I was reacquainted with my hemorrhoid recently, the one I got exactly three weeks after I had given birth to my daughter at home. That tiny hemo is soon to turn thirty years old. It’s the only residual evidence of an unforgettable labor of sixty hours, a birthing that has been retold so many times it evokes salty air worthy of a mythical odyssey.
Yes, sixty hours, from the moment my water broke to when my baby was carefully lifted, umbilical chord still connecting us, straight to my clutch and into my heart. No one told me beforehand that this would be the long, strange trip I’d take without drugs — and honestly, I really wish someone would have told me in a way I could have actually believed them, saying something truthful like: natural labor is a lot like growing really old; it’s definitely not for the squeamish so don’t go there unless you want to test the limits of your mental and physical stamina or are already completely out of your mind.
Better still would have been if someone had described labor pains using the juiciest curse words, and in repetition for dramatic emphasis. That would certainly have gotten my attention, which is exactly the reason I’ve chosen the effing word whenever I am asked about natural childbirth. It’s the best way I know how to prepare other innocent pregnant lovelies who might otherwise be in for a rude awakening. The effing word fits snugly into the perfect sentence, as in, it hurts like effing hell which is coincidentally exactly what I told my hubby to tell my father who had called from New York to check on me. He wanted to know how I was doing, deeply concerned no doubt that my labor was taking way too long. My father was right. It’s funny to think about it now, but those five words were the gospel truth of the effing situation.
My daughter is the happy reminder that laboring two and a half days without the aid of drugs was worth every mind expanding hour as she came with a bonus gift. All the pain brought with it a stunning realization, a new sense of myself that no other challenge, test or drug before or since ever gave me: If I can endure THAT, then I can do anything.
No obvious health problems reacquainted with me with my hemo, rather it was my first screening colonoscopy. My daughter, now wrapping up her third year of medical school, had been urging me for some time to get it done. That was about the same time she was on me for a mammogram. Even though I had no enthusiasm for zapping and smashing my breasts again or going through the prep for the colonoscopy, the largest part of my reluctance with doing either was because I am not in the high risk category for breast or colon cancer, not even close. There is no family history of either disease that could predispose me, and for years I have eaten a plant-based diet, exercised regularly, and done so many of the other things recommended to help keep me at low risk for disease.
But I knew even that argument is not a valid excuse for any responsible adult since bad things do happen to even the most disciplined health and exercise enthusiasts. First on my list was the mammo since my last one was a few years ago. I endured the requisite smashings to my breasts and trusted the all clear outcome because the images were read by a board certified diagnostic radiologist that had come highly recommended by my daughter.
Now at 56, even though I feel and look younger, it’s impossible to ignore that I am a good 6 years past the recommendation for when to get the first colonoscopy. I acquiesced to my daughter’s request primarily out of the motivation to be a great mom to ease her mind and to keep her from being distracted with worry while in medical school by any real or imagined concerns for my breasts or colon.
My decision was also influenced by simultaneously finding out someone we know had just gotten diagnosed with colon cancer and another person died within months of their colon cancer diagnosis. Unfortunately both people had ignored the recommendation to get a screening colonoscopy. Did I need another reminder that colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths?
In a flash, the thought of choosing to put off having a colonoscopy lost all its power. Now. Do it Now. That’s what the message seemed so clear to be saying. Now. It is the best choice, instead of ignorance and wishful hoping.
For those of you who have not yet had one, the cliche you have heard that the prep is worse than the procedure is Truth. The faux-citric solution induces countless visits to the bathroom and multiple restocking of toilet paper rolls. There’s no real discomfort, unless like me, your hemo flushes out too, emerging much like a cicada that stays hidden, dormant for 17 years in the dark, till it pops into the world screaming, hot and bothered.
Strange how a hemo can bring back the post-birth traumatic stress syndrome (pbtss). Flashbacks of those hours waiting for my cervix to efface so I could start pushing blend with technicolor images of steaming hot, white washcloths draping my belly as friends and hubby tried unsuccessfully to soothe me. Looking back, even the classes I took with my hubby in the Bradley method were folly, at least for me, because once the pain of those labor contractions came on there was nothing other than narcotics or maybe a house fire that would have been able to divert my focus away from the pain.
The pbtss brought snapshots of me brushing my long, lush hair that was then as thick as a horse mane much like my daughter’s hair is now. During those too brief gaps between contractions I could catch up on some pampering or a brief doze. Thankfully in those moments of calm, my attending osteopath and midwife were able to reassure me all vital signs were go for a successful outcome. They were right.
That’s not always the case with a colonoscopy or a mammogram. There’s no guarantee you’ll have a perfect breast or a perfectly healthy colon. But what you will have is a procedure that can possibly save your life and some needless suffering. So now it’s past March, national month of colonoscopy awareness, and you still haven’t scheduled yours. That’s why I am here to remind you, urge you, poke you. Get on with it. Make the call today to your doctor’s office to begin the process because keeping the beautiful pink color of your colon requires more than good eating habits and luck. It helps knowing the truth of what you will be enduring through the inconvenient prep, and also knowing the harsher truth of what you could be facing if you don’t get screened.
Here’s a link to help you get on with it:
Finally, if you’re having symptoms, like cramping or pain in your stomach that doesn’t go away, have blood in your stools or you are losing weight, of course it is a good idea to get checked right away. If you have a family history, all the more reason to go get your first screening done a whole lot sooner than at 50.
Share this with any of your loved ones if they are thinking about a natural delivery or are due for a screening and have been dragging their arse. You can thank my beautiful daughter for getting me on the other side of my first colonoscopy and inspiring me to write this essay. She’s going to make one terrific doctor. Happy 30th birthday Jesse!