Yesterday I had the pleasure of having my first mammogram—aka "the great smoosh." As I stood there in yet another of the many humiliating poses women strike in front of medical personnel, I thought about the strange sense of strength I feel during these uniquely female moments.
When I was pregnant with my first child, my husband and I dutifully attended our "How to Have a Baby" classes. (That wasn't the actual name. It was probably something clever like "Great Expectations.") One evening the class covered pain management. On the drive home, my husband said he thought I'd probably want an epidural. "You're kind of a wimp about pain," he explained. Big mistake.
In that moment, I knew I'd have a baby without pain relief even if I had to bite down on a metal bar to do so (I can be stubborn like that). And sure enough, when the time came, I had that baby without any drugs. The pain was insane, but totally worth the subsequent smugness I can call up anytime my husband brings up the "w-word."
This triumph over pain was particularly handy when my hubby underwent a minor medical procedure of his own—the one that means we're done having children. We may have scheduled this surgery a bit too soon after our third child's birth (when I did have an epidural), because I wasn't the most sympathetic of caretakers. When he complained of some soreness, I asked if his "soreness" was going to last nine months. Or if it was causing acid reflux, or swollen ankles and shifting hipbones, or lungs pushed so far into his chest that they couldn't expand anymore. I asked if it was so bad he needed medication injected into his spine to deal with the pain. He didn't complain much after that.
While women have long borne the label "weaker sex," we're actually much stronger than we know. Getting our breasts pressed between metal plates is, for most of us, the least of the trials and traumas we know how to endure.
And they start so early. My daughter enters middle school this year; I'm already bracing myself for the coming battles—her struggle to fit in with her peers, her need to push against her parents, her attempt to comprehend the changes in her sense of self and place in the world. Her life as a woman is just beginning. And while I love watching her grow, I know the next few years will test her strength.
My mother has battled cancer for 11 years. While I'm thankful she's stronger than ever, with more energy and vitality than women half her age have, I know the day is coming when her strength will again be tested. Whether that test comes through the death of my father, the passing of one of her six siblings, or her own failing health, the possibility of loss is a constant presence in her stage of life.
In my current stage of life, I put my strength on the line every day, trying to be a good mother, a good wife, a good editor, a good friend. Sometimes I wonder if I'll get through these years of having young children, of giving so much of myself to other people. Sometimes I'm certain I'm one disaster away from falling apart.
But women don't fall apart easily. We get a horrible diagnosis, and we fight it with everything we have. We face rejection from men we love, and we get back up and remember we have worth without them. We lose children or husbands or jobs or homes or dreams, and we pull out reserves of resilience we didn't realize were there and find ways to remake our lives. We stand topless in front of strangers at the clinic, and we know no matter what that machine finds, we'll be OK.
When God created woman, God didn't make a lesser being. God made someone who'd live in God's image, who'd nurture and create and show compassion, who'd love and lead and learn alongside men. Adam wasn't complete until God created woman, with all the strength God poured into her.