First off I must say I know I don’t OWE anyone an explanation. Ok not anyone, but most folks. The people who were owed an explanation have gotten it, ad nauseum over the past 20+ years, they watched me live it, heard me complain about it, and observed as I failed at trying to make out like it was no big deal. So no, I don’t owe anyone else an explanation. I know I also don’t have any obligation to make a justification for what I’ve done as of 5 days ago. The whole reason I’m putting this down is not for the benefit of anyone else, but my own, and for those who care enough to feel curious, but maybe don’t feel they’re close enough to ask.
As a side note, it’s amusing to me that a lot of people act about weight loss surgery similarly to the way they once did about unwed mothers. “She’s having *whispered* stomach surgery.” Like I cheated at life, LOL. Followed by horror stories or “it’s about time.” But then perhaps I’m easily amused. Mostly though, I’ve had a lot of support. The ones I have the hardest time with are those that are scared for me, because I’ve been scared too, and pressing forward with this was not going to be *not* scary.
When I was 18, I had my first baby. The labor was nothing like the idyllic event you often see on TV, nor was it the horror show lots of women talk about from the “old days” of hospital births. I’d hazard to say it was really pretty standard for birth in 1991. I went to the hospital too early, I was scared, short on good information, in pain that far exceeded the stupid phrase “discomfort” that the child birth educator insisted was all I’d feel, and angry like a wild cat. My baby’s heart rate dropped, and I went in for an emergency c-section.
In 1991 I get the impression that a c-section was still a pretty big deal medically. Like by-pass surgery is now. I realize that they’re pretty routine these days and that’s a sad thing that doesn’t need to be examined closely here. The fact that it was an “EMERGENCY” c-section was very unsettling to us all I suppose. I had never had surgery. Never had an anesthetic more than you’d have for stitches or dental work. And while I tried to ask questions, and I tried to get a handle on things, I was told to stop it!—Didn’t I understand they were trying to save my baby’s life?? It wasn’t a positive experience. My doctor was an older gent, easily in his 60’s by this time, a doctor from main-land China that our tiny community was lucky to have here because of his skill and expertise. When I came round I was scared, in pain, and someone was telling me I had a baby boy—that inspired panic let me tell you, I didn’t know who I was much less that I had had a baby.
Eight days after the surgery, I saw myself in the full-length mirror. Sagging and disfigured where my once flat belly had been hung two pouches of skin, one on either side of the scar scar that until the day before had sported 42 staples from my navel down to my pubic bone. Suddenly, I had what looked like nothing so much as an extra pair of buttocks hanging from my waist line–full sized even! I felt repulsed and disgusted. Horrified. How would I ever look “normal” again? And waistline? Forget it! My once definable waist was gone and my torso seemed to be more in the shape of a log. Even months later, starting just a small space below my bra band, my belly started to pouch out at the center and I looked for all intents and purposes like I the starts of 6-month baby belly. I talked to the doctor, who told me I was fat, but I had a healthy baby so what was my complaint? Of course, now I know that during the pregnancy I more than likely suffered some injury to the recti—the tissues that hold the two sides of the “six pack” together. I would guess the recti suffered additional insult during the c-section. A few years later, the recti got a bit more abuse when I carried baby number two. I looked nine months pregnant by month 6, and the forward sagging of the baby belly was causing me trouble with walking. I wasn’t nearly as active as I was first pregnancy because my legs would go numb when I was up, my center of balance was off and I kept falling. This time I ordered and wore a special girdle to hold my belly up off my pubic bone and to try and ease the pressure on my back and legs. It helped a little. I was determined to have a VBAC, but it didn’t work out. Emergency c-section two came and went, but I knew who I was at the end of this one. I used the girdle after this time and it helped me get more mobile. Sort of. But my back was not the same. And my legs were always between sort of numb and not-as-numb-as-sometimes. My gut sagged forward more than before, and I walked around looking like I still had a pregnant belly, even as late as two years later. I went to the doctor, but by now I was a non-compliant patient (because I had wanted a VBAC) and I was just looking for someone to blame for the fact that I was overweight and too lazy to fix myself. And now I was obviously using the oldest complaint in the book to get time off of work or stay on welfare—a mysterious back injury that no one could or wanted to attempt to diagnose. Then, two and almost three quarter years after that pregnancy/delivery, on Dec 23, 1996, I reached for something across the counter while standing in line at the gas station. I spent the rest of the evening in the ER. L4 and L5 along with their neighbors looked like a Jenga disaster created by some sort of masochistic toddler on the x-ray. Doc gave me two choices. Emergency back surgery the next morning or go to a chiropractor the next morning. I saw a chiropractor the next day, and the next, and each of the next seven. It’s possible I should have had the surgery but considering the massive advances in back surgery since then, I guess I’m not too disappointed that I passed. Although I’ve wondered any number of times in the past 20 years when I’ve had to pass on activities or suffered for not passing on activities, if it would have been best to just have the surgery back then.
Two years later when I had the last c-section. I still had the girdle, and I wore it from early on. I tried to ignore it, but walking and moving was getting harder every year.
Here I am 20 and some years later. I have never wanted to be a swimsuit model, or strut on a catwalk. I’ve always wanted to be active. I still love the outdoors. I don’t feel a need to prove I can conquer rugged earth—I’ve proved it. But I miss walking in the woods. I hate basing my every plan and activity on phrases like “let’s be realistic: How far can I really genuinely walk and still walk back to the car?” I hate that my family bases their activities on my limitations. I really dislike that going grocery shopping is a major physical drain. It’s not fair to them. And honestly, I don’t feel like it’s fair to me. Overall, 26 years of struggling against my gut sagging ever further forward no matter what efforts I’ve made at strength and weight control.
Quality of life? OK, let’s get this straight. My family gives me a gift of a life full to bursting with Quality every day. But we all have our own goals. Things we want to do and be. I want to be physically strong. I want to be able to work the property that my husband I just bought. I want to be able to swing the hammer or ply the drill alongside Richard when we get to work at building our house. I know we’ll be working with heavy lifters that’ll do the biggest parts of the job but I don’t want my work to be just a token—a ceremonial nail. Or picking bad paint colors that no one, not even I end up liking, and we have to paint over. I want to be able to be an active and involved grandma and mom. I want to finish school. I want to be physically strong enough to become a midwife—a whole midwife. I want to be strong again. You don’t know what that means to me.
And then you start to hear… You’re pre-diabetic—take these pills. Your carotid arteries are closing—take these pills too. You’ve got elevated blood pressure around your brain, and there’s nothing we can do for that, except maybe if you could lose some weight, it might help a little—and take these pills for the migraines that come with it. Double vision? Passing out? Losing your hearing? Yep, all tied to the elevated cranial blood pressure, can’t fix any of it, but maybe taking these and these and these pills will give you some relief? And the numbness in my legs and hips? Worse. So much worse. And every new diagnosis feels like it subtracts 5-10 years from my life expectancy. And now, when I have all the kids, my born children, my marriage children, my “adopted” children and the best husband any woman could ever hope for and we share a dream and we’re watching it slowly start to come true—and I’m becoming more and more crippled and on a tail spin into a series of disease that is going to shorten my life? Who on this earth would not reach out and do whatever they possibly could that might help stop this life ending cycle? I don’t want to die the woman who had so much to offer, but was just taken too soon. My health had spiraled out of control, and the only hope for it is the possibility of losing weight. So, I worked at it. And the more effort I made, the heavier I got. And everything got worse. Last year August I sat in on a meeting at Portage Health about weight loss surgery. I went away, making every excuse in the world that I couldn’t, couldn’t have such a procedure. And I kept trying to watch intake, clean up my food choices, and whip this tired old mare of a body out to exercise even though just walking up the stairs into the house had become torment. Between August of 2016 and January 2017, I gained 24 more pounds. If that’s not a kick in the teeth enough—Richard lost the same amount in the same time. Everyone in our home was getting healthier except me. I chucked the prescriptions (which had made me sicker and weaker anyway,) went on a new regimen for my conditions that is being used in Europe, and started to think seriously that Gastric surgery might have to be my solution.
And I prayed. I begged God to spare my life, and restore my health so I could live with the family He had the love and kindness to give me.
It was finally in March 2017 that I made up my mind and made the call to the clinic in Marquette, MI. I had the initial consult and they asked me how soon I wanted to go ahead with a sleeve gastrectomy. I asked if they were busy the next day. That appointment was on April 7, 2017. I followed the program to a “T” and here I am 5 days post-op from the procedure done on July 11, 2017. From April 7 until July 11 I dropped 38 pounds. 8 pounds more than the 30 they told me they needed me to lose. And now, with a roughly 5-ounce stomach and no re-routed digestive plumbing, my biggest problem seems to be that my protein drinks are grotesquely sweet and a little tummy cramp if my drinks are as cold as I usually like them. I needed to lose in the neighborhood of 130-150 pounds to be in the “healthy” weight range when I started. I’ve already lost a good chunk. I think about what the future loss should mean for my knees, ankles, my hips and of course my back. I think about what that loss could mean for my head, my cranial blood pressure–my hearing, mostly now as the double vision, passing out and such cleared up as that first 38 pounds went away. More can only be an improvement! I don’t get worked up looking at bikinis or planning my 2018 beach body, but I get excited about hiking. I get excited about snowshoeing. I get excited about fishing and boating and camping and biking (safe trails) and climbing up to a first summit (on paved paths) when we get to visit the mountains again. I get excited about being able to stand long enough to cook a meal for my family. Doing my own laundry without help to carry the baskets. Gardening, I really want to do some serious gardening! You just can’t imagine what it would mean to me to be able to do everyday things like clean my house myself! And to be strong enough to kneel down as long as a mama needs me to, to be there for her, to help her as she brings her little child into the world. I want life back.
So, it’s not because of vanity or a desire to be next year’s 40+ top model. Not a midlife crisis about sagging boobs or puffy eyes. And truly not about wearing the sexiest outfit to grub in the garden or feed the chickens or go to a little league game. It’s for life. Sure, it’ll be nice to be able to buy mostly normal sized clothes–I’d be lying if I said the idea of buying a bra that doesn’t need Rebar, reinforced girders or various flying buttresses to hold things up wasn’t appealing, especially if I don’t have to spend $50+ per bra! But not so I can knock anyone dead. I want life. And that’s why.