Warning: medical details ahead, involving certain aspects of childbirth. Those who are squeamish should read elsewhere. You have been warned.
I read a magnificent version of the fairy tale about the woman with a ribbon around her neck the other day. Beautiful, evocative, torrid, sensual. (You can read it for yourself here: http://granta.com/the-husband-stitch/). It's lovely.
One portion of the story details the moment after the birth of the woman's child, when the doctor repairs the cut needed for the delivery, and the husband jokes about the doctor adding "that extra stitch." The doctor chuckles and comments that the husband isn't the first to inquire.
Years and years ago, I was in labor with Offspring the First for a seeming eternity (over twenty-four hours, although the first many hours were spent at home before things were serious enough to go forth to the hospital). She was so very stuck, with her round melon head. The doctor cut, and the child was finally, mercifully, safely delivered, though not without additional consequence -- I tore, too. Thankfully, the epidural kept me from feeling pain during the repairs. I remember the doctor saying, "fourth degree extension...." of the damage. I didn't know what that meant until later. Don't look it up. You may never uncross your legs again.
I had lost so much blood that they would not let me sit up after the repairs were finished. They wheeled me down the hall, and I had a glimpse of my firstborn in the nursery as we went by. Baby mine. Safely delivered. Amen.
Two years later, I was in labor with Offspring the Second. It was a mercifully short labor (perhaps 8 hours, start to finish), and was only really painful during transition. Once more, the doctor cut to ease that round melon head into the world. As the child was born, I heard alongside the pleased "here he is!" from the doctor, a muttered sound of dismay -- for Offspring the Second's shoulder had caught, and once more, I had torn, as badly as before.
The aftermath of a birth is hard to remember: so much work, so much relief wrapped with pain, the miracle and terror of being responsible for another tiny human being's life. And so you can understand why I cannot remember whether it was after Offspring the First's delivery, or after Offspring the Second's delivery, that the doctor, upon finishing his repair work, had jovially quipped about putting in "that extra stitch."
If that much damage had been done to my poor battered perineum while giving birth, what possible benefit would I have obtained from that Extra Stitch? All I gained was the risk of similar damage with any subsequent child. I couldn't imagine. I thought my underside might never fully recover. I couldn't even sit down properly. For ages.
A few years later, when we brought Offspring the Third into the world, my terror of a C-section quickly dissipated when he was safely delivered, and I then was ever so relieved, because I knew that I would be able, this time, to sit down properly.
I have no doubt that the doctor meant no harm. He was otherwise an excellent doctor, as I recall. Yet to know that he added that Extra Stitch not for me, but for -- what? Beloved Husband would never have even thought of asking for an Extra Stitch, and yet, the doctor must have presumed that he would like that my (slowly-healed) undercarriage would be extra tight.
Egads. I can't even imagine the thought process there.
And what of me? All that Extra Stitch did was pull the line between pain and pleasure to the width of an extra-fine thread, like a tiny row of sutures. Over two decades later, the scars -- healed and so ancient now, in the history of this body -- still, on occasion, remind me that they are there.
I am not sure why the beautiful fairy tale I read has triggered such a tremendous rush of anger about long-ago events. All I know right now is: this is MY body, and to think that it was altered -- even in so tiny a way as that Extra Stitch -- without my permission and purely (presumably) for the benefit of someone else, fills me with a terrible, tremendous rage.
The rage shall pass. But I shall always remember.
This body is my spirit's house and home. I am grateful for it. Extra Stitch, and all.
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