked" is not the right word. The people who use "leak" for the first child are either amnesiacs or in denial. They gushed freely, flooding all but the super-think Johnson's battle shields (also known as nursing pads). Of course very little of this made it to my newborn's mouth, and his hunger was insatiable.

Enter a new kind of brokenness--sleep deprivation.

I couldn't even match my socks or tell the salt from the sugar, much less perform the higher order thinking skills required to navigate my new role as mother and my altered role as wife.

And along with it came a new kind of brokenness. I had the baby in my arms, but I was empty. After spending the last six months counting kicks and the last few weeks rearranging body parts that were jutting out in odd and asymmetrical ways, I was unprepared for the complete emptiness of carrying my deflated stomach in front of me. No, I didn't want to be pregnant again ANYTIME soon, but now that I knew the promise that could be held, I lamented the absence of it inside me.

But these physical womanly experiences have made me more aware of the ones we experience emotionally all the time. I now recognize the times our friendships miscarry, and the promise of what might have been is unfulfilled. I see our thirst for connection--for mates, for family, for community--and again I note those attempts to get pregnant.

But most of all, I am aware of the simple periodic pains of passing time. I say goodbye to friends, to a community I knew, to a culture with which I am familiar. I welcome new ones painfully, learn to live with them, understand them, and then say goodbye again. The cycle repeats. Those I have looked up to pass on. I pick new mentors, and I become the mentor of some who are younger. All this is painful but promising.

And I know that, emotionally, it is that monthly visitor. There was a time when I would have needed a band aid, but this is too big for a band aid. It will pass in time and repeat again, but I will live through it.

I have learned that the brokenness is not a thing to be avoided, even though I often want to. It marks the attempts to achieve the potential of the promise that life holds. Without it, those things worth living for wouldn't exist.

Perhaps my children stated it best. Recently, when they saw me crying while talking to a friend at the playground, they came over with a friend.

"Mommy," asked the big one. "Is this a happy cry or a sad cry?"

"This is just a cry," I answered. "A little happy, a little sad."

My little one turned to his friend. "Boys are good, but girls leak. That's 'cause they're broken."

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