Why I Painted My Toes Before Surgery

Two days before I had my tubes tied, I painted my toes pink.

I did the whole at home pedicure thing, sitting with my feet in scalding hot water until it was cool. And used all manner of contraptions to smooth calluses, buff rough spots, trim cuticles, the works.

When I stood in my bathroom, surveying my small polish collection, I picked the pink one. Not red with sparkles, I bought that on a whim. But baby pink.

And when I was laying polish on my toes, I was thinking about my surgery. Not about Easter, which was the next day, but the day after that, when my surgery was scheduled. And I was painting my toes in defiance of it.

We are so many things when we are fertile and having babies. We’re called fecund and fruitful (I’m a tree now??), the width of our hips, how much milk small or large breasts might make, how good of mother we will make, that’s all talked about. A woman’s identity is tied, especially during her baby years, to her fertility.

I willingly surrendered that. The two events that have changed my life the most, pregnancy, will not happen again. I gave it up. While I soaked my toes, and watched tv, I realized I wasn’t really dreading the loss of pregnancy. I hate being pregnant, it wasn’t fun for me with either girl. I was really dreading the change in me.

Who am I if not a mother? Who am I if not capable of carrying a baby to term, and birthing that baby? Never mind the struggles and health challenges. I am, as a woman, defined by my ability to carry a baby. It’s what we’re supposed to do, on some primal, primeval level. And who will I be when that is no longer an option for me?

The answer is the same. I haven’t changed.

I’m still the girl who prefers pale pink over red nails, who keeps her hair short, who lacks the patience to try on false eyelashes. I’m still the girl who would play video games all night long, who hates doing laundry, who loves a clean bathroom. I am the girl who uses up all the hot water taking a shower. I’m still a bookworm, I am still most at peace with a camera in my hand. I’m still the girl that loves taking pictures, but hates sitting still long enough to edit them.

I. Haven’t. Changed.

My identity is not, or shouldn’t be, tied to my childbirthing abilities. Don’t get me wrong, I make some amazingly beautiful, smart, funny babies. Healthy girls, one of whom has grown into a strong, obstinate child with coltish long legs and freakishly long eye lashes, the other of whom sports round chubby fat cheeks and her Mama’s toes. But that’s not the sum total of me.

I haven’t changed. And I remembered that, once the cramping stopped, once I could take the bandages off, and shower, once I made a decent dinner, and filled the hummingbird feeder, and played fetch with Sam.

I have been stuck, unsure of what this change in my life would mean. And it means… nothing really. I am sterile. There are no more babies on my horizon.

But there are more photographs, more clothes to buy for little girls, more sleepless nights, more hot showers with the sun rising in the bathroom window, more books to read, more lessons to teach, more diapers to wash, more shopping trips to buy books and candy. There is more life to lead.

I am leading my lion cubs on this fantastic adventure called life, and sometimes being led by them on it. There is more to do, more to see, more to eat and feel and touch and laugh at it.

I have closed the final page on one chapter in my life. But the book is not done. And I am not any different.

~Jennifer

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