It was August of 2002, and Mrs. Bollyky (/BOY-kee/) and I were sitting on the back patio of their house in Connecticut, looking at the thousand shades of green in the back yard. “You have to listen to your body,” she told me.
I was a stress case. I had just finished a year of law school, working full time and going to school at night. My digestive system had all but given up on me, my chest felt so tight that I couldn’t get a full breath, and I saw no way to make it better. It never dawned on me that I could alter the path that I’d chosen, that I could be a little kinder to myself. If I let up on myself, my body would let up on me.
“Listen to your body. Your body knows.”
I got the same advice when I finally got pregnant. On my first trip to the OB – I could call the doctor the OB instead of the gynecologist! – we were talking about exercising while carrying twins. “Listen to your body.” When my body could handle walks or yoga or whatever trendy pregnancy exercise regimen there was out there, I’d know.
My body has let me know that it cannot handle anything like that. I am going into the third trimester soon, and I have experienced only a few weeks when I felt confident enough to walk down the block, sure that I would be able to get back to the house. I signed up for yoga and didn’t go to a single class because I happened to throw up on my way out the door every time. My small second trimester window of “I’m pretty sure I can stand up for 20 minutes” is closing.
Things have gotten dramatic here in this body. Earlier this week I woke up at 4:00 a.m. with a ligament spasm in my abdomen. The ligament that runs from the groin through the top of the uterus had stretched and stretched (at Baby A’s kicking insistence) until it could stretch no more. It popped back into place like a rubber band. It was like a Charlie horse – the cramp that affects your legs in the middle of the night. But Charlie horses in one’s abdomen and pelvis in the middle of the night are scary for pregnant women. Fortunately, by the time I threw up everything had relaxed and I could go back to sleep. (The adventure with the doctor on call is another blog entry).
The next night I woke up at 2:00 with what felt like gas pain right at the base of my rib cage. As I bounced around trying to dislodge any mercenary bubble, the pain became so intense that I threw up again. That shook things up enough in my abdomen that I felt better. The same thing happened two nights later, but I knew the throwing up trick this time. And since I can throw up pretty much on command (I squat at the toilet and voila!) now I know the system. Sure, it resembles bulimia, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Horrifying pain and nausea aside, I can still say that every square inch of my body has changed throughout this adventure. My hair is fuller (the next stage will be for it to fall out). My face, shoulders, and neck are retaining “fat reserves.” My sense of smell is more acute, even as my sinuses swell up and make me snore – more. I am growing “skin tags” on my neck, arms, and chest. No explanation why, but apparently it’s normal. My chest, well, I won’t go into the things that have changed there, but I’ll say that I can think of at least four new weird things. Then we get to my abdomen, which is obviously huge and having lots of stuff going on inside it. I have gas and heartburn and nausea, plus a charming habit of hiccupping. My belly button (yes, the fake one) has become a horizontal scar line in the middle of my pear shape. Stretch marks radiate like rainbows over my hips and are now showing up under my belly.
The twins make themselves known in the middle of this human pear. I feel them squirm often, as if I have some muscle that’s twitching. Occasionally I feel a jab and see my stomach move out of the corner of my eye. My bladder, well, it doesn’t stand a chance as it jockeys with two tiny little girls who are lying on it. My crotch is not a thing that I will discuss in this forum, though come over to my house and I’ll tell you all about it. There I can think of four changes there that I never knew were coming.
My legs are thicker and have stretch marks on the front of my thighs where they meet my trunk, as well as on the backs of my knees. My ankles are occasionally swollen. My feet are not swollen, I think, but they have grown. A recent trip to a shoe store found me graduating to the men’s section. As I left the women’s section, the shoe salesman said, “You’re going to have tall babies!”
That’s the state of my body. I’m listening. It would be hard not to. And I love all the changes that are happening, except for when the pain or nausea is excruciating. Being pregnant sucks physically, but it’s amazing. And it makes me finally, finally, love my body.
While I was going through the two years of infertility, I hated my body. I felt like it had betrayed me. I could think of nothing good about it. It had completely let me down with the most basic human task. One could argue that I should have been good to it, nurtured a relationship with it so it would be happier to reproduce. Yeah. Go get infertile and see if that’s the way you feel about it.
Recently, my focus on bodies has shifted. Now that my body is working as it should, I’ve seen a lot of healthy, vibrant people whose bodies have gotten sick. The people are still themselves, their minds are still them, but their bodies have been taken over by cancer. The persona and the mind have to go to battle. Chemo pulverizes a body’s mutant cancer cells and may or may not leave a body that can bounce back. By definition, it’s devastating. Listen to your body? My God, cancer patients have to almost kill their bodies. Talk about betrayal – the body betrays them, they betray the body. It’s awful.
I have gotten pretty mad at cancer lately. It has claimed a lot of people I know this year, many of them after a very long, very painful struggle. At the beginning of this month, I announced that Fiber of Her Being, my business, was going to give out five free pillows to people undergoing chemotherapy.
I got the Chemo Pillow (later Comfort Pillow) idea from my friend Paul two years ago. His mom, Mrs. Bollyky, the one who told me first to listen to my body, had cancer. “It’s not good, Kay,” I remember him saying. Paul commissioned a cheerful pillow with pictures of her grandchildren on it for Mrs. Bollyky to take to chemotherapy. It would give her both physical and emotional comfort during the grueling hours of treatment. Paul suggested that my business offer a line of Chemo Pillows. I began it. And the pillows have flown off the racks.
It makes me very happy to be able to bring some comfort to people who are going through such tough times. I know what it’s like to have a chronic condition, and I know what it’s like to be scared and to be in pain. I don’t know what it’s like to have my life at stake. But I feel very strongly that I have some skills that can be of use to patients and their families, and by golly, I’m going to do what I can.
In the last couple of months, four recipients of my Chemo pillows have died.
Mrs. Bollyky died this week.
The Bollyky family adopted me back in college. They were very close to each other and enjoyed opening their home to strays. I enjoyed being in a family. I spent a lot of time at their house over the years, and my relationship with them extended past Paul to his parents directly, especially to his mom. She was the sweetest woman you’d ever want to have adopt you.
The last time I saw Mr. and Mrs. Bollyky, it was 2002 and I was staying with them for the weekend while my friend Betsy (whose sweet mom passed away from cancer three weeks ago) got married in a neighboring town. We talked about when the Bollyky parents were young, and matters of life and love. We talked about overcoming stress!
The last time I talked to Mrs. Bollyky on the phone, I told her about my struggles with infertility, and she told me that she had suffered too. She had tried to conceive for years before her three wonderful children finally showed up and her family blossomed into the huge expanse of love that it is now. She assured me that it would all be okay for me, too.
And she was right. My body and my mind, my soul, finally came together. Together they are doing the most miraculous thing that I can think of. They are helping me fulfill my dream and my evolutionary destiny. They’re making people, for heaven’s sake! I couldn’t be happier.
But Mrs. Bollyky’s body betrayed her. She never did anything wrong. She was pure goodness and love, but something bad got a hold of some of her cells, and that was that. She lived to see four grandchildren born, but she won’t get to see them grow up. She spent the last few years of her life frail and in great pain. I hate that. I hate it I hate it I hate it. I just don’t know what to do.
I got Paul’s message yesterday when I came to my desk to find an address. I was sending out one of my Chemo Pillows. This one is going to a pediatric nurse who took care of three sisters, and when they grew up, two of their little boys. She is someone who has devoted her life to helping kids feel better. As I cried about my dear adoptive mother, I gritted my teeth and addressed the package with this next pillow in it.
I don’t know how to conclude this blog entry. I don’t know how to summarize it tidily.
I guess I’ll say that, bodies aside, the life of my soul would not be the same if it weren’t for Mrs. Bollyky.