Did you think I would say that almost dying made me appreciate sunrises, my kids’ smiles, and my husband’s love? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Obviously that stuff. But almost dying has actually made me appreciate my muscles (however scant) and my ability to do chores. Really. Every single day.
Anyone who has had to completely rely on others must feel the same.
The birth of my twins almost killed me. I had postpartum hemorrhage and spent two days mostly unconscious in the ICU and a week in the hospital. Before the birth, I had been on modified bedrest for the last trimester, and I had to gain 75 pounds. (Tator tots at 3 AM helped me get to 80.) After the birth, I had to relearn how to walk with a walker and a physical therapist. I didn’t change the twins’ diapers until they were three weeks old. It was a sad time with a joyful ending.
What does bedrest and then that recovery do to your muscles? When the swelling went down and the weight came off, I was shocked to see that my calves and ankles looked like a coma patient’s. I looked freakishly, cartoonishly atrophied in some places (and obviously, freakishly, cartoonishly stretched out in other places!)
During bedrest, I had become so frustrated by my inability to walk the stairs of my own home. I didn’t see the basement of my own home for months. My husband would rearrange furniture and bring me the digital camera to show me and ask me how I liked it. I would cry when I couldn’t find something, or, more accurately, when I couldn’t explain to my husband where he should maybe try to look for that something.
[Recently, there has been some questioning of the efficacy of bedrest. My doctors – and my body – have a few things to say. First, any time you use major muscle groups – especially the thighs or glutes, like on stairs – you are shunting blood away from the uterus and into those muscles. That explains why stairs gave me contractions from 18 weeks onward. Second, being vertical when you have 15 pounds of babies pushing down on your cervix can cause the cervix to dilate. Being horizontal relieves some of that pressure, and thus, keeps the babies in there longer. The cervix was not designed to hold 15 pounds of baby inside, okay?]
The washing machine was in the basement, two floors below my bedroom, so I couldn’t do laundry. I wouldn’t have been able to bend over the machine anyway. My husband and my mother took over laundry duty, which is fine for the kids’ laundry… but is a little embarrassing for adult laundry.
Vacuuming was out of the question for months. I couldn’t stand long enough to wash dishes. I would look at certain dirty places in my home and just cry. (Okay, that was probably the hormones, because I don’t cry when I look at the mess that three toddlers have inflicted on my house these days.) I would watch my husband vacuum around me and I would literally sob because I felt guilty and worthless. (Okay, that was probably the hormones too. I definitely don’t sob when he shares the load these days.)
My husband was in grad school. He would work full days and then go to school some nights. He had homework and projects and exams. He gave love to our neglected toddler. He kept up with the house repairs. (We bought a short-sale, almost in foreclosure, that needed more love than our neglected toddler.) He continued all maintenance on our fleet of used vehicles AND then he took over all of my household chores as well.
The army that stepped in to help him was amazing. I have already praised the in-laws who built fences and painted walls and cooked and cleaned and cared for my son, the church sisters who set up rotations to bring meals and care for my son every day, and the mothers and aunts and grandmas and cousins who spent sleepless nights in our guest room… and took away from their jobs and their paychecks and their own families. They saved us. The doctor agreed!
But… taking back each of those chores, tasks, and work, little by little, gave me the greatest joy in the world.
Imagine walking down your stairs for the first time. Seeing your own washing machine for the first time in six months. Imagine the joy at bending over your own load of dirty laundry.
Imagine walking to your mailbox for the first time in months. Imagine the joy of getting your own bills with your own hands.
Imagine pushing that vacuum around your own filthy floor, and eliminating all that fur and funk with your own strong arms and legs that can push that vacuum again.
Imagine actually enjoying being down on your knees and cleaning the base of the toilet with your own hands.
Imagine the joy and the gratitude.
I felt like a toddler, gaining pride in my independence. I enjoyed the basic chores that were once drudgery.
Of course, these days, it’s mostly drudgery again. But every once in a while, as I am racing down the stairs with an armload of messy laundry while all three children cry upstairs, I have to smile. I throw the emergency load in the washer with the speed of lightning. I slam the lid shut and race up the stairs on strong legs. I scoop up one or two or three enormous children in my strong arms. (Well, my arms are like toothpicks, but still…) I can shush them with my strong heartbeat and my strong voice that is full of song.
It’s good. You know what I mean?