When I had my first pelvic exam in college for basic gynecological wellness, the doctor manhandled my internal organs in such a way that my whole abdomen seized up in one big cramp. I moaned. "Cramps, huh?" he asked. "Well, it's all connected," he explained, without much sympathy. What he meant was that if you start messing with one piece of the reproductive system, all the other pieces are affected, and then everything hurts.
It turns out to be a damned good metaphor.
Today I had a "procedure" -- meaning that if they had not been able to weasel their way into my body through naturally-occurring openings, they'd have to cut me open and call it "surgery." I should have known trouble was on its way when I'd seen a nurse carrying a tray piled high with sterilized specula through the waiting room. In a few minutes in my little curtained exam room, the doctor plunged into me after the speculum with some soap, a few tubes and pokers, and a picture-taking ultrasound wand. She was just getting the lay of the land so they'd know the sizes of instruments they'd need later on, and the angles they'd have to approach my different lady-bits from to get good results when they actually do the IVF.
It has taken me two and a half hours to recover from the ensuing cramp. In fact, I got to use the "health room" in my office for the first time. It is like the school nurse's office minus the school nurse. I went in and shut the door and lay down on the cot, waiting for my Advil to kick in. And my mind wandered back, halfway through life. Eighteen years ago, minus two weeks, I was lying in the school nurse's office in the same position, doing the same thing. I had just thrown up from the pain of my menstrual cramps, and had barely made it to the infirmary. Because I was one day shy of being an adult, I had to get permission to go home. Today, a month and a day shy of my 36th birthday, I wondered if I needed permission to go home this time.
It's all connected, you see.
What do 1990 and 2008 have in common? Pain.
Same with the tip of the cervix and the far ends of the ovaries.
And the fertile days of teenagerdom, and this morning when I sat in a room full of late-thirties career women, nicely dressed with good handbags and sad eyes. One of them was crying. I'm surprised to say it wasn't even me.
My psyche is sore. The pain that has taken over my life has morphed into something emotional. It has changed who I am and the way I relate to things.
I hugged the crying woman in the lobby. I told her I felt the same way she did. In a way I'm still the same old friendly Kay, making friends with everybody, trying to comfort them. I immediately understand what they mean, even if it's not what they say. I relate to them in a matter of seconds.
But in some ways, my tolerance and kindness have begun to fail me. Lots of normal interactions with good people hurt. Everything smarts, even if it was meant well. Sometimes I am so sore that I have to recoil from my friends and loved ones, even though I miss them and even though they only want to comfort me.
The main reason I started this blog is that I want to tell you, Karen, and you, Phoebe, and you, Betsy and Jessica, and you, Leigh, Leyla, Carolynn, that I'm sorry I'm not myself. There are more of you in this category that I won't name, and more yet who will be soon. I miss you so much! But babies and pregnancies hurt me as much as the specula. I double over in pain and need to go home, get under the covers, wait for the Advil. It isn't me -- I know it's not me. You know I've always loved you! It's my reproductive system, from my lady bits to my brain. If you touch one part, the whole rest of it becomes inflamed. It cramps up so tight that I want to throw up, I think my body may never right itself, I fear I'll never get a full breath again. It just hurts. I'm afraid my soul will fall out. I'm afraid it has.
And that's why I have to take advantage of my few moments of fortitude to call you or email. It's why I can't come to showers, can't always be available for dinner. It's why I have to take a leave of absence from the friendships that mean so much to me. It's why I can't spend much time around the babies I so desperately want to get to know, whom I want to watch grow up every day, whose births I have waited for and looked forward to since I met their parents.
It's why the quarantine. Because it's all connected and I just can't get free. Not right now.