The Immaculate Conception of My Unexpected Child
*this is near and dear to my heart, and a little out of the timeline, but something I needed to express.
On September 22, 2015, having never experienced the maternal pangs of a ticking clock, I woke in an anesthesia induced haze to find I had become a mother. I gazed down at my stomach, swollen and battered, an 11 inch scar rising from my pubic bone to above my belly button, and saw her for the first time. Pulled from inside my body to outside, she seemed so fragile and defenseless, and I loved her. Against all odds and expectations, the urge to protect and nurture her was overwhelming, and she immediately became my baby.
At 43, my eggs had aged and my reproductive organs had been fried by chemotherapy and radiation. I proudly proclaimed to be an aunt to the world, mother to none. In truth, it seemed possible that my next partner would have children from a previous relationship, I might adopt if the right person requested it of me, or perhaps inherit a godchild if the world went topsy turvy, but to birth my own was an idea I had tucked away without sadness or regret. I loved other peoples children, and my childless fate had been sealed May 20, 2015, the day I was diagnosed with Stage III rectal cancer.
Initially my gastrointestinal doctor who had discovered the very low lying rectal tumor during a colonoscopy indicated radiation for sure, possibly chemo, and possibly, but probably not, surgery. Two days later my sister, the fabulous and brilliant researcher, called to discuss the necessity of me going to MD Anderson Cancer Center for treatment. Because of the positioning of the tumor, she insisted that MDA offered the best in “sphincter saving” procedures and had some of the finest surgeons in the world. To say that “sphincter saving” hadn’t occurred to me would be a ridiculous understatement. That the words “slit my wrist the right way” only escaped my lips 5 times during that conversation would also be a ridiculous understatement.
God forgive me, but vanity is my name. I am fit, single, and love a bikini. I vacation in Brazil each year and I want to have more sex during my lifetime. I practice Pilates 2-4 times each week and get plenty of cardio. Until my diagnosis there was never a perfect that was perfect enough. The thought of a permanent colostomy or temporary ileostomy was an unacceptable and unfathomable scenario. During the first meeting with my surgeon at MDA, he guaranteed that I would have one or the other, and that he wouldn’t know which until the surgery. I told him that I would consider a permanent colostomy a failure, and as soon as I was cleared would run for the highest mountaintop in Tibet and spend the remainder of my life in pursuit of self-actualization. My sister told him I was dramatic. I assured him I was not.
During the course of my pre-surgical chemo and radiation, I comfortably discussed my cancer, the pain and discomfort associated with radiation burns, and my emotional state. What I did not discuss, due to increasing anxiety each time it came up, was my future with an ostomy. I couldn’t picture my life going forward with a bag hanging off my body collecting waste. It seemed a cruel reward for what I considered to be, so far, a life well-lived.
Then came the day of the surgery, and 4 1/2 hours after being knocked out, I came to in recovery with my surgeon beaming over me, thrilled with himself at a job well done. The only question I had was “right or left,” and he responded “right,” indicating a temporary ileostomy that would stay with me until I finished my follow up chemo some 8 months later. Looking down at my ileostomy, I found that what I had assumed would be the worst thing to ever happen to me unlocked a door that has since become the best thing. In the moment I saw her, my tiny stoma, through motherhood’s protective, loving gaze, I finally after 43 years fell in love with my perfect, imperfect, now fabulously scarred body. Through adoring the small intestine that had been pulled from inside my body to outside my body to do the job of the entire gastrointestinal system, I finally came to terms with what an extraordinary machine I live in.
Much like true motherhood, my life is different, now. My stoma baby takes care and requires attention. She is noisy at inappropriate times, wakes me up at night, and like I’ve told friends, ileostomies aren’t for first dates or one night stands. In spite of my presumed celibacy during this time, I recently kissed a man at my front door like a teenager, and it was dreamy. Luckily he lives on another continent, so I didn’t have to worry about how I would eventually introduce him to my stoma. More importantly, I was reminded of how perfect those sweet kisses are and how nice it is sometimes to simplify. In early April of 2016, my ileostomy will be reversed, and she will return to her original position on the inside of my body, and for all the life changing wisdom she’s given me, I hope my stoma baby can tell my other organs that they are loved, and we are all in this together.