Last Sunday, my closest friends gathered in my living room to watch the Super Bowl. I use the word “watch” loosely. We mostly ate, drank, and talked. At one point (after Rihanna, I think), the conversation turned to the topic of pain. I said the worst physical pain I’d ever felt was having my IUD inserted. Before then, I always wondered why some breathing techniques for labor seemed so odd and unnatural. Why would you need to take such quick breaths? But when my gynecologist pried open my cervix, I understood.
Placing an IUD is not the same as giving birth, but it’s as close as you can get. Some doctors (like mine) have you come in when you’re on your period. While bleeding, the cervix descends and opens slightly to allow blood and tissue to flow out. This makes it easier to open the cervix further. Some doctors are not as attentive as mine. They schedule you for whenever and give you Pitocin—the drug used to induce labor—before inserting the IUD. My doctor told me that insertion is easier when bleeding, but it would still be painful. No explanation, though, can truly prepare you for that feeling. I stopped breathing, but I was so focused on the pain I didn’t realize I had stopped breathing. I only noticed when the nurse told me not to hold my breath. I tried to breathe normally, but I could only manage short, sharp breaths. I remembered a video I’d seen once of fighter pilots training to experience six or more G-forces. That hee-hee-hoo breathing made sense, then. When dealing with that type of distress, it’s all you can manage.
We started ranking our painful experiences. We all had different stories. At one point, I mentioned the time I broke my arm. I was around seven years old. It was probably the second-most painful thing I’d lived through. I was at a friend’s birthday party, and we were all jumping on top of her dad. After we swamped him, he’d stand up and let us all topple to the ground. After a few minutes without incident, I fell at an odd angle with my arm beneath me. One of my friends landed on top of me. Initially, I felt nothing. My body went into shock. But as I sat on my friend’s couch, watching Scooby-Doo while her parents called mine, the numbness turned to fire. I had never felt anything like that before.
My parents were at a concert, so my babysitter picked me up. I waited at home for my mom to get back. Some show or movie was on TV—a girl had been kidnapped and was trying to escape from the trunk of a car. Eventually, my mom got home and drove me to the hospital. The pain had subsided a bit by then, but it came raging back when the ER doctor reset my arm. Hours later, I counted back from ten as the anesthesiologist put me to sleep for surgery. I remembered every aspect of that night. Interestingly, though, I couldn’t bring to mind the feeling of the pain itself. I know that it hurt; I just couldn’t feel it. For the first time in nearly twenty-five years, I realized that pain had left me.
I’ve been thinking about all of this a lot this week. Our bodies can forget the pain; it’s our minds that hold onto it. Why do we do that to ourselves? Why do we play back the worst moments of our lives? We can watch physical wounds scab over and heal, leaving only soft scars. The ghosts in our minds stay with us, but only because we let them. Letting go of our pain gives us room to feel something else. What have you been holding on to? What do you need to release?
Until next time,
Letters on Being is reader-supported. If you love it, consider becoming a paying subscriber. You’ll get access to our poetry club, bonus essays, and other random bits of goodness.
Here’s another excellent Grateful Dead cover from Bombay Bicycle Club.
Yardena!! Amazing. The concept, the writing, the story, and the inspirational call to action. I compound fractured my arm at age 6 and can’t recall if it hurt. Your experience sounds just....wow so hard.