One year ago today I woke up from full abdominal repair surgery. I really don’t remember the pain at that time. But I vividly remember looking at the nurse aghast when she said I didn’t need to take off the corset I found I had been squeezed into when I wanted to go to the toilet. I’m not sure anything has struck me as so utterly ludicrous in my life. I vividly remember shuffling down the corridor the following day and feeling like if I stood up any straighter than a hunched crouch I might snap in two. I vividly remember reading a review of the procedure two weeks later, about a woman who was back out socialising at that stage and feeling utterly crushed. Yet again I was finding something harder than other people did. I vividly remember the pain in my heels from the pressure on them whilst I was sleeping sitting up in the 5 weeks post op because it was too sore to lie flat. I eventually ordered a really attractive pair of sheepskin booties from Amazon to help relieve the pressure and I’m pretty sure my husband has never seen me in the same light since 😂. (They helped a little but the pain was often much, much worse than the pain from the scar.)
I vividly remember the horror of trying to wash my hair for the first time, two weeks after surgery. The agony of hobbling round a 200m loop outside the house, which took about 10 minutes and quite a few tears. I remember feeling helpless when my children needed me. Desperate to be able to hold them and cuddle them. I remember battling through Phoebe’s first birthday party, unable to stand up straight and on my feet for hours until my stomach was swollen like a football. Being given a dressing down by my surgeon because nobody told me I needed to be having salt water baths to soak off the surgical glue which I thought was pen (he’s a treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen kind of guy and I owe him a lot – least of all an incredibly straight, flat scar). And all the time a prevailing sense of failure as the weeks passed and I wasn’t able to do the things I’d been told I should be able to do by now.
I vividly remember the unwavering support of my husband. The way the children, despite their young age, were so careful to avoid bumping me. The number of times my parents and in laws helped us out at home or by providing food or ferrying the children around. The kindest of messages from a lovely friend who knew somebody who had taken 8 weeks before they were strong enough to really get going again – a message so important in its timing I credit it with turning my state of mind around completely.
I vividly remember the point at which I started to feel like I might actually stand tall again one day, only to fall victim to a stomach bug and thank the highest heaven it hadn’t happened earlier, when even laughing was agony. Starting a new job before I could stand up straight and cringing at what people must be saying about the new girl who walked funny.
I don’t remember the moment we came out the other side. I started to walk a little taller. I held my baby girl. It was even better than holding her for the first time when she was born because her face was pure bliss. I picked up my own children from nursery without a chaperone. I managed my heel taps doing my physio exercises. 6 months post op I started to run. Well, walk really as I did the Couch to 5k but let’s not split hairs.
Something in me changed. There was a monumental shift. Positive actions follow a positive mindset. You grit your teeth, you allow people to help and you give yourself a break. You put one foot in front of the other and you keep on running.
And keep on running I have. Running has given me an entirely new perspective on life. Dramatic I know. I can feel you rolling your eyes. But it has an incredibly powerful effect on the mind. You can tell yourself you can do something and you can. It might be slow and it might not be as stylish as someone else can do it. But you can get to the end. I now run 5k three times a week and I’m moving up to 10k. I went to Parkrun on my own, shaking like a leaf, and I went back again because it wasn’t hideous – I loved it (when it was over…ahem…). My mantra is simple. Don’t stop until you reach the end, even if you feel like you’re practically going backwards at times. Even if you’re the slowest person in the race. At least you showed up to the race.
Not one run goes past where I don’t feel total and utter joy at the way my body can move. Where I don’t wonder at how far I’ve come. At how grateful I am that, for now at least, I can push myself to see how far I can really go. Without the surgery, I wouldn’t have had the core strength – nor the self confidence – to do that. And the really sad thing is that thousands of women are told every day about various issues after childbirth that “these things happen”. Yes, these things do happen, but if you find yourself at the extreme end of it, there are options out there. Please ask about them. Please push for them. Please consider them. Please value yourself enough.
One year ago today I took the biggest leap into the unknown. And for once in my life, as an anxious person who never gives herself credit for anything, I feel like I did ok. One year ago, today felt a lifetime away. An impossible mountain to climb. And yet here we are.