I've been to the osteopath this morning. He's one of a handful of professionals and witch doctors that help me manage my back problems these days. Jen the massage therapist digs her magic fingers into me every couple of weeks. Trevor the Pilates instructor is trying to find and strengthen my core muscles. Brett, the osteo, re-aligns the muscles that are forced into wierd behaviours by the strange architecture of my spine.
They all help keep the monster Pain under control.
It's been on my mind lately. Teddy has been sick, and needing a lot of intensive cuddle therapy. Even on a normal day this adorable chubbster needs much lifting. Ivy, at two, is still a chrysalis baby-child who needs a lot of manual handling. (Yesterday, for instance, she lay down in the middle of the supermarket carpark and refused to move. I had Ted in a sling on my back and was forced to bend down and haul Ivy away from a string of patient cars. Try performing that manouvre and still use 'good technique').
My bad back has been a defining aspect of my life since age seventeen, when I was trying on a a beatnik minidress in a boutique called Wheels and Doll Baby and Mum said 'Why is your hip sticking out like that?'
Scoliosis. Mucho curvature of the spine.
Cue spinal fusion 1, where surgeons removed a rib, turned it into bionic glue and used it to fuse three vertabrae together, securing them with rods and bolts. Months in a brace, painted with hippy slogans and psychedelic cartoons.
On with life.
Cue spinal fusion 2, a couple of years later, after a broken screw and a lot of pain. Hip graft, more screws, a another rod, one more level fused. Another brace. Less optimistic artwork.
On with life.
Cue freak boating accident a couple of years later. Fibreglass floor meets fused spine at high velocity. Vertabrae under fusion snaps.
Life gets ugly. A year in bed, hepped up on on horse-tranquillizers takes its toll on my relationship, my friendships, my hopes for the future. Pain and depression haunt me with their tiny violins.
Ten years later: A beautiful partner, a baby, a happy life, one I feared would never happen. Pain isn't my constant house-guest any more, but it visits me a lot, leaving a mess, pissing off the other residents, taking advantage.
The pain has ramped up since the second child. Hauling around two litle ones and all the luggage they require (shopping, washing, strollers) is the most physical job I've ever had. We have always dreamed of having as many babies as finances and biology will allow. But pain is the one fly in the ointment. If I go under, we all go under.
Marriage is a finely tuned symphony of negotiation. You win one, you lose one, you scratch a back, you get an itch of your own met. You both give in, give in, give in. Whats affects one, affects all. You can't live the selfish, delightful life of the committment-phobe that Keith and I both perfected before we gave in to Big Love.
My main struggle, when I'm in pain, is to stay positive. When the body hurts, it's a fight to keep the machine running - cook this, wash that, play with this one, feed the other. And do it all with a smile. So much emotional energy is going into keeping the essentials on track, there's not much left for fun, or laughter, or affection.
This is Keiths cross to bear. And he does it with great good humour and practicality. (Almost all the time.) I love this in him. I hate that my back will bacome a defining aspect of our family too, but we're a unit. I know it will. Yesterday Ivy said 'My back is sore, Mummy,' and my heart sank.
I'm mad. I'm resentful. I don't want to be Mummy-with-the-bad-back. But I can't deal with that anger the way single-me did: Ignore. Aneasthetise. Hole up. Now I'm responsible for how it affects the rest of the tribe, so I have to face it and manage it. This I do with my trusty tribe of healers. And also, I'm grateful - there were many times I thought I'd never get here. And things could be a lot worse.
I've been reading Nie's blog a lot lately. This extraordinary, creative and loving woman wrote a beautiful website about her family and then was in a near-fatal plane crash last year, in which she suffered terrible burns. She's back blogging about her recovery. If you check out her archives as well as her current posts, you'll see. Reading the Nie Dialogues, I've cried.
Life is good.
Because what's the other option?