Published on September 15th, 2022 | by India Garms


My Brain on Bedrest

Two weeks ago, I had my first surgery. A tubal ligation. Everything went great, although I got myself psyched up pretty good. My anxiety was quite vocal. But there was no weirdness, just good old permanent sterilization.

I had some freaky dreams afterwards, a notable one being when I was at my post-op appointment (which hadn’t happened yet) and my doctor continuously pulled hairs and fuzz out of my incisions with tweezers, making “Hmmm” and “Ah, yes” noises as she worked. Since that dream, and all of the subsequent mornings so far, it has become a ritual for me to lift my shirt and inspect my wounds to see how much they changed overnight.

There were a lot of hoops I had to jump through just to get the surgery scheduled. First I had to find a doctor I felt comfortable with, then I had to convince her that, yes, this is what I want for myself and, yes, I understand it’s permanent. My doctor began by suggesting that my spouse get a vasectomy. I acknowledged that’s still something we want to do, but also that my body exists outside of our marriage, and that this is something that I want (need) to do for my own autonomy.

“A vasectomy is much faster, simpler, and safer,” my doctor gently countered.

This is where I finally got to cash in on my “Person-with-a-Uterus-Who-Wishes-to-Do-Away-With-It” Punch Card: I had already given birth (at 16, no less), I was married, I was 30. Tic-tac-toe, three in a row. Each hole that was punched made me more and more qualified to be voluntarily sterilized, or that’s what it felt like, at least. I made my contribution to our world’s already overpopulated population and settled down, so my sex was no long what society viewed as the promiscuous, scandalous kind, and I was old enough to perhaps not make decisions I will regret (as if there’s an actual age).

The final obstacle was scheduling. This had to be done over the summer, as I’m a teacher and knew I couldn’t afford the time during the school year. All of these hoops are normal for a woman in Texas. I’m not sure if this is the standard elsewhere in the country (I’ve lived in Texas for nearly all of my life), but in no other area of medicine did I feel the need to justify a medical procedure like this. 

Finally, after three years of trying to orchestrate the surgery, the stars aligned. It was even 100% covered by my insurance. But then, on June 24, 2022, Roe v. Wade was overturned. When I shared my anxiety about this online, several of my friends reached out to say they felt a similar concern about their upcoming ligations: that some nonsense would happen to prevent our procedures from happening. I worried that Texas politics would go beyond preventing abortions and would ban female sterilization as well. I felt as though none of the rights protecting my bodily autonomy were as reliable as I previously thought. I had my surgery on July 18, a nerve-wracking month later. My relief upon surfacing from the anesthesia was both political and palpable.

Recovering from the surgery was worse than the surgery itself, and the mental recovery was definitely worse than the physical. I was kept occupied by counting the hours; every sixth hour, I could take another pain pill. I watched a lot of Netflix and finished reading a few books. Having to lay down all day felt tolerable until around day five. One of the things that I found particularly excruciating was watching the house get dirtier and dirtier and writhing under the imaginary pressure of feeling that the house wouldn’t get cleaned unless I did it (or initiated someone else’s doing it by asking). My OCD was not pleased. I found myself staring at the hair and dust that accumulated along the edges of my hallways, the rapidly-filling trash cans throughout the house, the multiplying dishes occupying the sink. In reality, my house was just as cluttered as it usually had always been; I was just noticing it more because I wasn’t distracted, as I usually was, by the usual day-to-day minutiae. Bedrest forced me to either ask for help (uncomfortable and guilt-inducing, but reasonable) or do the cleaning myself (also uncomfortable, but guilt-inducing to others — which is borderline unbearable to me — and not at all reasonable). So I vocalized this to my spouse, and he swept the floors, emptied the trash, and did the dishes.

It was that easy.

I practiced the same skill in asking for things like more water, my hot pad to be reheated, and to be handed the remote. It got easier. But some things still gnawed at me: Why was it so difficult not to do everything myself? Was it because I didn’t think I deserve not to? If I’m not deserving of help after surgery, when am I? What are the qualifications for receiving help?

I learned a lot about myself in the week that I spent horizontal. As previously mentioned, I learned that I didn’t feel qualified to ask for and accept help, which comes from the Sacrificial Mother mentality I learned from my own sacrificial mother: one cannot help themselves until others are cared for first. I learned that if I drink a glass of water, it’ll be about ten minutes before I need to gather my strength to get up and go to the bathroom. Most unexpectedly, I learned that for the first thirty years of my life, I was completely unaware of the way in which my organs sit in their oddly organized way within my body, the way in which my abdominal muscles layer and wrap around them. But during my Week of Bedrest, that gastrointestinal lesson came to me at night, when I would lay on my back (the only position that didn’t jostle my incision wounds) and feel the configuration of my innards. It was an awareness that didn’t usually exist when I was otherwise occupied or upright; it was existential and borderline horrific. I cannot map out where certain organs are, nor could I accurately label the more shapeless organs such as the spleen or bladder, but I learned that we take this not-knowing for granted. It’s like suddenly being aware of how much room your tongue takes up within your mouth or, in that space between awake and asleep, noticing the rate at which you are breathing. Un-noticing it required a distraction I usually wasn’t able to orchestrate in the dark hours of early morning. Lying on my back, James sleeping silently at my side, darkness its own smothering blanket, my keen awareness of my organs sharpened until I was absolutely certain that something inside me was wrong, turned around or tangled or off in some way. Had my doctor put me back together wrong? My mind chewed and chewed over these thoughts. But they were normal. They always went away.

The physical pain was hardly there, easily managed by low-dose prescription and heating pads. Mostly I was sore. It felt as though I had done thousands of crunches and should expect to see glorious, absolutely ripped abs beneath my shirt. Instead I found, in my morning check-ins, my usual stomach: an area of loosely puckered skin at the underside of my belly, above my panty-line, the stretch marks I’ve learned to love; a slight pooch, something I once saw as nothing but a barrier between teenage Me and Being Skinny, but has since been made an ally in being Curvy; the whole area bisected down the middle by a slight valley that appeared after my pregnancy. In reality, my muscles were just working tirelessly to knit themselves back together beneath the same stomach that had always been there.

What’s new about my 30-year-old stomach are my scars. I have three, one for each decade of my life so far: two on either side of my belly button that are still spectacularly bruised (but suspiciously painless), with hematoma that look like cosmic, inky spills of purple, blue, black, and yellow with the way that they pool into my stretch marks, and one very boring, very normal-looking one about three inches below my left breast. The one on top was for a camera and a light; during the procedure, my abdomen was filled with gas so that my doctor would have room to do the necessary maneuvering and the light would provide illumination from within, kind of like taking a lantern with you when you go spelunking. All three incisions were sealed with Dermabond, a liquid adhesive that holds wounds closed. Apparently this is the thing to use instead of stitches, at least externally. My first thought upon seeing my incisions was that the Dermabond looked like that clear purple Elmer’s liquid glue, the kind from elementary school that sometimes had sparkles in it (my Dermabond, unfortunately, was sparkle-free, something I will make a note to suggest when I complete my post-op feedback survey). The doctor said it would just flake off on its own, but it’s been nearly two weeks and my three dried-up smears of Dermabond are still there. I really, really want to peel them off.

One particularly unexpected aspect of the surgery was the cyclical feeling of my recovery. I started my period when I was 12 or so, around 6th grade, and remember being so intimidated by the mechanisms of tampons that I used pads until I was almost in high school, feeling too awkward to ask anyone for help. My biggest issue with pads is that they feel like diapers, especially the thick ones for those heavy flows. I remember my tweenage body having this feeling of letting out a relieved sigh and saying “Finally!” as what felt like buckets of blood poured out of me; like my body had spent years saving it up and was only just now able to release. It was strange. One’s first periods are almost always violently red. Periods are also heavier in the mornings, the first time the body is vertical after being horizontal for so long. Gravity literally pulls the blood out of you. Once I got into my twenties and had been on steady birth control, my periods tapered off, a few brown spots barely worth a tampon. But the bleeding I had after my surgery brought me back to my teenage self, sitting down on the toilet, pulling down my pants, silently balking at what appeared to be gallons of blood absorbed into a thick, diaper-like pad, reminding myself that this is normal.

Recovery reminded me a lot of my teenage self, actually, because this particular aftercare was so similar to the post-birth aftercare I endured when I was sixteen, just after my kiddo was born. What I find interesting is that the mental recovery was so different. As a teenager, I can’t say I was doing a ton of metacognitive thinking during my time with a newborn. Perhaps I didn’t yet know how. I was just surviving. There wasn’t all of this time for reflection. I was too tired. But as a 30-year-old with an arsenal of tools from nearly ten years of therapy, I am so keyed into my mind that I sometimes wish I could go back to the quiet exhaustion of not-knowing. My mind also noted how the physical recovery of my surgery mimicked the physical recovery of giving birth: the bleeding, the cramps, the importance that everything is clean and sterile, the six-hour pain pill rotation, the hot pads, the physical exhaustion, the unwillingness to wear anything more constricting than a nightgown or house dress.

It seems appropriate that the result of ending my fertility mirrors the result of its beginning. I know that I am abnormally prone to making life more romantic or abstract than it actually is, but there’s something lovely in this menstrual symmetry. A beginning within an ending.

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About the Author

India Garms (she/her) is a 30-year-old, Texas-based high school English teacher. She can usually be found among the stacks at her local library. Find her on Instagram @LearningWithGarms.

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