A while back, Riley and I had a priceless conversation in the car. It was so hilarious that he occasionally likes to repeat it like it’s a one-act play. It goes like this:
Riley: Can I help you drive?
Me: No, silly, you have to be 16 to drive. Are you 16?
Me: Well, if you’re 16, then I’m 50.
Riley: Then you will die.
I’ll never forget this exchange. That is, unless Alzheimer’s gets me, in which case it’s a good thing I wrote it down. Today’s my birthday. I’m 38 years old, which isn’t really old at all. Unless you ask Riley. Not only does he think I’m going to die in twelve years, but sometimes he calls me Old Lady instead of Mommy for fun.
To celebrate my 38th year, I’m getting a pap smear. You heard me right. I’ve chosen to receive a gynecological exam on my birthday. (Do you remember when I asked my gastro for a colonoscopy? If you know me at all, you know I’m capable of unthinkable things.)
If my third decade has taught me anything, it’s that I need to take care of myself. I’m the epitome of good health on the surface. Case in point, my favorite food is kale. And if my love of dark leafy fibrous greens isn’t proof enough, I’m training to run a 10K race at the end of October. (Actually, that might be evidence not of good health, but rather that I’ve lost my mind.)
Still, I’ve had a lot of medical drama. My personal favorite – besides the numbness in my left ankle, which resulted in me being tasered, er, I mean, having a nerve conduction study (age 36) and the preeclampsia (and subsequent emergency c-section) that made me as swollen as the Pillsbury Doughboy (age 31) – has to be the pre-cancerous polyp they found during my first colonoscopy (age 34). That was awesome!
The overarching theme of my 30s has definitely been motherhood, and boy did it start with a bang! I spent my 30th birthday recovering from a molar pregnancy and drowning in depression about whether or not motherhood was even in the cards. (By the way, I should totally get a 30th birthday do-over, because, as Dylan would say, that was the worst day ever.) Thankfully, motherhood was in the cards. Eight glorious, sleep-deprived, and messy years later, my story is much different. I’m the proud owner of two happy and healthy little boys, both of whom I blame for most if not all of my health problems (at least the mental ones).
Let’s face it, motherhood is perilous. It’s allowed me to witness and be a part of breathtaking miracles, but it’s also put me in a chemo chair, on the operating table, and on the couch. My pregnancies and births alone – with miscarriage, choriocarcinoma (i.e. cancer from the molar pregnancy), preeclampsia, sciatica, low platelet counts, blood thinners, and c-sections – were a monumental feat. (And Dylan wants me to have another one!) Then came the postpartum ventral hernia (back to the OR!), atopic contact dermatitis (any other Mamas out there allergic to baby wipes?), IBS, severe anxiety, more low platelet counts, and suspicious thyroid nodules.
But I’m here, folks! I’m still standing! (In my kitchen with a sink full of dirty dishes!) I’ve accessed the healthcare system in ways I never could’ve imagined, and somehow I’ve come out none the worse for wear each time (it’s a lot easier to put things into perspective eight years later). All that said, I know the agony of sitting opposite a doctor and receiving bad news, of experiencing loss, of prepping for a surgery for which you don’t know the outcome, and of waiting anxiously for biopsy results.
These days, I have a dream team of doctors who treat my ailments – big and small and utterly ridiculous. Hematologist? Check. Optometrist? Check. Gastroenterologist? Check. Neurologist? Check! But I’m proud of my Rolodex of MDs, because occasionally something happens that truly deserves attention (hello, thyroid!). In other words, shit can get real, people. Real fast.
As I watch my parents and in-laws deal with the stress of aging, my dog struggle from worsening degenerative disc disease (now Harry has a neurologist, too), and my kids grow big and strong before my squinting eyes (where are my reading glasses?!), I’m compelled to take the very best care of myself so I can be around to wipe my boys’ butts forever. (That came out creepier than I intended.) So I can write help them with their college essays, and join the office of (helicopter) parent relations on their college campuses. (Okay, that was creepy, too.)
So, I’m getting a pap smear on my birthday, and I can’t wait! (That might be a slight overstatement.) Sure, I could’ve scheduled it another day, but I did it today – on my actual birthday – as a reminder and an oath not to take my health for granted no matter how tired, busy, lazy, or scared I feel. Because, let’s face it, my cervix and ovaries (and breasts and heart and brain and thyroid) might not give a crap that I fancy kale.
All of this “which disease will take me down” talk is kind of depressing. If you’re wondering why I’m not marking the beginning of the end of my 30s by drinking wine, eating cake, and online shopping in my pajamas, worry not. The sponsor of the 10k I’m training for is a local bar, and all runners get free beer and wine at the finish line. Chardonnay for breakfast! Wahoo! Also, after this morning’s lady parts check-up, I plan to perhaps possibly probably do a little bit of birthday window shopping before fetching the kids at school. Maybe. (Definitely.) And about the cake? There. Will. Be. Cake. Cake will be consumed.
All I want for my birthday (besides expensive denim, a waterproof iPhone case, and a headboard) is for you to take care of yourself, too. If you do something marvelous for your health, like get a skin screening at the dermatologist (I’m overdue!), schedule a mammogram, or go for a long walk, tell me about it in the comments here or on my Facebook page. It will totally make my day.
p.s. If you insist on getting me a birthday present, it would really rock my world if you’d “Like” my Facebook page and share it with all of your fabulous Facebook friends. That would be super cool.