It’s summer. Bright light pours into our tiny living room and over the L-shaped sectional that we disassembled to fit the space. My husband has recently acquired his grandmother’s navy blue leather recliner, which we have lovingly squeezed into the remaining space. One wall of the living room is occupied nearly completely by a single paned window that rains condensation onto the floor nine months out of the year. Through the window we gaze out to the neighbor’s well kept garden filled with wisteria vines, shocking pink rhododendrons, and neatly trimmed grass. We pretend it is an extension of our living space and create an imaginary gardener named Carl.
“Carl sure knows his way around a hedge trimmer.” I call out to my husband.
I am on season 8, episode 12 of Grey’s Anatomy (and I started at the beginning). Gently caressing the crinkled armrests of the navy blue chair, I slowly adjust my backrest and shift the sleeping newborn on my chest. Her strawberry hued hair tickles my face and her hand grasps tightly on the collar of my shirt. I never want to forget the feeling of her breath on my neck, I think to myself.
It has rained every afternoon since she was born. The soft sound of water on the leaves and the warmth of the blue leather brings small measures of comfort postpartum. Pain has been an intimate friend for so long we are now entangled. I count on pain, expect pain, trust pain. Childbirth was a pain I didn’t know, but anticipated. After birth, I meet a pain I did not know and could not trust: a stranger. I quickly learn this interloper is not normal postpartum discomfort. The searing pain radiating down my legs and rippling up my spine is unbearable. As long as I’m sitting still I am mostly pain free. So I sit. I watch unrealistic surgeries and births on television and hold my baby to my chest. All day. For months.
Daydreaming about the things I will do once I am free of pain fill the remainder of my time. I’ll wear one of those slings made from hand woven cloth and slip my plump baby girl inside like a little hammock. She will sleep while I walk around the neighborhood finding all the newly blooming flowers. I will pick her up and spin her around when she is four, just like I did with my niece two years ago at the beach. I will run along the water and gaze out at the Olympic Mountains, my legs and back strong and able. I will play hopscotch and kick soccer balls. I will finally go to school and sit at a desk studying for hours. When I’m finally healed.
Baby girl wriggles and cries out. I move her to my lap realizing she needs a diaper change. My husband has run to the store and I find myself confronted with the challenge of dislodging myself and my infant out of the chair. It’s a careful dance to secure my baby on my shoulder while balancing out the weight to push myself forward on my toes. Once vertical I begin to shuffle to the bedroom only to feel my legs buckle underneath me, losing all strength. Grabbing the wall to stable myself I breathe a sigh of relief and shuffle forward. I have just learned this excruciating pain is the result of an old back injury reignited by childbirth. We have scheduled a spinal fusion in one month.
It is summer again and it is my first day of graduate school, the long months of post-surgical pain is largely a hazy memory. I struggle to make it the entire day sitting in a classroom chair and I begin to wonder how I could procure my blue recliner for the duration of this trimester. Baby girl has just started walking. I’ve worn her in a sling, kissing the top of her head, exactly twice and just around the house. It lasts five minutes before my spine begins to ache.
Another year passes as I prepare for year two of graduate school. I am finally feeling ready to exercise again. There is a three mile walking trail around a lake down the street from my school. The ducklings are losing their yellow feathers, and I pause to watch them swim to a shady respite under the willows extending out over the water. A third of the way into the walk I feel inspired to do some lunges and squats near a park bench. With the first deep bend of my leg my thighs seize sending burning pain up into my lower back. Carefully sitting on the bench, a tear rolls down my face as I watch a mom run past me, pushing a stroller with two kids.
It has been almost two years since my surgery. I should feel better. Be healed. The dig of failure feels like claws. This body that has climbed mountains and birthed a child no longer feels trustworthy. I’m afraid to move my body. So I sit.
It’s fall and my daughter is running up and down the driveway in her gold jelly sandals. I watch her burst towards me and squeal in delight.
“Come run with me mom!” her eyes sparkling with excitement.
“I don’t think I can, honey.” I say.
“Just try.” she replies. So simple. I start to shuffle towards her, unsure of my footing. She darts forward, giggling as I follow behind. “See! You are strong!” she yells. Her words are piercing and profound.
It’s my final summer of graduate school. My daughter asks for a piggy back ride up to bed. She climbs up and wraps her arms around my neck as I push up out of the blue chair. Dusk’s rose gold glow trails through the window, resting in the cracks of navy hide, while the rain snakes down the glass. We prepare for our ascent up the stairs as I neigh like a horse. “Yee haw!!”, she howls. And I gallop.
Mary C. Wood is a mama to one fiercely wild and courageous four year old girl. She is currently wrapping up her master’s degree in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine in the hopes to walk the healing journey with others, no matter the time it takes them. When she’s not studying you will find her taking long strolls around her Seattle neighborhood photographing flowers, while she reminds herself that healing isn’t linear.