Body After Baby
Body After Baby
At Marina’s six-week post-partum appointment, the woman working the desk handed over a clipboard with an intake sheet, her expression entirely neutral as she asked Marina to fill it out so that the doctor would know if anything unusual was happening. Marina, who thought her symptom should be obvious to just about anyone, looked pointedly at her shoulder, and then at the desk, but it changed nothing, and so Marina took the form and sat down to fill it out. There were three other women in the waiting room; none of them seemed to be in her condition. One woman was nodding off, another shifting uncomfortably in her chair, but that was the most that Marina noticed.
Would she even be able to see it in another woman? No one had reacted to her peculiar problem. Everything proceeded as usual in the grocery store, in the pharmacy, up at the mall. Her husband said she was worrying too much; her mother-in-law always changed the subject. Marina had no idea what to check off on the office’s form; nothing really sufficed. Sure, she was still bleeding, she still had stitch-site discomfort, she was tired. Marina could check those boxes no problem. But there was no box for the biggest diagnosis that she needed.
What did one check off when a wyvern had decided to make a home of their shoulder?
She couldn’t be sure when the wyvern had arrived. It was definitely after she gave birth, of that much she was certain. When she told her husband about the pain, he suggested that she take more Ibuprofen. When she examined how well her daughter was swaddled in her crib, the child showed no signs of seeing the creature that had attached itself to Marina. The second sheet on the clipboard was the standard rankings for depression symptoms, but Marina’s pain was physical, not mental. She’d gotten her depression under control some time ago, and it had not reared its ugly head since she’d given birth. Sighing, Marina decided to check off “back pain” as a symptom, because it was the closest thing that she could find. Marina had never been the type to believe in fairies and things, even as a little girl. She had called out the strangeness of a little flying woman collecting children’s teeth, and she told her parents that the Easter Bunny’s obsession with eggs made no sense.
They had called Marina back before she could fully fill out the form. The nurse checking her in made a complaining sound about Marina’s weight; before Marina could say anything in response, the nurse was ushering her into a cramped little soulless room all by herself, one rank with disinfectant. Marina was instructed to strip down below the waist and put the paper sheet over the top of her “legs and such.” Marina glared at the wyvern, glad she did not have to remove her other clothing. The wyvern had a nasty habit of snapping at her bra straps, not to mention that dressing and undressing became painful as its claws dug into her skin.
Marina waited, reclined on the table and staring up at the water-stained ceiling. The wyvern partially curled itself on top of her hair as though it were a nest; given her current showering abilities, it might as well have been. A computer in the room made a soft whirring noise that likely revealed its age; the creature that still perched on her made its own sound that was not unlike a cross between purring and a grinding car transmission. When the doctor came in, Marina sat up part way. He was looking down at her chart as he greeted her, flipping from one page to the next.
“I see you’re still bleeding,” he said, chin tucked into neck.
“Let’s have a look, shall we?”
And then he was seated on a wheeled stool at the end of the table, examining under the paper sheet and pressing in all of her most tender unhealed places. Marina inhaled sharply, and even her reptilian companion squawked and flapped its wings at the doctor in solidarity.
“Well,” he said, “there is some inflammation, but it should subside in the next two weeks. No sign of infection.”
“I’m sorry,” Marina said. As the doctor wheeled himself over to the computer, he still did not look at her. His gloves made an unpleasant suctioning noise as he rid himself of them. He washed his hands quickly in the sink. Marina sat up, holding up both her weight and the wyvern’s. “Are we not going to discuss this thing with my shoulder?”
As the doctor pumped out hand sanitizer, the stench of the room grew stronger. Marina was barely able to keep herself from retching. The wyvern clicked in its throat, then nipped at her hair. Luckily, this time, he did not pull any strands out; she had already lost enough.
“Oh, that’s not entirely uncommon with women in your age bracket,” the doctor said as he typed. “Some women’s bodies change in unexpected ways after birth and pregnancy. Are you breastfeeding?”
“And how is having Spyro on my shoulder considered in any way normal?” Marina was sure that if the doctor stopped long enough to give some fancy Latin-sounding name to the issue, then he could also prescribe the solution.
The doctor’s face collapsed in its disappointment, which Marina deemed both judgy and weird. “Was that a no on the breastfeeding?” he said. “You know what they say…” Marina did know what they said, but she did not hear it this time over the wyvern’s suddenly spirited chattering.
“I’m doing partial breastfeeding,” she yelled just as the wyvern quieted. “Supplementing with formula,” she added at normal volume. Marina had to work and the idea of pumping freaked her out. There was also the matter of the massive amounts of pain that breastfeeding caused, not only in the obvious ways but also with monstrous cramps that would seize in her lower torso through some mysterious internal network of her body that she couldn’t quite understand. She hadn’t wanted to breastfeed at all, but enough looks like the doctor had just shot her in the months leading up to labor—and in the hours after it—finally peer pressured her into relenting.
“Hm,” the doctor said. He clicked his pen twice, glaring down at her clipboard sheet. “Full-time breastfeeding would help with the weight that you still need to lose.”
“I—I—” Marina took a moment to compose herself. She once again pointed to her shoulder. “How much do you think this thing weighs?” she asked, her voice shriller than she’d anticipated. “Not that I’m particularly concerned about a scale right now, but you could always try deducting… what, twelve? Thirteen pounds?”
The doctor glanced at her briefly. The only indication that he’d heard her at all was one raised eyebrow. “Have you considered having another child?” he asked with a weary sigh. “Sometimes that…” He clucked his tongue, his hand twirling lazily in the air. “…alleviates things.”
“Wouldn’t that also risk making things worse?” Marina involuntarily imagined another wyvern on her currently pain-free shoulder. She did not want to know how much longer it would take to drink a cup of coffee in the morning. As it was, she was drinking it at room temperature and half of it ended up staining her shirt. “What am I supposed to do about showers?” Marina demanded. “This… thing… screeches and bites me. It hurts to shower.”
“Other women deal with it,” the doctor said, rising from his stool. “You don’t get anything for free, and that includes babies.”
“I’ve never seen another woman dealing with this! I’ve never even heard of something like this!”
“Because other women do not get hysterical about it,” the doctor said. His voice had that smug kind of placid quality that he’d swear was nothing but reasonable. “Do you need medication for that?”
“I need this thing to go back to Middle-Earth. Can you prescribe me something for that?”
“It may go away on its own,” the doctor said.
“This wasn’t in any of the baby books,” Marina mumbled as though that mattered in the least. Whether she had been warned or not, the effects were very much real.
“They don’t want to scare women,” the doctor said. “Then women might decide not to have babies simply because there’s a slim possibility that there will be some physical differences in their bodies after giving birth.” He checked his watch, and then scribbled something on Marina’s clipboard sheet. “I’ll send the nurse in with some pamphlets if you’d like. Some women find that helpful.” And with that, the doctor left.
Marina made croaking sounds as she looked from the creature to the paper over her legs and back again. She thought that her pain would be taken seriously. Perhaps if there were no way to measure it, then she could bring herself to understand the brush-off, but the evidence was literally sitting directly in front of the doctor, and still he had done nothing to offer her. She did not know what else she could do to convince them. Marina did not know how to handle this supposedly normal and natural part of life when no one would so much as acknowledge that she needed help.
Audrey T. Carroll
is the editor of Musing the Margins (Human/Kind Press, 2020). Her work has been published in Bending Genres, Hawaii Pacific Review, CRAFT, and others. She is a bi/queer and disabled/chronically ill writer. She can be found at http://audreytcarrollwrites.weebly.com and @AudreyTCarroll on Twitter/Facebook.