“I don’t want to die,” I say with a mix of terror and fortitude, my voice quivering as I look into my counselor’s kind eyes. I am processing a consultation with a urogynecologist over a proposed reconstructive surgery intended to repair my prolapsed bladder and remove my uterus, the space that has nourished and held each of my three daughters. Cognitively, I know this is a major surgery, a complex one, but extremely common and not life-threatening.
My shoulders constrict. “I’m more scared of the anesthesia than the pain of the surgery itself,” I tell him. Anesthesia feels like the ultimate subjection, placing my body into a position where its’ safety, honor and care is in the hands of a medical team. I imagine the powerlessness of being immobilized and unconscious and allowing the others access to this sacred space inside my body.
My life and my daughter’s life have been rescued at the hands of brilliant doctors, whose names are heroines and heroes in our home. I have also been deeply harmed by the medical community. My heart holds both hope for relief from pelvic pain and grief that this surgery is a repair, that the stretching of these connective tissues will never return to what they were and there is a high-risk of a repeat surgery.
The labor and delivery room where the damage occurred is still etched in my mind. After conceiving my daughter through subcutaneous injections of follicle-stimulating hormones, I felt a desire to participate with my body, staying present in the stages of labor. “You need to push this baby out by 7, or I’m going to give you a C-section” the on-call ob/gyn said. My baby’s heart rate was steady. I had no awareness that my bladder was close to rupture. At 6:59, in between contractions, I blew her threw my pelvic floor and then fainted. About 20 minutes later, I was catheterized. The nurse’s words still haunt me, “ I have never seen a human bladder filled with this much urine. No wonder you couldn’t push her over it.”
At the repair consult, I asked the surgeon if he would perform the procedure without general anesthesia. “No, I don’t think that’s a good idea. A hysterectomy involves a certain level of pulling and tugging and I’m not sure you want to be awake for that.”
With eyes of compassion and curiosity my counselor asks, “How many times do you think the surgeon has been asked if a patient could remain awake while their organs are being removed from their body?” I paused, feeling grief and compassion for how my body remains constantly on guard.
“Not very often,” I say.
The posture of keeping watch is an ancient body memory for me.
As I share the story during therapy, I vacillate between shallow breathing and clenched jaws to my shoulders relaxing and my breath slowing. As an astute practitioner, he points out how my body moved through this cycle 10 times just during the 20-25 minutes of sharing about the surgery.
How will you open your hurting and aching body to touch as you await this procedure? he asks.
My body had been in a posture of tightening and protecting for the last month, measuring each movement, for the intensity of discomfort I may experience. My central nervous system is on high alert, which has put a strain on my pelvic floor, my muscles, my connective tissue, and my spine. The body remembers trauma and responds to potential threats by fiercely protecting us. My clenched body is saying, “Don’t let your guard down. It is not safe.”
In sync with my counselor’s question, I visit a Craniosacral therapist. As she offers me care through gentle touch, I feel a strong urge to dissociate or exit my body to give it some space and relief from the physical and emotional sensations of what I’m experiencing. I am thankful for the grace to leave my body. It has been well-trained to exit when the pain is insufferable. After moments, I thank it for bracing. “Thank you. You are safe now.”
My husband has been reading a Catholic writer who shares that when he and his wife have to abstain from sexual relations they practice skin to skin contact. Michael recently invited me to try this. I lay on the warmth of his chest, allowing my right ear to rhythmically listen to the sound of his heartbeat. For a minute, my body unclenches and finds some relief and healing in his safe arms reaching deep into my fascia or connective tissue.
As I look ahead, I know this process will require surrender. I need to trust arms that are bigger than the surgeon’s expertise and my body’s ability to protect itself. Trauma therapist Bonnie Badenoch says we are all constantly yearning for a safe body and soul to co-organize with. When the doors of the operating room close, I am praying that I would co-organize with Jesus, allowing my body to rest into His gentle, sheltering, strong arms of care. I imagine the safety of being held skin-to-skin with my Creator, my body moving in synchronicity with His heartbeat as a baby’s body surrendered to the care of its mother.
Rachel Blackston loves all things beautiful…rich conversations over a hot cup of lemon ginger tea, watching her three little girls twirl around in tutus, and Florida sunrises on her morning walks. She resides in Orlando with her lanky, marathon running husband and her precious daughters, priceless gifts after several years of infertility. Rachel and her husband Michael cofounded Redeemer Counseling. As a therapist, Rachel considers it an honor to walk with women in their stories of harm, beauty, and redemption.