My new belly button

It’s been about ten weeks since my stomach operation, and although I’m not fully healed I was just given the go-ahead to swim (my favourite and most effective exercise) yesterday so I’m pretty much in the clear.

Some thoughts:

It really really hurt a lot. There were times when I wasn’t sure it was worth it. (But it clearly was.)

Post-operative infections suck. Especially when you’ve allowed a month off and then suddenly it isn’t close to enough (it was more like taking two months out of my life, although I did get some work done in that time).

Yes, I have a new belly button.

I can fit clothes! This is still extremely exciting.*

My blood glucose has been within target ranges EVERY SINGLE TIME ever since the operation. Under the advice of my doctor, I’m slowly cutting out the diabetes medications that I take—continuing to monitor my blood sugar all the time. It’s too early to be certain, but it looks suspiciously like my stomach operation instantly fixed my diabetes. THAT IS AWESOME. It is also another reason this operation should absolutely be covered under Medicare. How many other mothers have severe health problems because their internal organs just haven’t “bounced back” after a massive physical event?

I’m not so hungry. I snack much less often, and don’t feel as weak, shaky and fatigued as I did before the operation. Stomachs are designed to be enclosed by abdominal muscles, and that goes a LONG way towards explaining why I’ve doubled in weight since having kids… my stomach just wasn’t working, and both my hunger and my fatigue were telling me I wasn’t getting enough food.

I’ve lost a bunch of weight since the operation without trying (or being hangry, which is a big problem for me as it connects to my existing mental conditions in dramatic ways). Hopefully this is a trend that will continue! Honestly I know that things will get harder and harder as I have less weight to lose, but this is certainly helping a LOT.

And sure, I’m still massively overweight, and I still have at least two other conditions that make standing/walking a big problem. But my health has improved hugely, and my optimism for the future—maybe even, one day, a healthy future—is greatly improved.

 

*I actually bought a full-on ball gown the other day, on a whim, because (a) It fit, which is an amazing thing. (b) It’s very pretty, (c) It was at Vinnies, so it cost $50 instead of $500. (d) It was near my birthday.

Full disclosure: I can’t actually do up the zip at the back. Yet.

But I promise to post a pic someday. I’m thinking I might wear it as part of the Kickstarter video for “Murder in the Mail”, which I need to film and put together this week.

Ah, l’Hospital!

For those who don’t follow me on facebook or twitter, I’m in hospital (again). Just as it looked like I was in the clear post-operatively speaking, I developed an infection.

It so happens that the infection is right in a patch of my belly that’s currently completely numb. Which possibly explains why I’ve been in almost no pain this entire time (I noticed it on Christmas Eve, but thought it was just a rash).

Yesterday I had a small operation to help fix the infection and (warning: the rest of this paragraph is medical and icky, but fascinating) the wound was left open and gaping for a while, as I waited to have a special medical vacuum attached to it. I used my kindle camera to have a look and got a huge shock at what I had thought might be a belly button-sized wound. It’s long, and wide, and deep. It’s also extremely clean as far as the human body goes, and I could clearly see different levels of. . . well. . . me. I was somewhat disturbed and quickly replaced the sheet covering it, but then realised it was a fab writing opportunity and took a picture. Several people have since requested to see it, so I’ve emailed them privately. (If you want to see it, email “fellissimo@hotmail.com” with the subject line “Gaping belly wound please”.)

It’s also inspired a significant dramatic scene in one of the stories I’m currently working on. I can’t tell you more than that, except that I ran the entire scene past a nurse and she made lots of the right kind of impressed noises. (Also, I was not on morphine at the time.)

I very much enjoyed my morphine experience once again. Some people throw up and/or feel awful after a general anaesthetic. I feel FANTASTIC. It was rather hard not to over-compliment all the wonderful staff, and I struggled with conversation due to not being able to hold info in my brain for more than about five seconds at a time.

The following morning I had a follow-up visit with the surgeon who asked me if I remembered speaking to him and his team after the surgery.

No, I did not. I definitely remember being on morphine and talking to people, but there is a whole period of time before that fully-conscious part of the evening that I don’t remember at all. He said I was, “Two vodkas over” and “laughing at nurses”. I suspect I may have made some overly affectionate comments towards all the staff (male and female nurses are both awesome) and he chose to spare me the knowledge of exactly what terrible things I said.

Silly man. Of course I want to know exactly what terrible things I said! I’ve never been blackout drunk so THIS IS MY MOMENT TO SHINE.

I saw a different doctor this morning and asked him if he was there at the time. “No,” he said. “Sadly. It seems I missed out.”

Fingers crossed I get some embarrassing and inappropriate quotes of my drugged-up self before I have to go home.

As you can tell, I’m in high spirits and feeling remarkably well (seriously, I’m not even taking panadol today because I just don’t need any pain relief). I’m going to stay attached to the medical vacuum for quite a while, and I’m still waiting on a swab result to get me a more targeted antibiotic—but I have my own room with a gorgeous view of Telstra Tower, The National Arboretum, and the helipad, and I actually had to force myself to not dance when a song I liked came on the Tv this morning.

Wacky stuff.

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You can see why this floor is called ‘The Penthouse’.

Also, I have a silver dressing on/in my stomach wound, which is extremely cool given that my steampunk universe has magical silver that can assist with supernatural levels of healing. (Based, of course, on silver’s real-world antibacterial qualities, which is why it’s in me right now.)

My actual surgery was at John James Private Hospital, but my official surgeon is away on holiday so this entire infection is being dealt with in Canberra Hospital, which is public. So I’ve been able to compare notes with… er… myself.

What the private hospital did better:

  1. It’s made up of almost all private rooms, and you can pay a (relatively) small amount ($70/night when it costs over $1000/night already) to make sure you’re alone.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but sharing a room with a random stranger (who is guaranteed to not be at their best) is always going to suck. The best-case scenario is that the 2 (or more) of you get on like a house on fire, and relieve one another’s boredom. But even that would freak me out thanks to the magic of social anxiety.

When I was at the private hospital I also had a private ensuite, which of course significantly reduces the grossness factor. (I also struggle with anxiety when showering anywhere other than my own ensuite at home, but sharing with sick/bleeding/incontinent people—or sharing while sick/bleeding/incontinent is even less fun.)

My roomie here at Canberra Hospital was an older man who was clearly very ill and in a lot of pain. He spent a lot of time moaning aloud, and would swear (and then apologise—he’s clearly also a very nice man doing his best at a miserable time) at almost every procedure (including really basic stuff like blood tests and cannula flushes) or movement. He was also in the bed by the window, which meant I didn’t get to see the view (not anyone’s fault of course, but natural light is a very helpful thing). He isn’t fully aware of where he is, or who staff or family members are, and talked to himself a bit. All this was stressful for me but part of the joy of hospital life. Then one day he was talking to himself about wanting to be violent and trying not to be, and I decided that he was a (tiny tiny tiny) potential danger to himself and others.

I told the staff that I thought he should have his own room, and why. They said that wasn’t an option, which shocked me utterly.

This man has been in hospital for weeks and hasn’t done anything the least bit violent. He’s also got a catheter and is basically unable to leave his bed. So you can see why staff immediately assumed I was over-reacting.

I went to the lounge and tried to sort out whether I was being rational or not. The thing is, as a fiction writer everything in life goes through a story filter in my head. This man said he felt like he was being tortured. He wasn’t sure what country he was in. He didn’t recognise his own family, or the nurses. And he was understandably angry.

I’m mentally ill too, and keenly aware that “mental illness” is blamed for a bunch of crimes (while the mentally ill are far more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators).

But.

Watch any movie with foreshadowing, and you can see the big disaster coming from miles away. You never get a story where a crazy old man talks about violence and then successfully controls himself. You get a story which ends with Hospitalised Mother Of Two Killed By Delusional Room-Mate After Requesting A Different Room.

Long story short, I applied the same strategy I apply to every important hospital issue: I waited until the next shift came on, and told them exactly the same thing.

They knew the man would hate to be moved, so they moved me instead. And voila! I have a private room (the only one on this floor), despite assuring everyone over and over that I’m absolutely fine and don’t deserve special treatment.

It’s sooooooo gooooooood. TJ in particular was born loud, and it was very hard to host him while trying not to bother the patient on the other side of the curtain. The gentleman above also had lots of visitors and I constantly found myself inadvertently (or vertantly, who am I kidding?) eavesdropping on everything they said.

It’s good to be alone.

2. Food. Obviously. Everything I ate at John James was nice. Not all of it was 100% to my taste, but it was all decent. Some of it was seriously good.

Yesterday for breakfast I was intolerant to literally everything on the plate except a slice of cold toast and some low-fat margarine. So that was my breakfast. No milk, no protein, nothing that was enjoyable to eat.

The vegetables here are microwaved frozen vegies; the meat is usually a little nasty; the porridge would be better used as Kindy glue and the backup sandwiches (kept in a fridge for people like me that have been fasting and needed something to eat between normal mealtimes) recalled that famous New Yorker story “Cat Person”, in the following manner:

“It was a terrible sandwich, shockingly bad; Felicity had trouble believing that a grown human could possibly be so bad at making sandwiches.”

One sandwich was cheese: plastic cheese with a thick layer of cloying margarine. The other was “Mayo chicken”. The mayo was bad, the chicken was bad, and the bread was going stale, but it was the combination of finely-minced chicken and still-very-noticeable chunks of cartilage and bone that truly surprised me. I’ve never encountered chicken bones in a sandwich, let alone one that had apparently gone to the trouble of mincing up the meat. Was it made of chicken scrapings from a sausage factory floor?

I cannot confirm or deny that statement.

This was my lunch today:

 

Take a moment to guess what it is. Milky tea, and some kind of meat with an ice-cream scoop of gently flecked mashed potato?

The mug is mushroom soup. It tasted very mushroomy, with just the slightest hint of actual real mushroom—perhaps as much as 2% of a physical mushroom, finely grated and scattered into the mushroom-flavoured broth. It was actually pretty nice, and it was a good thing it was low on actual vegetables since I’m pretty darn intolerant of the shrooms at the best of times.

The other is a veal roast with gravy and “cheesy potato”. The lunch and dinner menu always feature microwaved frozen vegetables, and various forms of (alleged) potato.

Potato is actually the one vegetable I can eat safely, and despite the carbs it’s got a lot going for it. It’s all powdered potato, but the “cheesy” version was definitely superior to the ones that are pure powder or microwaved slices of boiled spud.

I feel a little sad as I wonder how many baby cows were slaughtered in order to be burned and smothered by (alleged) gravy throughout hospitals all over Canberra today. I had some of the non-burned bits and they were okay, although the weirdly viscous movement of the gravy was a little disturbing (I’ve made powdered gravy and it doesn’t do that, so what could create such an effect? Did it get mixed up with the “rolled oats” glue from breakfast?)

Oh! The other food difference is that it was quite easy to convince people here that I’m better off with the non-diabetic menu (which tends to have more protein and less stuff I’m intolerant to). At John James I’d take advantage of any confusion and squirrel away real butter whenever someone accidentally gave me the good (ie non-diabetic) menu.

I also had a slice of nice white bread and real butter at lunch, which isn’t super healthy but certainly is delicious.

3. Respect/Meds

But here’s something interesting: I’ve been treated much more respectfully here than at John James. On one occasion at John James two nurses came in to personally administer my medication while I was on the loo (rather than coming back in a few minutes). Given how overworked nurses are, I’m mildly sympathetic—but after having two kids I feel like far too may people have treated my body like public property and I’m pissed. If I can dress and shower myself, I want to do so without company thankyouverymuch.

A nurse at John James disapproved of my method of bringing in my (very confusing) array of medications, and she confiscated them all and ordered replacements from the pharmacy. The replacements looked different and I was unable to keep track of important meds like diabetes stuff, migraine stuff, and anti-depressant pills. As has happened every single time I’ve been in hospital, nurses tried valiantly to keep perfect written records and give me all my meds at the right times—and they failed utterly. Although the paperwork system is a great plan, it doesn’t work in practice and that is dangerous. (Obviously, letting me take my own pills while high on morphine isn’t going to be safe either.)

Here at Canberra Hospital, nurses have over and over again LISTENED to me and let me take my own pills at the appropriate times. This is bizarre and wonderful. (And didn’t happen here at Canberra Hospital when I was pregnant and came in with premature labour… but of course, pregnant women be crazy so people are always extra patronising during such times.)

I have a theory that patients at a private hospital are fussier and more demanding, so private nurses are more likely to have grown hard and dismissive of patient concerns. Because, although the vast majority of staff at John James were great, my overall experience with staff here at Canberra Hospital has been better, kinder—and MUCH more respectful.

 

Having said that, I’d kill for a private room.

I mean, not really KILL…

Or would I?


There’s often a wonderful eerie quality to hospitals, as I meet yet another shift of new people tasked with keeping me alive, as my medical vacuum says “eep” to indicate it’s just been unplugged, as I smile politely while someone takes four attempts to hit one of my veins with a syringe, or as I push my drip stand down the empty hall at 2am, shuffling in and out of pools of fluorescent light.


Once again, my biggest worry is recovery. Small children, school holidays, and major surgery do not mix well.

Kids get bored.

Mums run out of ideas.

Mums do what they have to do to get through the day without excessive screaming from/towards the children.

Mums go back into hospital, and the cycle starts again.

I don’t really have a solution. Chris may be healthy, but he has his limits too—and he’s back at work this Tuesday. I have received overwhelming amounts of support from friends both close and barely seen, and that frightens me as well. I’m painfully aware that my normal “good” level of health isn’t enough to do the stuff people have done for me (such as babysitting my kids for a whole day, or donating money). It’s never easy to believe I have value, as a woman/fat person/depressed person/writer/disabled/low-income person. Hopefully spelling it out here will help me to remember it’s society that is broken and wrong, not me. My personal worth can’t be linked to societal norms or I’m screwed.

The good news is that I may still be able to enrol Louisette in holiday care during January. Because boy howdy do we need it.

My Belly Part 2 (NB medical grossness)

I woke to pain; the kind of pain I imagine I would feel if my abdomen was sliced open and pinned wide, like a butterfly.

Of course the anaesthetist had done her job well and I was all sewn up and already settled into the ICU (most people go to a regular ward after an abdominoplasty but I have diabetes etc so they were being careful). I knew I was in hospital and that nothing was wrong and that there would be painkillers very soon. So I wasn’t afraid; just in pain.

So I thrashed my head back and forth, careful not to actually move my torso, and said, “Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow” until people came over. I think they asked me to rate my pain out of ten (something that always reminds me of Scrubs pointing out how utterly biased and useless such a scale is). Since I wasn’t actually screaming (a la being in labor) I said 7 or 8. They gave me morphine, which was most definitely the right call. I had a button I could push for more as needed (which had a light that turned off if I wasn’t allowed more yet). I later discovered that only about 1 in 300 abdominoplasty patients require post-op morphine. That astonishes me.

Kids, it hurt. It hurt a lot. It still does. (To be fair, my back pain due to the limited movement is also very bad, and the operation also triggered migraines.)

After that, the hospital visit was about the same things as all hospital visits:

  1. Negotiating bureaucracy. Every shift and every ward has slightly different rules, and the vast majority are set in iron. Most of the rules are harmless, but it pretty much always means my medications—some of which should NOT be messed with—get screwed up. That certainly happened this time, and over the five nights it didn’t ever get correctly sorted out.
  2. The gradual transition from sleep to boredom, punctuated by tests. I was bored enough to summon pastoral care just so I had someone to talk to. (I’ve heard hospital staff average a total of 12 minutes per day per patient, and that sounds about right.)
  3. Toilet functions.

#3 should definitely be #1. I couldn’t tell you how many people asked if I’d farted, nor express how pleased they were when I answered in the affirmative. For the first couple of days I couldn’t sit or stand without help (or, obviously, walk) so some of the nurses got to know me… extremely well. Nurses are always ridiculously blase about such things. On my last day I was going to the bathroom and two nurses went ahead and walked in on me to give me some pills rather than waiting five minutes and coming back.

So there was a lot of grossness. If you’re a woman who’s had a baby, you’ll be familiar with the sense that your body no longer belongs to you. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck, or that it stops feeling like a violation. Abdominoplasty scars go basically from hip to hip (like a great big smile), but are deliberately laid down as low as possible. Which means literally among the short and curlies. (As it were.) I literally cried when I had my dressing changed yesterday. You know what it’s like removing an unusually strong bandaid? It’s like that, except you’re not allowed to wet it, and it’s far too big (and too raw a wound) to rip off fast and get it over with.

The grossest thing that people have to deal with post-op is the drains. The body tries to fill up a wound with liquid, which actually tends to swell and infect it. Drains draw bodily fluids away during that first crucial few days (8 for me). Basically I had two very long flexible straws sewn into the wound. At first it mostly looked like blood coming out through the straws, but it was always a mixture of blood and other stuff that gradually shifted in ratio to the point where the blood could clot, and the fluid in the bags was an orangey colour instead of scarlet.

So this is what the drains actually looked like:

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2

 

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They were uncomfortable as well as gross, poking into me when I sat or walked, and getting quite heavy at times. I’m very glad to not have to deal with them any more.

I’m still on some pretty intense painkillers (again, I’m assured that most people have downgraded to just panadol from here—which is certainly not a go for me at this stage). I’m still in a lot of pain, although I do have periods of time (when I’m sitting still) that I can forget about it.

My body is quite different. Obviously, my enormous stomach is now a normal size (it’s certainly not the world’s greatest stomach, because abdominoplasties don’t work that way), which is extremely exciting. I’m retaining water (normal after surgery because the body is stressed out) and still can’t stand up completely straight, but I can wear all my dresses (skirts tend to be too big now and pants would hurt way way too much).

My appetite is dramatically changed now that my stomach isn’t flopping about willy-nilly (rather, held in place with the muscles that are supposed to hold it)—not only do I eat much less, I stay full longer too. I’ve been getting blood-sugar readings in the healthy range for the first time since I was diagnosed as diabetic.

It’s early days yet, but the worst is over—for this operation, and I hope for my health in general.

Here’s the official pre- and post-op photos:

 

The surgeon removed 3.5 kilos just from my stomach. He also made me a new bellybutton (which right now is just a horrifying pit of blood and bruising).

This surgery is definitely not for everyone. It’s not an easy thing to go through, it costs a huge amount, and you need to be realistic about results. But I’m certainly very glad to have my innards put back where they belong, and I expect to reap the benefits of that for the rest of my life.

My Belly Part 1

I’m going to go ahead and talk about some gross medical stuff here, so feel free to skip this one if you’re at all squeamish.

It’s 5am on Friday, so it’s just (barely) over a week since I had my abdominoplasty operation. I’ve carefully referred to it as an abdominoplasty rather than its much simpler and catchier name: Tummy tuck.

I guarantee a bunch of people are saying, “WHAT!?! This whole thing you’ve been banging on about is elective plastic surgery?”

Yup.

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(This monitor lizard is both shocked and appalled.)

To which I generally point out all the hard medical reasons for me to “need” (rather than just want) this surgery: the 9cm gap between my stomach muscles; the back problems; the umbilical hernia; the sores due to loose skin.

But when I’m able to push past my own self-righteousness, why the hell shouldn’t women be allowed to have their stomachs put back into a vaguely familiar shape? The phrase “mummy makeover” makes me quiver, but seriously why not? Why is it right and good that women should go through the misery of pregnancy for 9 months, the agony of birth, and then also cheerfully accept that they’ll never fit into jeans again, no matter what they do? Why should women’s bodies go through horrific trauma and then also shame their owner for the rest of their lives? I often feel about ninety years old courtesy of my various post-partum health issues, but even the average woman probably ages around 10 years thanks to having kids… and that’s before actually looking after the kids.

So anyway…

I had a tummy tuck last week. Although my stomach muscles were severely separated (in a manner that, as a sports injury, would be covered under medicare-why yes that IS sexist) it proved impossible to have my body stitched back together via the public health system. Believe me; I tried over and over again for years. My youngest is three and a half years old, and I knew within weeks of his birth that something was seriously messed up with my stomach. It’s been a long and shitty journey, and the journey itself has certainly been a factor in my gaining more and more weight (which then of course causes doctors to tell me that all my problems are my own fault. Cause and effect are a thing, y’all), and going through a lot more pain and humiliation than necessary.

One surgeon told me that my stomach gap was probably too small to bother with, but ordered a scan. When I returned to him with evidence of a 9cm gap between my stomach muscles, he told me it was far too big for his hospital to deal with, and I’d need to go to Canberra Hospital (which happened to be where we were meeting, since he works at two hospitals). On both occasions he told me, “It’s out of my hands.”

One surgeon told me that stomach muscles could not actually be fixed (the entire tummy tuck industry is a scam, apparently) but he could add some surgical mesh to fix my umbilical hernia (the hernia means that umbilical stuff tends to poke out of my stomach at times due to the lack of stomach muscles being where they should be). After googling matters, confirming my suspicion that stomach mesh would make any future actually-solving-the-primary-problem operation more difficult and dangerous, I refused the surgery. Shortly afterwards, Australia’s largest manufacturer of surgical mesh was taken to court for their unsafe product. So that was a win. Sort of.

I looked online for a surgeon who worked in both the public and private sector. My plan was to get a straight answer about the surgery by appearing to be a private customer—then, when he confirmed surgery was necessary, tell him that I needed to go the public route. The surgeon I found (and ultimately used; Dr Tony Tonks) no longer does tummy tuck operations through the public system because it’s statistically impossible to get them approved.

So.

Friends suggested a crowdfunding campaign, which I did. It raised around $10,000 (some people chose to give to me directly), and my parents ultimately paid the rest (THANK YOU Mum and Dad). The surgery itself cost a bit over $8000. The anaesthetist cost $1700. The hospital cost a bit under $7000 (for using the theatre room, and for staying two nights in the ICU) which then increased to $10,000 (because I stayed an extra three nights due to a low lung capacity). So if you’re looking to get this surgery, you’ll need about $17,000 if absolutely nothing goes wrong along the way (plus 2-4 weeks off work during which you’ll be barely able to go to the toilet unassisted, and won’t be able to concentrate or stay awake for long).

A huge number of people donated amounts ranging from $5 to $4000. I’m quite anxious about letting people down (goodness knows I have other health issues as well, so I won’t be representing Australia in the Olympics anytime soon), but I’m also extremely touched by all the support. It’s incredibly hard to get past the “I’m so grateful for my kids that I mustn’t complain about anything” notion combined with the self-deprecating “Anything that improves my appearance and costs more than $100 is sheer wasteful vanity, especially if the ugliness is due to mum stuff”. Even though I can tell, logically, that they’re stupid. Having people not just say, “You should do this thing” but put their money into it has really helped me to grudgingly allow myself to value my own health.

In related news, why do so many women feel that a drug-free vaginal birth is the only “good” birth? Because it hurts more, and is therefore morally superior (aka “better for the baby”)? Medicine hasn’t stopped being sexist just because “hysteria” isn’t an official diagnosis any more.

Nowadays, we say, “Hormones”. Or “It’s natural”. Or even “post-partum depression”. Or “a side-effect of weight gain” (I’ve gained enough weight and suffered enough pain to know that when medical people say, “Even five kilos will make a difference” they are often dead wrong. Everything that’s wrong with me right now was also wrong with me when I was twenty-five kilos lighter… which is the reason I’m twenty-five kilos heavier now). All of which are used every day to deny real medical support to women. And once you have more than one medical condition… well! Good luck to you. Especially if one condition is mental illness. Because a problem that’s hard to fix is easy to simplify: You’re a hypochondriac, or looking for attention, or maybe you’re just fat and looking for something to blame other than your own lazy arse. (How do I know you’re lazy? Easy! You’re fat. Fat isn’t a side effect of chronic pain, or a battalion of complicated medical challenges. It’s a side effect of laziness every time. And I can prove it, because you’re looking for a medical solution instead of dieting. What a pig!)

I guess that’s a fairly good summary of the psychological side of this operation. I’ll save the physical stuff for another entry.

Home is where the heart is. And also lungs

I’m home.

I stayed an extra three days in hospital to do lung-strengthening stuff because apparently I was under-oxidised (very likely a contributing factor to me feeling exhausted and running largely on sugar for several years).

But I’m home now, and pretty pleased about that.

The operation went smoothly, and the incision site seems to be healing well.

I’m going back to bed now.

My amazing stomach

So I’ll be having my operation this Thursday, and I’m told I’ll be so tired/sore that I won’t even be up to sitting in an armchair and writing on my laptop (or, as I call it, “Being Awake”) for three weeks.

Chris is somewhat absent-minded, but I’ve asked him to post on my personal facebook page just to say, “Yeah, op’s done. Felicity’s resting” or some such, but I’m not sure he’ll remember.

So don’t worry I guess? If you don’t hear from me for a few weeks?

One side effect of my anxiety disorder is worrying about people worrying about me. So just don’t, mmkay? Promise?

Right now I’m writing a chapter about giant squid, so that’s good.

My feelings swing wildly hither and thither regarding the operation. There are three main axes (okay, four):

  1. I will be able to fit human-shaped clothes again… after nearly seven fucking years of maternity clothes! I might even be able to wear jeans again. But I’m super extremely giddily excited about wearing all my dresses (the ones that fit my overweight self)! It took me way too long to realise that every dress ever will exaggerate a big belly. And maybe I’ll fit into seatbelts properly again! And NOT get congratulated on my pregnancy (which I don’t have) every time I go to a party or run into an old friend. That will certainly help with social anxiety.
  2. Maybe, someday soon, I won’t actually be disabled any more. Maybe I’ll be able to do crazy stuff like walk to the shops or go to a playground that’s more than fifty metres from the car park. Maybe I’ll be able to just get rid of my wheelchair forever, and trust myself to travel solo again, and be… you know, capable and independent and stuff, without fighting so hard for the basics? And not so afraid of everything, because everything won’t hurt so much? Maybe? Surely, at the very least, my back and neck (and maybe migraines) will be a lot less of an issue due to not having an extra chunk of stomach pulling my whole body out of alignment. [Shout-out to all my chronically ill and/or disabled peeps out there… I don’t have anything good to say except I see you and I hope I do right by you in my life and in my stories.]
  3. What if all this is wrong and I just fail at everything and get fatter than ever and all those people who supported me financially and emotionally about this operation were just wrong and my body is just as useless and awful next year as it is right now? What if I go through all this only to end up just as unhealthy but twice as hopeless?
  4. I’m not good with pain, the kids aren’t good at boundaries, and Chris isn’t good at remembering minutiae (like taking Louisette’s leftover lunch out of her bag rather than leaving it to be discovered in February). This recovery period is going to be all kinds of torture. And then when I get to the “kinda okay” part of my recovery Chris will be gone and it’ll still be school holidays and it’s going to be even worse with kids present 24-7.

 

So I guess I’m a bit stressed out. Mostly about my own imperfect self re:immediate family members, and also trying to do everything that needs doing this year in the next three days. (Christmas is sorted, plus a bunch of other stuff including most of my writing gigs. I just need to write 7000 more words of a giant squid attack and then I can relax. Theoretically.)

I had Chris take some pre-op pics of me for comparison purposes:

 

“I just need to write 7000 more words of a giant squid attack and then I can relax.”

Story of my life.

A stitch in mine

It’s November. I’m not counting the days until Christmas, but I am counting the days until I get to experience something far less common and more painful: An operation. Yay!

(This is a long entry, with a sprinkling of swear words. Feel free to skip to the bottom where there’s a link to donate money.)

On 30 November (moved from 7 November) I’ll be getting the 9-cm gap in my stomach muscles stitched back together. It’s 100% normal for stomach muscles to separate during pregnancy, and to gradually close over the six months post-pregnancy (one of several excellent reasons to never ever ask a lady if she’s pregnant, especially if she has young children). Most women wind up with a permanent stomach gap of a centimetre or so. If the gap doesn’t close on its own, no amount of exercise or weight loss will fix it.

Similar injuries caused by sport or accidents are covered under the public health system in Australia. Pregnancy injury is not. The excellent Waleed Aly once did a segment on the inherent sexism in not assisting women like me. Louisette turns six in January and TJ is three and a half, so I’ve had the unwieldy annoyance and pain of a pregnancy-style belly for more than six years, and have been trying to get the necessary surgery for three years.

Here’s the awkward bit: Because re-attaching stomach muscles involves dealing with skin, it’s plastic surgery. It also makes women look less pregnant. I imagine this is why male politicians refuse to fund it. Women could take advantage of the system just to restore their exhausted parasite-hosting bodies to their previous appearance! Women who’ve had an improbably large object rip its way out of their most sensitive organs might have one aspect of their horrifically violating journey to motherhood erased! Women might have one less complaint that needs to have, “But of course I wouldn’t change a thing! I’m just so thrilled to have a child!” tacked onto the end.

I’m one of the lucky ones, psychologically. Both of my pregnancy experiences were awful awful awful, but they’re over now. My births went pretty well. I noticed and suffered from various problems the medical industry could have done a lot better, and I hope that makes me a useful advocate for other pregnant people in future.

But.

Becoming a mother gave me a long list of permanent chronic conditions that ultimately made me unable to care for my own children (and also cost me my job in childcare, which I loved). This year I’ve gotten to the point where I can mind both kids solo for about three hours fairly consistently, or one for a full day. My kids are pretty great—healthy, happy, and fundamentally decent human beings. But I’m disabled now, because of having them, and that—well, it just sucks.

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(Pause for cuteness.)

It’s very clear that not everything that’s wrong with me can be fixed. I realised that a long time ago, and the writer and advocate in me is glad, because I know that I can now write some types of disabled characters really well. My pain is fodder for better stories—the kind that can give hope to people who need it, and a bit of empathy to everyone else.

I still have hope that one day I won’t feel afraid of my children any more. Right now it hurts to stand, to make a sandwich, to pick them up, to buckle them into the car, to walk with them to the shops (or to the front door of the school), to get down on the floor and play with them, and so on. Sometimes I don’t care, and I pretend nothing hurts. Other days it feels like my kids are torturing me on purpose. Most days I plan carefully: How much strength do I have? Is today a good day or a bad day? How can I make the kid/s feel loved without risking long-term injury to myself? What corners can I cut without hating myself or neglecting the kids? How do I manage my stupid body so it lasts until bed time today?

I’ve had a few wins along the way. With TJ I had daily migraines (mostly “silent” migraines that are mainly aura with not much pain) for the whole pregnancy, and then they just… didn’t stop. I now take a medication that has 90% solved the migraine issue (although I haven’t yet recovered from the brain damage that resulted from two years of daily migraines). I had a minor operation a few years ago that improved some other stuff, and I have a third major problem that can also be treated with pills. (The second and third conditions in this list are a bit too personal for a blog.)

 

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(Pause for cuteness.)

Here are some things that will definitely/probably be improved by my stomach surgery:

-vertebrae and disc spinal injuries (the pain will be eased after the surgery because there won’t be a giant stomach pulling my spine out of alignment) causing significant pain and disability.

-prolapsed uterus (hopefully all my misplaced organs will slot neatly back into place)

-abdominal diastasis (that’s what the surgery is actually for)

-umbilical hernia (which will definitely be fixed by the surgery)

-pain-related depression and anxiety (which will be improved by surgery)

I’m also looking forward to seatbelts working properly again. At the moment, they slide up my stomach and cut into my neck (literally; I have a lovely connection of skin tags on each side of my neck; half from driving and half from being the passenger).

And I might just be able to wear pants again, which would be awfully convenient. And swimmers. Technically I can and do wear swimmers, but my stomach is so disproportionate that they’re really uncomfortable.

Lotsa nausea will be reduced or eliminated, which will be nice.

And I’ll be able to cut my own toenails without swallowing vomit (due to pressing down on an unprotected stomach in order to reach my feet). That’ll be nice too.

It will be awesome to be able to wear dresses again. It took me far too long to realise that dresses always exaggerate a big stomach, because they’re designed to show the nice straight lines of a body (which pregnant bodies don’t have).

Anyone who’s been pregnant knows the pain of picking things up from the floor. I’m really looking forward to that being less of a big deal.

And of course, I won’t look nearly as pregnant! I’m not expecting a bikini body—in fact I imagine I’ll still look a little bit pregnant—but it’ll be soooo much better than my current reality. When I’m faced with large social events I often have quite bad panic attacks beforehand due to knowing most of the people there will assume I’m pregnant. Did I mention I already had a social anxiety disorder?

Here’s a real story from literally less than a week ago:

Nice Lady, sympathetically: Oh, how are you doing?

Me, immediately realising what she’s getting at: I’m fine thanks.

Nice Lady: It’s such hard going when you’re so far along!

Me, thinking both, “Well this is an especially bad one” and “She’s old and I’ll probably never see her again. Let’s not correct her”: Thank you.

Nice Lady: So when are you due?

Me, thinking, “Fuck. Oh well here goes”: I’m not actually pregnant.

[Cue classic conversation in which I try to make someone feel better for making me feel like absolute shit.]

I once had a man I didn’t know approach me at a funeral and ask me my due date while rubbing my stomach.

Aaand I once went into a physio appointment at the hospital where I’d recently given birth, and seen that exact same physio a week earlier for a pre-birth appointment, and had the physio look at me and say, “Weren’t you going to be induced last Friday?”

Yes. In fact I was induced last Friday. The baby was out.

In her defence, this is what I looked like that day (and ever since):

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If you want to be respected by a medical professional, be very careful not to tick any of the following boxes:

  1. Being female. Statistically, reports of female pain (and various other issues) are underestimated by medical professionals across the board.
  2. Being overweight. Were you in the healthy weight range before you began to suffer from [insert medical condition here]? It doesn’t matter. If you are fat, your medical condition is your fault, or at least made worse by you.
  3. Being mentally ill. Why should anyone listen to a crazy person? If you talk rationally, your mental illness isn’t serious and you’re probably just looking for attention. If you talk irrationally, you’re an irrational person and anything you say is suspect. (Fun Fact: Although “Violent offender was mentally ill” is a common theme in both fiction and real-life news reporting, mentally ill individuals are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. Because who listens to the mentally ill? Not doctors or police or reporters or writer, apparently!)
  4. Being pregnant, post-partum, or a mother. Women’s uteruses and hormones have been the ultimate go-to cause of all physical illnesses and pain since Ancient Greece. Not only can a doctor comfortably diagnose any disease as “women’s problems” (and therefore natural), but any women who continues to complain is violating the well-known fact that motherhood is a BEAUTIFUL and NATURAL thing, and all that pain and illness and childbirth and breastfeeding/bleeding and 17% lower wages and sexual harassment is because we’re just SPECIAL and PRECIOUS and PRIVILEGED to be the bearer of little health-destroying bundles of JOY. I couldn’t tell you how many times I was told that my pain levels were a normal part of pregnancy. Actually, I’d injured my spine and dislocated my hip, both of which still cause me pain today. Thanks, medical science!

For the record? There’s probably no high greater than the high of having a baby. I’ve been there, and it’s awesome. A lot of doctors are aware of their biases and are working on making things better. And let’s be clear: I have two kids, so all the shit I waded through evidently didn’t put me off motherhood. There are lots of precious and beautiful aspects to motherhood, but they tend to come at a high cost (higher than any man ever has to pay for fatherhood). Higher than usual, in my case—not just because nature is an asshole (although she is) but because our society as a whole still has quite a ways to go before women, especially sick women (or women of colour, which I am not) are treated with the respect they deserve.

Ultimately I was forced to go the private route for this surgery, which costs around $15,000. Super fun when I don’t have a normal job any more!

You can donate here, if you like.