It’s been 6 months since the end of the postpartum arthritis flare-up, and in recent weeks, I’ve found the murky waters of that time beginning to crawl back into my psyche. The waters are still murky with the crud of preferably forgotten memories, but I’m trying my best to find some clarity within it all; to remember the things my mind has learnt to forget.
I’ve realised that I don’t want to forget how hard it was. To forget how hard it was would be to remove any opportunity of self-gratifyingly luxuriating in the glory of how far I’ve come in such a short space of time.
I want to remember being pushed around the bustling food hall of Selfridges on my thirty-fifth birthday in the wheelchair I’d had custom-upholstered years before (to make the sight of it more bearable), with my 4-month-old baby in my lap and my 3-year-old asking why mummy was “in a buggy”. And I do remember. I remember how the anger of previous years – the anger I gloatingly thought I’d ousted years ago – unapologetically and without warning crept back into the hollow of my neck and escaped as snide under-the-breath comments; as a cantankerous demeanour; as a victim mentality. Because however much “self-development” one attempts in their lifetime, our visceral and inconvenient humanness ends up being the devil on our shoulder during our most testing times.
Because however much “self-development” one attempts in their lifetime, our visceral and inconvenient humanness ends up being the devil on our shoulder during our most testing times.
Same lap; same wheelchair
Just like how, six years ago, I didn’t want to fly out for our wedding with my wedding dress splayed across my lap as I sat in that wheelchair at the airport terminal, tears dripping onto the ivory garment bag in disbelief at this utter injustice, I felt the same about holding my baby on that same lap, in the same wheelchair. It wasn’t what I wanted.
The arms that held her while she fed were unable to lift her. The body that conceived her and carried her for 9 months, could no longer bear her weight; it couldn’t even bear its own weight as it crumbled under the strain of pain and inflammation with each arduous movement.
As she fed from the breasts that were giving her everything they had left to give, I let her feed. Because I had to give her body the chance at avoiding autoimmunity at all costs. A pillow supported her head, instead of my throbbing arm – the arms that were meant to cradle her into security. She was ushered to bed by someone else, because my legs couldn’t carry me there, let alone us both.
How Many Times
But how many times do I need to go into remission, looking back on those times and understanding with absolute clarity, that each one of those agonisingly challenging times helped me grow and made me (for want of a less self-aggrandising term) a better person? If I could choose to go through it, would I? Even knowing about the invaluable rewards that come as a result? No. Absolutely not. I am not that brave and I am not that strong. But those times were not chosen, and though it is a fashionable millennial trope to romanticise our hardest times, this is not me subscribing to that to be fashionable. This is me knowing with irrefutable certainty, that my journey was meant to be one of extreme troughs, because, yes, predictably, it made the peaks sublime.
Knowing that 6 months ago I could not lift my baby out of her cot when she cried for me, that I could not sit with my son when he asked me to play with him, but that I am now exercising every morning, working most days, and that my body functions on a setting as close to “normal” as it gets when harbouring a dormant autoimmune disease, means that the simple ability to lift her out of her cot, or to sit on the floor and play, is appreciated, and is given thanks for – out loud. Every day.
Through the sleepless nights that still loom perennially over us, a year on, I am able to get up in the morning and say, “I’m fucking knackered but I’m not in pain.” Do you know what it is to not be in pain? Do you really know? And when, last week, the whole family came down with the ghastly stomach bug that does its obligatory rounds this time of year, in the midst of it I was able to say, “but I’m going through this in a clean, warm house where my children can be kept safe. And I am doing it without pain.” The sleepless nights and seasonal illnesses are ephemeral inconveniences in comparison.
So, here I am. I’m still wading through the murky waters of the first few weeks of that time, because my memory has done that thing where it says, “nah.” And though I remember the wheelchair and the anger and the family events and kids’ birthday parties I had no choice but to attend despite my joints being so inflamed my knees couldn’t even bend enough to get my leg over a doorstep and into a house, there is so much I don’t remember.
I’ll continue to wade – taxing task though it may be – because the clarity of vision afforded to those of us lucky enough to come out the other side, makes for a life filled with blithe, continuous gratitude. And even for that, I’m grateful.
To end, I know that minimising the experience to be less than it was simply because I’m no longer in its throes is also not the answer. To trivialise such a profound moment in time would be to brush its wounds and subsequent lessons under the carpet. I have to account for the anguish that accompanies such hardship and all the trauma that squirms itself under the skin of recovery. In doing that, I can gently ease those little worms of trauma back out, one at a time, until the scars they make on their way out, heal the scars they made on their way in.