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Just a few days after giving birth, I had to have my entire butthole surgically removed—all because my family taught me that you’re not supposed to ever talk about poop.
I come from one of those families that doesn’t talk about butts or anything related to them. We don’t acknowledge pooping, ever, and we don’t poop in public bathrooms, ever, and we definitely don’t tell anyone about our poop, doctors included.
My mother taught me that you’re not supposed to poop if your significant other is in the house. My grandmother taught me that you shouldn’t buy foods that say “high-fiber” in big print because the cashier might think you’re constipated. Yeah, anal retentive to an extreme, in every way you can imagine. So, when my nurse-midwife asked if I was having any problems during late pregnancy, I didn’t tell her that I was constipated and that it hurt to poop.
So, after he was born—nearly nine pounds and sunny-side-up so his spine was right against my already very unhappy butt—I didn’t tell anyone that I was in terrible pain and hadn’t pooped in days.
That would be awkward, and I had already passed my threshold for embarrassment when my water broke in a nurse’s face as my son was born. Yeah, no. I wasn’t going to talk to anyone else about my body or let anyone else anywhere near my downstairs for a few months. But then: hemorrhoids. From. Hell. I called my nurse-midwife in the middle of the night in tears. I could tell by her voice that she didn’t think that hemorrhoids could possibly be worth an emergency call and I wanted to spare her the graphic description.
She told me to come by the office and pick up a prescription for Rectal Rockets. Rectal Rockets are, aside from being the most humiliating medication that a person can possibly get filled, apparently very hard to come by. Dizzy, weak, and toting a newborn baby, I went to seven different pharmacies, where I stood in horror (and pain) as I watched crowds of pharmacists and technicians stand around the prescription and loudly read, “Does this say Rectal… Rockets?” One technician even accused me of forging a prescription as a prank. I wanted to die. By the time I finally got the prescription filled and came home with a bottle of suppositories that looked exactly like tiny sex toys, the ever-inflating balloon hanging from my tush was absolutely unbearable. You see, I’ve got a pretty high tolerance for pain—I’ve been through unmedicated childbirth twice and I’ve had minor surgeries without anesthetic. But this was worse than either. This felt roughly equivalent to having someone twist a hot knife in your butt for hours and then days. Every time I felt like it couldn’t possibly get worse, it got worse. I was doubled over on the floor in tears while my partner tried to calm me and control her laughter. “This is serious,” I pleaded desperately, “It’s not funny.” “Sweetie, it’s a hemorrhoid. You’re kind of being a drama queen,” she said patiently, before retrieving my phone and urging me to call my midwife again. “It’s really, really bad,” I sobbed into the phone. “I know what you mean,” she said, “I once had one the size of a nickel. It will get better, though.” “But have you had one the size of an egg? And two the size of quarters right next to it?” There was dead air for a moment. “Really,” I whimpered, “The size of an egg. Two the size of quarters.” As I said this, my partner turned to me in shock and mouthed, “Are you serious?” “Yes, I’m serious!” I told her and my midwife simultaneously, “This is really, really bad.” My midwife told me to come to her office, where I reluctantly agreed to an butt-exam only because I was pretty sure I was dying. She turned white as a sheet and said, “Oh my God.” That’s not something you want to hear when someone is looking right at your butt-hole. She dashed out of the room and came back with the obstetrician she worked under, who seconded her opinion of, “Oh my God.” “I know, right?” my midwife said, “I’ve never seen them that bad, either.” Yup. Two people who look at torn-up vaginas and detached placentas every day, but they agreed that my butthole was worthy of an OMG. Within minutes I was in a new office with a professional butt surgeon who concurred with their assessment: “Oh my God.” “I’ve been working in this field nearly 20 years and haven’t seen anything that bad,” he said, shaking his head. What a flattering assessment from the region’s leading authority on horrible things that can happen to butts. He booked me for surgery immediately. This entire adventure, mind you, took place while I was still recovering from childbirth and was trying to take care of a breastfed newborn and an autistic six-year-old. My partner stepped up to the plate once she realized just how much pain I was in, but unfortunately, her reaction of nervous laughter didn’t lessen the pain and embarrassment. When I went in for surgery, I made my partner promise that if I died of complications, she would make up a really beautiful and dramatic story about my death that was way better than, “She died of hemorrhoids.” I was told that when I woke up from general anesthesia, I had immediately started screaming and thrashing and had to be given two doses of intravenous Valium. It didn’t take me long to figure out why. Once I stopped drooling and nodding off, I realized just how much pain I was in.
I would try to exhale but it took all of my strength not to scream involuntarily in pain. I remember thinking, “If this pain doesn’t stop soon, I have no choice but to kill myself.” The surgeon came around and said, “It was really, really bad. I’ve never seen anything that bad. Unfortunately, you recovery’s going to be a little rough because there were a lot of them, internal and external… Some of them as big as walnuts, one the size of a golfball.” “So what are you saying?” I panted, trying hard not to cry in pain. “We had to take pretty much everything out.” He showed me an illustration of the blood vessels and muscles that surround the anus and explained that, basically, they had removed all of mine. They took my whole butthole. I had a little opening the size of a pinhole, surrounded by stitches, where it used to be. What the fuck. My going-home instructions told me that I needed to go back to the hospital if the five high-dose medications I was taking for pain didn’t cut it. But I knew that it would mean being separated from my kids, so I refused.
That meant I spent days on the bathroom floor, sweating and sobbing, with the pain only broken up by the relief of occasionally passing out, only to be woken up by it again seconds later. I remember having a dream that Satan was butt-raping me with a spiked club that was on fire and also covered in white-hot iron hornets. Rule 34 says someone’s into that, but I’m not that I am not that person. I do, however, think it was the best possible description for what it felt like was happening to me.
I had lots of fun adventures after that that included two additional surgeries and months of bursting into tears of agony every time I had the misfortune of pooping. In fact, it’s been almost a year now but I still don’t even remember what it was like to ever poop without feeling like I might die. There’s actually a moral to the story. All of this pain could have been avoided if I hadn’t, like many women, been afraid to acknowledge the fact that I poop. If I’d been treated for pooping problems months earlier and had been upfront with my doctor about needing treatment before things got that bad, I could have been spared a lot of pain and could have enjoyed my son’s first days of life without the memories being clouded by agony and humiliation. As the world-famous children’s book so wisely tells us, “Everybody Poops.” So if you can’t poop or it hurts when you poop, tell your doctor. Seriously.