A few months ago, nearing the summit of 45 years old, my ovaries were removed to a soundtrack of “Night Fever” and “Beast of Burden.” I had actually said goodbye to them four and a half years earlier, waiting for the ice pack to numb the spot where I’d get a shot that I affectionately called my OvaryShutterOffer. I was mindful of the job they’d done, grateful that they had performed like little Mary Lou Rettons, training for years and then delivering on that one day of the month when it mattered. I’d gotten pregnant easily, fertile as the California Central Valley before the drought, and as I said goodbye to my ovaries, I set my hands over the spot in my body where I thought they were and said “thank you thank you thank you thank you.”
Several years later, removing them is a formality that might make my postcancer life less prone to infection, complication and monthly trips to the infusion center for the OvaryShutterOffer. There are many differences this time around: this is my sixth surgery in four years, so let’s just say I’ll get one casserole out of this if I’m lucky. (**I actually got turkey meatballs, which were phenomenal..) Most significantly, my oldest daughter Bee wants to come with me, and is old enough to understand what that really entails.
“You’ll sit for like three hours,” I tell her.
“So, I want to be there for you.”
“It might be weird for you, I’ll be kind of out of it.”
“So, I want to be there for you.” She’s fourteen years old, and I looked into her face, caught right between girl and womanhood, her skin pale and vulnerable, and think to myself, “Here it is.” The crossroads, when you have to decide how far to let your children in, and how much to keep to yourself.
My mother (love love LOVE her) was the Queen of the Inappropriate Overshare. She was young, it was the 80s, and on more than one occasion I can remember counselling her on whether she should leave my father or maybe wait until the rent was paid. I was probably nine. I wanted to be there for her, but the downside was I never really felt like I could lean back hard into my parents. I was too aware of their limitations and humanness to believe that they could protect me from anything.
Things would be different with my girls. My girls would be children until it was time for them to be tweeners, and they would climb a logical ladder to teendom, young womanhood, adult. I would not burden them unduly, I would let them be kids, carefree, trusting, hopeful, goofy kids. There was time enough for heartache and character development. I would hold that off as long as I could.
Said the arrogant woman.
My life took a different direction, grandiose and heart wrenching, shameful and beautiful all at once. Every single day, I decided how far I needed to let my girls in. I wanted them to trust me, I would never lie, but I also left some parts out, the way you edit the ingredient list for picky eaters. Truffles? Sherry vinegar? No need to mention. “Cheese and butter, that’s about it.”
My health issues were dealt with practically. “Cancer treatment will impact you guys this way and this way, and everything will be okay, and Nanny will pick you up and Leigh will be living with us for a bit.”
But now the older one wanted in. So I let her.
She was perfectly teenaged about the whole thing, leaving our laptop and my wallet unattended in the waiting room while she massaged my hands in preop. She screwed up the directions for my husband to get the pain meds, and killed the battery on my iPhone while I was under. But she also tucked my hair sweetly into the blue paper cap I had to wear, and when my “So Long, Ovaries” playlist had run through once, she started it again.
She was comfortable, confident, it wasn’t but a thang to her. She chatted up the nurses and made the time pass for me. And I loved singing Bob Marley with her, truly enjoyed her company, and isn’t that what we hope for? To love your kids and like your kids? how freaking cool.
Nurse David grabbed the iPod so my tunes would follow me into surgery. Bee held my hand, told me she’d be there when I came out. And she was. She fed me rice crackers one by one, and guided my feeble body to my friend’s car for the ride home. She was comfortable with the trauma, and I realized I probably hadn’t protected her as much as I’d thought. I felt sad and proud, heartbroken and elated. She would be ready for life, at least more ready than I’d been. Under my breath I whispered “thank you thank you thank you thank you.”