The Childless Woman Meets an Old Friend on the Street
in the moment
when the baby turns
away from the stranger
to hide its face
in its mother's shoulder
to be the mother
and not the stranger
(The Forbidden Poems, Seal Press, Seattle 1991)
"I was molested." I said those three words quite casually, letting the good doctor know a little bit of my history. Without going into detail, he wanted to understand me better. I had just had a hysterectomy, after all, yet I obviously hadn't asked the questions another woman would have asked or was worried about. Questions relating to intimate relations with one's spouse. Apparently, that was what many women worried about, whether it would still be a part of their lives, whether they would be able to feel fulfilled again. Those thoughts or questions never entered my mind. I supposed I wondered about it since one was bombarded with all those questions and information whenever one tried to do an online research on hysterectomies. Or that was what they wanted you to know about anyway. It wasn't something that occupied my mind. I used to feel quite inadequate where that was concerned but not anymore.
I don't know if my answer surprised him but the tone of his voice changed a little and he was sympathetic. But then he understood, I think. And he understood me a little better; he understood my responses a little better. I had to trust him and I did trust him. And saying those three words didn't open up a big hole to swallow me up anymore. It was said matter-of-factly and I also responded to his words of sympathy with, "Well, ya, stuff happens." And I meant it. I hoped he didn't think I was being flippant because I wasn't. I just wasn't sure what else to say.
I also asked him the big question that had been on my mind for the longest time. If my husband and I had tried, really tried, to get pregnant, would I have conceived? Would I have been able to have a baby? There, I said it.
The good doctor said no. It would have been very difficult due to the size of the fibroids and he reminded me of the photograph that was given to me after the surgery. My uterus was one humongous fibroid. It had grown slowly over time. I was not a fan of pelvic examinations but I did it when I absolutely had to especially since I knew that I was in my forties and had to start being more diligent where my health was concerned. But I was naive; I was careless. If I had paid more attention from early on, could anything else have been done? I think yes. But I didn't pay attention. And now I am minus my uterus so I'll never know. Was the good doctor wrong, perhaps? I will never know that either.
I still sometimes think back to the first or second year of my marriage when we thought that I might be pregnant. It was a false alarm, of course, but I later thought about pregnancies, that they happened gradually. A baby growing inside a womb takes time. My uterine fibroid took its time to grow. As recently as last year, before I discovered that a hysterectomy was in store for me, my husband and I were standing in church one Sunday and I felt a little self-conscious of my tummy, that perhaps it was protruding just a little. There was also a slight discomfort so I gently touched my stomach with the palm of my hand for an instant. And for a moment, I knew what it felt like for a pregnant woman who sometimes touched her pregnant belly with the palm of her hand or had her arm around the front of her body, as if cradling her tummy, almost as if she was protecting her baby. And a part of me found it somewhat amusing. Later, though, I actually felt cheated out of that experience, the real, true experience of being withchild.
I was molested. Three words that took hold of my life for such a long time just because I allowed them to. And now it's come to this. An older Catholic woman who is married and childless. By choice? No, not really. And yet, maybe it was a choice? I am so sorry, Father. Or was it meant to be this way all along? And if so, why? I made choices -- we all do -- along the way but I still longed for children deep in my heart. Or I hoped for children. It happened over time, slowly and gradually pulling me in to that world of babies and nurturing, that other world of parenting and childhood. I kept wondering. And now I need wonder no more. In a way, however one might look at it, I have been given a new-found freedom. Something else that is bittersweet.
There is also a sadness but I suppose that will go away in time. What have I done with my life, I ask myself. What will you do with your life? is perhaps what He is asking me this very moment.