Atención: If you’re squeamish, this post will be tough. Also, I intend to uncharacteristically employ a curse word today as it’s the appropriate word to use in the context.
There were three words that kept going through my mind on Saturday morning during the birth of Julia: “It’s just bodies.” I found myself entirely unshaken by the display of skin and a variety of fluids that came and went during Heather’s delivery. In order to explore why that was, I have to take you back a few years.
When I had my colon and a few other choice organs removed in in 2008, I was given an ileostomy, which means a piece of my small intestine was pulled out through a hole in my abdomen and that’s how I pooped. They tucked it back in after about a year, but then I crashed and burned again and had a second ostomy. All in, I was an ostomate for about three years.**
An ileostomy looks like a red cherry tomato a couple inches to the right or left of your belly button, depending on where they pulled out that piece of entrail. It’s got the texture of a canned red pepper: slick, shiny, and bright red. Now, because it’s your large intestine that sucks the liquid from your food and drink, if you don’t have one, your stool is loose. Always. It’s loose when you have an ileostomy and it will remain that way for the rest of your life. (You’re welcome.) This means your little cherry tomato ileostomy spits shit and liquid into a bag. You have no control over your cherry tomato; there is no sphincter, only the mouth of the thing, so you are incontinent. The really wild part is because of the peristaltic waves, when your cherry tomato is active, it undulates ever so slightly and surges forward when it — well, it looks like it’s vomiting. But wait, some of you are wondering, how could did I see it do that if it was doing that into a bag? When I took a shower, of course, or when I was changing my bag and it decided to go for it. Or when I had an accident. Which happened many times.
Still with me? You’re doing great.
On Saturday morning, witnessing my friend on the bed, every humour she had arriving in full color and her most intimate body parts on display, I became aware of my nonplussed-ness. It was mostly that way because it was childbirth and modesty is on no one’s mind in that situation, most of all Mama’s. But I realized it was also my past experiences with muck, blood, and surgery that made it only interesting, not gross or immodest in the slightest. (The really great thing is that there was no pus involved in the list of Heather’s goo and that’s great. I know from pus — and that is possibly the strangest group of words I’ve ever put together.)
My eyes did get a little wider when I saw them attach to the table the conical plastic bag to catch the placenta and the rest of the afterbirth. As they were stitching up Heather and weighing Julia in the bun warmer, as Sam was wearing one of the most beautiful faces I’ve ever seen, I tiptoed over to the bucket with the placenta in it. I didn’t look too close, though; I have my limits.
It’s just bodies. We all have a body. We fart and pee. We eat and grow hair. We have hard calcium coming out of our fingers and toes, weird, hard pegs of tooth in a moving jaw. We have a brain stem and genitals. We have a heart. The sum total of these parts — some of us have more parts than others, some less, all in different stages of ability and function and size — make us human.
It’s just bodies. Just mortal, just cosmic, just incredible. Tomorrow: Julia herself.