The time I saved my own life
I was two-minutes into watching Valerie Kaur’s Ted Talk on how to reclaim love as a revolutionary act when tears streamed down my cheeks. Valerie starts off her talk describing the final moments of her labor when she birthed her first son. As wave after wave of fiery pain hit her, she looked at her mother standing by her side and said: “I can’t”. Her mother was already humming in her ear a Sikh prayer “Tati Vao Na Lagi, Par Brahm Sarnai”: “The hot winds cannot touch you”. Valerie then speaks as to how she suddenly saw her grandmother standing behind her mother, and she then recalled the long line of women who had pushed through the fire before her. She pushed one last time, and her son was born. Valerie then says: “Love is more than a rush of feeling that happen to us if we’re lucky. Love is sweet labor. Fierce. Bloody. Imperfect. Life giving. A choice we make over and over again.” That’s when my chest sunk, and my tears rolled down.
I’ll tell you why I cried but let me first take you back to a moment in my life about 11 years ago. I was 34 weeks pregnant with my first child, my daughter. I was at the clinic for my pre-natal check-up. My doctor said it was time for us to discuss my delivery plan. “C-section”, I immediately responded. She was taken back and immediately told me that I didn’t come across as someone who would elect for a C-section. I had a healthy pregnancy. I was brave and fearless. I shifted uneasily in my seat and uttered two words to her: Sexual Assault. She nodded her head. “I wish you had told me before; we could have worked through it so you can have a natural birth”. I told her that the memory of the assault left me extremely tense around gynecological procedures in general, let alone what women must endure during birthing. We left it at that, and I delivered my daughter 5 weeks later through a C-section. The same happened with my second child, my son. “Elective C-section”. I would stare at that phrase every time it appeared on my medical file.
About 9 months after I had my son, and my second C-section, I felt a lump under my C-section scar. It was deep but I felt it. Over the years I had the lump checked out by several surgeons, only to be dismissed that it’s just scar tissue. The lump was getting bigger over time and would particularly get more swollen and painful at the time of my period every month. I knew it was what they medically refer to as C-section scar endometriosis. I had done my research, and my body was confirming it every month. But the medical field denies women’s pain and the wisdom of their bodies. That’s an article for another time. And so, a few months ago, 6 years after the lump appeared, my diagnosis was confirmed. C-section scar endometriosis.
Now, let me tell you why I cried as I listened to Valerie’s words. I cried because I felt I was robbed of the fierce, bloody and imperfect labor, or at least the attempt at it. I cried because I realized that all these years, I couldn’t reconcile the feisty, brave and fearless fire that sits ablaze at the core of my heart, with the girl that laid still and didn’t fight back, or scream, or punch or push back. I cried because I felt I was robbed of my chance to birth that fire through me, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. I cried because I felt defeated, cowardly, and small. And I have a lump on a scar that reminds of this every day.
But that’s also exactly when I truly grasped how love is a revolutionary act. I’ll try and explain how. I got to know about Valerie Kaur through Meggan Watterson. I had just finished reading Watterson’s book about Mary Magdalene and how Mary’s gospel reveals that it is through radical love that we find our way to be fully human and yet fully divine — messy with a limited ego yet also with a limitless soul. Radical love has always been my kind of thing.
In her book, Watterson talks about “the immobility state” or the “freezing response”. It’s the third state after the “fight or flight” states that mammals engage in at the onset of danger. When death draws near, this immobility state is “an instinctive and involuntary altered state of consciousness”, and it serves as a last-ditch effort to survive. In this altered state, we can’t feel any pain, a quality that prepares mammals facing their last moments to die even before they’re killed. And it’s not a function under our conscious control, but rather connected to energy and the nervous system. Humans and animals share this immobility response, but where animals who survive can release the energy of this trauma with no symptoms, human survivors develop a wide range of symptoms from the trapped energy of “death” in their body.
I have been on the path of radical love for a long time. But only when I was truly ready to engulf myself in this radical love did the diagnosis of my lump come through. See your body holds what you can’t face and keeps it hidden somewhere. It carries your load for you: in your lungs, or liver, in your descending colon, or in my case, on the periphery of my scar. All my scar wants is to be seen, heard and loved. And I am not talking about my C-section scar. And so, I tell my scar: I am ready to see you, hear you and love you. And in this engulfing state of radical love towards myself, I borrow from Watterson’s book the lines below, and I dedicate them to myself, and my scar.
“I had been haunted by this unease of not knowing why I didn’t protect myself. There was a part of me that never trusted myself in the same way again, with that same level of ease and love. I had lost a lot that night, the greatest of which was this unfaltering belief in myself.
Now I understood. I did fight back. I froze. I froze because I ardently believed I wouldn’t survive. I died before I could be killed. I froze because the animal instinct in me kicked in, and it saved me from having to experience the pain.
I did exactly what I was supposed to do. I hadn’t failed. I had saved my own life.”